Labor and Employment Secretary Rosalinda Dimapilis-Baldoz knows a best practice when she sees one, and in the DOLE's Angel Tree Project to save child laborers, her recent experience in Koronadal tells her it could be a model for other provinces and cities to emulate.
The labor and employment chief went to the provincial capital of South Cotabato as a guest of the DOLE Regional Office No. 12's Social Partners' Forum cum Fund Raising for Typhoon Yolanda Victims, during which she awarded 30 child laborers their wishes so they will not return to child labor.
The 30 child laborers--10 from Sarangani Province; five from Cotabato City; five from Gen. Santos City; five from Sultan Kudarat; and five from North Cotabato--have been "matched" with sponsors who granted their wishes, which now makes their transition from child labor to school--and onto the future--much brighter and sure.
Their wishes ranged from farm animals to bicycles to Christmas noche buena food to toys and school supplies. One wished to see his father again. Another wished for the completion of the ceiling of their house so they would not get wet during the rainy days.
One of the child laborers, Charrie Ann Bolido, 13 years old, of Barangay Tibpuan, Lebak, Sultan Kudarat, dreams of becoming a teacher.
Each of them wrote their wishes on a paper star, which the DOLE used to adorn a huge Christmas tree on display at the forum venue.
During the awarding, Secretary Baldoz luckily plucked from the Christmas tree the star of Roberto Pepulido, a child laborer from Purok Hillside, Barangay Roxas, Sto. Nino, South Cotabato, who wished for a carabao.
When she announced that Roberto's wish has been granted, courtesy of pineapple producer Dole Philippines, applause erupted from the audience, and Roberto was teary-eyed.
A farm laborer and animal caretaker, Roberto started working at age 12. His father died when he was still a toddler, and his left her to the care of an aunt. He managed to enter Grade 1, but does not know how to read and write.
"I am going back to school and the carabao I received will be a big help in our farm and in hauling heavy load," he joyfully said.
He also wished that his aunt could have her own small food business during harvest time, so the family will have additional source of income. Dole Philippines also granted this wish.
According to DOLE Regional Office No. 8 Director Ofelia Domingo, Childfund Philipines, a partner of the DOLE, sponsored and granted the wishes of the five child laborers from North Cotabato who are all sugarcane farm workers before they were "rescued" from the menace and returned to school.
"They faced the hazard and risk of cuts and injuries from the use of sharp tools in sugarcane farm work. They also were prone to allergies and rashes from sugarcane trichomes, sun burn due to long exposure from sunlight, and inject bites," said Director Domingo.
"It is very remarkable that education tops the priorities of these children," she added.
The DOLE and Childfund Philippines now works hand-in-hand to support the children's schooling and livelihood and skills training for their parents.
One of the five North Cotabato child laborers, Mel Joy B. Pedroso, 13, from Purok Altavista, New Rizal, Mlang has been a sugarcane farm worker since she was nine years old. She now sports a new bicycle and wears new shoes and school uniforms.
Baldoz, who was very generous in her praise for the sponsors of the child laborers' wishes, said that the elimination of child labor is not the government's work alone.
"I thank all of you for being a Project Angel Tree sponsor. School is really the place for children, not the farm or the factories," she said, as she encouraged the 30 children to stay in school no matter what.
She also commended the DOLE Regional Office No. 8, led by Director Domingo, for the innovative strategy of asking child laborers their wishes and looking for sponsors to grant them.
"This is a best practice that other regions must look into and emulate," she said, noting that in the past, Project Angel Tree implementers only gather donations of school supplies and distribute it to child laborers, not bothering to ask them if these are really what they wish for.