2019/20 SCHOOL YEAR
A rooster crows cracking the stillness of a warm, damp morning in the Bicol Region of the Philippines. A sprinkling of thatched-roof huts surrender to the morning light in the small sitios tucked away in the mountains. Alon eagerly rises from his mat on the bamboo floor and shakes his sister and brothers awake. His father has already left to work the rice field along with his mother.
It is June 3rd, the day Alon has anticipated for months – his first day ever of school. He has spent the past five years of his young ten years working on the tiny parcel of a migrant farm alongside his father. As usual, there will be no breakfast, as the local saying goes, “one day, one eat” meaning one meal per day. While his younger sister prepares for a day of gathering wood, fetching fresh water and caring for two little brothers, Alon sets out early for a two-kilometer trek. He doesn’t want to miss the small mountain bus in the barangay that will take him into the city.
After several visits to his home, the Sisters of Mary Queen of Heaven Missionaries had convinced his mother and father to send Alon to school in Ragay. They promised to provide the necessary shoes, a uniform, school supplies, raincoat and backpack along with transportation and a small allowance. His sister would not be so fortunate as she now had to take on the daily chores of their mother, who would have to replace him in the rice fields. Well aware of the sacrifices his family was making on his behalf, Alon was determined to make the most of this God-sent opportunity.
Just last week he received all the welcomed school supplies when two of the Sisters appeared with a make-shift cart groaning with the weight of books and materials. This curious vehicle is the only means to reach the barangays of the rural mountains. Upon receiving the precious cargo, the first thing Alon asked was, “Do I have permission to share these with my sister and brothers?” This scenario is the reality of life in the rural Philippines. Boys stay away from school to help provide daily sustenance working as migrants for a small amount of rice and an occasional piece of fish. The girls, as young as eight, are targeted by handlers who roam the impoverished villages promising their parents “a good job in the city” as a hostess, a restaurant worker, etc. They guarantee them an income that will supplement the family’s scant monthly income. Inevitably, many of these children are trafficked into the lucrative prostitution rings of the Philippines. What parents initially believe to be an opportunity of survival morphs into a nightmare of unspeakable misery.
Mary Queen of Heaven Missionaries developed their Regina Coeli Education Program as a preventative means of combating sex trafficking of poor children in the Philippines. The Sisters whole heartily believe that poverty is the root cause of pervasive prostitution of minors. The Philippines currently holds the unwanted distinction of the fourth largest country in the world in terms of sexual exploitation of children. Being occupied in school, exposed to a future of hope, skills, and dignity, has proven a successful deterrent to the preying of recruiters.
The cost of just two soft drinks and a box of candy at the movies enables a child like Alon or his sister to attend school each month. The Regina Coeli Education Program now assists over 4000 students each year and has a goal to reach 20,000 by 2021. Please share the good fortune God gave you and help us fight the exploitation of children.