At 18, cousins Aiza and Ronald Niñofranco already mirrored the faces of child labor in Aklan. Hailing from the small barangay of Mamba in Madalag, they have no other choice but to face the inevitable truth of sacrificing the perks of a jovial youth as they entered the world of work at an early age.
Ronald, the second of four children, dropped out of school to help earn for the family and joined the group of sacada workers in going to Negros Occidental during the start of the milling season in 2011. He was then 17 years old and had just finished his first year in high school.
Sharing the same fate, Aiza is the eldest of three children. Her father is also a sacada worker. After her high school graduation in 2011, she already worked as house help in the municipalities of Malinao and Tangalan at the age of 16.
With her strong belief in education as her key to a better life, Aiza graduated valedictorian in high school. Her desire to continue her college education was so great that she never ceased dreaming of having a career one day. Her dream remained a dream because she knew that her father’s meager income could hardly support the family needs.
“Life did not give us much choice, but we could not complain. All we could do is help ourselves and our family,” Aiza said.
A twist of fate dramatically changed Aiza’s and Ronald’s lives when they were chosen by the local government of Madalag as beneficiaries of the Department of Labor and Employment’s Child Labor-Free Barangay Campaign in Aklan last October 2012.
In 2012, the DOLE, through its regional offices, reached 89 barangays and benefited 4,863 child laborers and 1,849 parents with various converged programs and services through its community-based Child Labor-Free Barangay Campaign which cascaded the government’s action to minimize, if not end, child labor in the country.
“The DOLE’s child labor-free barangay campaign sets the tone for child laborers and their parents in the target barangays to take the first step towards self-transformation and empowerment through education or other interventions,” Baldoz said.
“At the barangay level, we are implementing measures to prevent and eliminate child labor with the full support of the community and its leaders,” she added.
Like Aiza, Ronald also grabbed the opportunity. The night before the campaign, he prepared a letter addressed to Labor and Employment Secretary Rosalinda Dimapilis- Baldoz requesting assistance that he may be removed from his sacada work.
During the campaign in Aklan, Baldoz, through DOLE Regional Office No. 6 Director Ponciano Ligutom, granted Ronald’s wish and assisted him in pursuing any technical-vocational course under the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA).
Under the Special Program for Employment of Students – Training for Work Scholarship Program (SPES-TWSP) Ronald and Aiza both received scholarships which supported their schooling at Panay Technological College in Kalibo, Aklan.
After two and a half months, they successfully passed the TESDA assessment and finally received their National Certificate II (NC II) in Housekeeping on 9 February 2013.
Luck continues to knock at their doors as the cousins both found jobs at Boracay Regency Resort and Convention Center, one of the premier resorts in Boracay Island, Aklan. They already began their training on 10 March as housekeeping staff.
No words could express Aiza and Ronald’s gratefulness to the government, especially to the DOLE, for the unexpected blessing. Their strong desire for a better life continues as they now reflect the faces of educated and empowered youth.
“I was very happy then. I never thought that kind of opportunity will come my way. I was already contented with the kind of life that I had, but I could not keep myself from dreaming that one day I could go back to school; that was the opportunity that I waited for,” Ronald shared.
Since then, Ronald has been promoted thrice. He is now a room attendant. He has paid off his family debt; has bought a carabao worth P7,000 for his father so he could stop being a sacada worker. He also has his family home built – a two storey concrete structure. He had also sent his siblings to school.