With a small, brown eco-bag hanging on one shoulder and a bunch of sampaguita leis on
hand, 8-year-old Rica tries to juggle school and work in order to help her family. After buying them from the supplier, Rica then sells the leis at mornings and at late afternoons, just before and after she goes to school. She sells them for 10 pesos each.
In UP Los Baños, young children selling garlands of the said flower has been a common
sight. From late afternoon to evening, they are scattered all around the UPLB gate up to Vega Centre offering the flowers to passersby, or at times, asking people for leftover food and drinks. However, aside from being sampaguita vendors, most of these children are also full-time students and family members.
A loving daughter and sister
When their father died, Rica and her siblings had to help their mother out on daily
expenses, especially since the money the latter gets from doing laundry is usually not enough for them. Furthermore, they have to take care of two sick people in the family: Rica’s grandfather, who is currently dealing with health issues related to old age; and her little brother who was born with asthma.
The siblings usually take turns in selling sampaguita. However, Rica is still very young so her mother allows her to go back home as soon as she sells at least one lei. And whenever she gets free time, young Rica enjoys watching cartoons on TV—just like other
children her age.
Although not her full siblings, Rica loves her brothers and sisters very much—especially
their youngest, Miguel. “Peyborit po ng kapatid ko, si Miguel, ng prutas. Kaya po pag may
prutas po ako binibigay ko po,” (My brother loves fruits. So whenever I get some, I always give it to him.) she says. Also, apparently, this younger brother of hers was also the reason why Rica dreams of becoming a doctor in the future.
Aside from being a doctor who could cure his brother’s asthma, Rica also dreams of the
day when she could wear a Cinderella costume and celebrate a grand birthday celebration, just like what she sees with other children.
Education and fulfilled dreams
Once she finishes high school, young Rica says she would love to go to UP and start
fulfilling her dreams there. However, it seems like a far-fetched dream—for at this point in time, education already means struggle for Rica and her family.
She’s currently in Grade three, but she still couldn’t read and write. Also, she still hasn’t
fully understood the concept of time and date; so she doesn’t know her birthday, nor what time she’s supposed to go home every night. Good thing, she’s quite good at Math—a skill so useful in her everyday selling of her sampaguitas.
Going to school or selling sampaguita on the streets is a big challenge for the young
girl—all the more, doing both at the same time. However, no matter how difficult it may be for her, she strives really hard to be able to help her family and to reach her dreams.
“Minsan piso lang po baon ko, nagwa-1-2-3 na lang po ako sa jeep,” (Sometimes I go to
school with just one peso. I then ride the jeepney without paying.) Rica says, giggling. She
usually spends this peso on a tiny bag of chips.
To make things worse, the young girl often gets into trouble too. She says: “Dati po
pinagbintangan po akong nagnakaw ng 300 pero hindi po totoo… wala po akong kinukuha… pinagbibintangan po ako, araw-araw po akong pinagsasabihan…” (One time, they accused me of stealing 300 pesos but that isn’t true, I didn’t steal anything, they kept blaming me every day.)
Situations like this aren’t new for Rica, but even at school, she gets blamed and accused for things she said she never did. Some other kids bully her, too.
A reflection of current society
While most children are busy with their iPhones and expensive toys, here are these young children—students by day and vendors at night—persistently offering sampaguita garlands to passersby even if they’re often ignored.
Most of them are doing this to help their families pay for necessities like food, health care, and education. One might ask: what if these kids had “better” opportunities in life? What if they had easier access to things such as education? Would they still have to compromise? Perhaps they could be spending their time studying in school, playing with other kids, or having fun with their families at home—but here they are, in the streets of Los Baños, selling fragrant flowers amidst the smell of polluted air and all the hustle and bustle around them.