At the age of 9, Miljhon has already seen some of life’s harsh realities. Growing up in poverty in the Philippines, this young boy, his sister, and his classmates face significant hardships just to get to school every day. Despite their circumstances, Miljhon and the other children have such pure hearts that they share with their school mates — even though they too have almost nothing.
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On school mornings, Miljhon and his eldest sister, Meltchie, 10, wake up at 5. “We need to leave early, as we still have to climb the mountains for school. We don’t want to be late,” Miljhon says, speaking in Cebuano, their native language.
The children’s flag ceremony starts at 7:30 a.m., and class follows shortly thereafter. Miljhon, Meltchie, and their schoolmates walk over a stream and through the woods to get to school, which is located on top of the mountain. While walking through the woods, they share laughter so they do not have a tiring walk to school.
Every day, they cross six mountains by foot. They are uncertain about what they’ll meet along the way — like snakes, which they often see, especially during rainy seasons. “We are more afraid of destroying our slippers than seeing snakes,” Miljhon shares. For these children and their parents, buying a pair of slippers is expensive.
When asked about the most challenging part of going to school, Miljhon says, “When heavy rains come, we can’t go home. We need to wait for the floodwaters to subside, and the mountains are very slippery.”
On the way to school, most of the children stop at the stream for a quick shower. They leave their change of clothes hanging to dry while they study, then pick up their dried clothes on their way back home. All of the children stop at the spring for a drink and to refill the empty containers they bring every day, since they don’t have access to clean water in school.
“If me or my classmates didn’t bring water containers, we just share the water and help each other bring it to school,” Miljhon says. “In school, the only water we have is the water from the rain. It is only good to water the plants and for cleaning the classrooms,” he adds.
The school has two classrooms for almost 100 children: Preschoolers and first, second, and third grades share one classroom, while fourth, fifth, and sixth grades share the other. The children sit at old wooden desks — each shared by three students in the same grade, and each row a different grade level.
“Our teacher starts teaching the preschoolers, then leaves them with exercises, and after a few minute, proceeds to teach grade two, and we [grade three] are next,” Miljhon explains.
His school doesn’t have a canteen where they can eat their lunch. “We just eat in a shaded area, which is normally under the tree or here,” Miljhon shares while he and his sister eat their lunch under a shed. The shed is dilapidated, made of old wood with a rusty galvanized iron roof. Parents have put rocks on top of the shed, afraid that strong winds will blow the roof away.
Along with his schoolmates, Miljhon and Meltchie eat their packed lunch together. “My Ate (older sister) and I share the food we have, and we also share it with others who don’t have food to eat aside from rice,” Miljhon says.
Most of children’s lunches are wrapped in banana leaves. When asked what they have for lunch, Miljhon proudly says, “As always, rice and dried fish.”
Miljhon and Meltchie’s perseverance inspires their mother, 33-year-old Cheryl, to work hard for her children. “I sometimes pity my children for the challenges they have. Sometimes I even tell them to stop going to school, but they are very persistent,” she says.
Cheryl admits that she is having difficulty sending her children to school. She works as a tenant farmer while her husband, who is not Miljhon and Meltchie’s biological father, works construction in a neighboring town. Meltchie and Miljhon were 8 and 7 when their biological father died.
“Whenever school days start, I am always worried about where to get school supplies, as my work can’t provide them for my children,” Miljhon’s mother shares. Miljhon’s parents earn less than 1,000 Philippine pesos (US$23) for the entire month of hard work.
To help with Miljhon’s education, Meltchie — who is a World Vision sponsored child — shares her school supplies with Miljhon. “My Ate (older sister) usually shares her notebook with me. We are so fortunate that we still have our bags given to us last November by World Vision,” Miljhon recalls, referring to the bags that Heartstrings, a bag manufacturer in the Philippines, gave through World Vision.
Aside from his bag and school supplies, Miljhon wears a school uniform, which a generous neighbor he calls lola (grandmother) gave him. “My lola gave it to me when I was in grade 1. This is the only school uniform I have,” he says.
“The school uniform is six years old now,” Cheryl says. “He inherited it from lola’s grandchild right after her grandson finished high school.”
Despite the challenges that Miljhon faces, he is determined to finish his studies. “I am just so glad that there are a lot of people helping us, who share what they have. They inspire me to go to school every day,” Miljhon says. “Someday when I finish my studies, I promise to share what I have with my sister, my family, and others, because I know how it feels to have nothing.”
The story of Miljhon and others in his school illustrates the hardship poverty can cause — even at a young young age. By coming alongside children like these through child sponsorship, you bring them closer to a brighter future. Sponsor a child in the Philippines today.