I had heard the PSHF staff talk about Mary Ann Sebaste before I met her, and they told me she was a grant beneﬁciary who had lost her mother seven years ago. In May she came to the ofﬁce to ask assistance for her father, Romeo (50), who was in the hospital. I accompanied her to meet her father and buy the medicine he needed. She had a sad, worried face and seemed to be very shy, but during the trip we had time to talk and she told me about what had happened to her father.
Mary Ann is the third of six children in a very poor family in Ma-ao, about 20 km south of Bacolod in a sugar-growing section of Negros Occidental. Her eldest sister Melissa (27) has a ten-year old daughter, Babes, born out of wedlock, and they are living separately. Rex (22) is the second eldest, Mary Ann is next, and the younger members of the family are Vicente (15), Roslyn (13) and Regina (11). Romeo works in the sugarcane ﬁelds and earns 130 pesos (US $3.25) a day, and Rex and Mary Ann work in the ﬁelds too during the harvest season. Their mother, Mylene, had a fatal heart attack in May 2005, when she was only 38.
The family lives in a cramped house in Bantolinao, now known as hacienda Dr. Sy, on the edge of a sugarcane ﬁeld, along a dirt road which leads to other ‘sitios’ in the village. Sometimes when their father has no work and there’s no money for rice, which is the staple food, they have only boiled bananas or cassava for supper. It is not a rich life but the children don’t seem unhappy.
The PSHF emphasis is on getting people to help themselves, but there are times when a loan is not appropriate. We see urgent needs that we try to meet through grant assistance, from housing to medical grants that will save lives. For Mary Ann and her siblings, the answer is education. Starting school and then dropping out leads to a vicious cycle of poverty, working hard for very low pay when work is available, starting to have children at an early age, and never being able to broaden the horizons beyond the farm or sugar plantation. Education gives children the scope to escape from poverty some day.
Rex and Mary Ann are now in Alternative Learning System (ALS) classes that meet twice a week; this is a government sponsored back to school program. Once completed, they will take a test to determine their level for a return to regular schooling. They and the three younger children are all at a grade 1 or grade 2 level.
The educational part of this grant proposal is to cover the cost of the ﬁve siblings’ school supplies, lunch, and transportation for one year of schooling. We have opted to give full support as the children are at risk of dropping out if their rides to school on a tricycle are not paid for or if they go hungry at lunch-time; it is for these reasons that they have stopped going to school in the past. Another component of the grant will be used to process the children’s birth certiﬁcates which is a requirement in the school and we promised to comply before the school year ends just to have them enrolled.
The balance of the grant will be used to pay the remaining expenses of the children’s father Romeo’s hospitalization earlier this year. He had been attacked for a small unpaid debt and suffered injuries to his rib area on the right side.
The children have been attending school since the school year opened in June. They are happy to be back in school and very grateful for our assistance, and we in the PSHF are continuing to look for ways to give the Sebaste family a brighter future.
Lanie M. De Leon
Mary Ann with Roslyn and Regina.
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