For Vulnerable Children, El Niño Means Leaving School

Type: Story

On a scorching Thursday afternoon, a sudden torrent of rain briefly soaked the parched lands and rice fields of Barangay Nacube in Gandara, Samar.

The rain brought unexpected relief to the farming community, which had been enduring weeks of record-breaking heat and drought. Migeu, 13, also enjoyed the chance to step into the brief rain shower.

On dry days, he spends his time picking mangoes in the field or staying home and helping his aunt Nimfa Cabarles, 50, and his grandmother. For the time being, Migue has stopped going to school.

“Waray kwarta (No money),” the grade 8 student responded when asked why he was not attending school.

Migeu’s family hinges their survival on farming, a livelihood heavily affected by El Niño's onslaught in the Philippines. The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) estimated that 942,000 families or 3.8 million individuals are impacted by El Niño.

Yet, the devastation brought by El Niño transcends mere crops.

For vulnerable children like Migeu, whose education and future are threatened by El Niño and other increasingly recurrent extreme weather events, it cruelly snatches away their education, leaving them stranded in a storm of uncertainty and shattered dreams.

Devastated by El Nino

The El Nino has exacerbated the plight of Filipino farmers, who bear the most devastating effects of climate change.

As of May, the Philippine Department of Agriculture (DA) reported that the damage to the agriculture sector due to El Niño has exceeded P6 billion.

Migeu’s aunt, a rice farmer, explained how farming has become more challenging in their area since the onset of El Niño, which has caused increased farming costs and dwindling incomes.

"I can't harvest now because of El Niño. I just borrowed the capital for this, so now that there's no harvest, I can't pay my debt,” Nimfa said in Filipino. With her fields drying up, she is temporarily working as a maintenance officer in the municipality of Gandara.

Western Samar is among the provinces forecasted by the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) to face drought and dry conditions this year. It is also among the poorest provinces in the country, with 27% of families living below the official poverty threshold.

"Now, I am taking care of my parents and my sibling who is a PWD (person with disability). I can no longer afford to send him to school because we don't have enough," Nimfa explained.

Migeu, who is currently in eighth grade, said he is eager to return to school, but he understands that his aunt lacks the financial means to support his education.

In school, he says he likes learning English, recalling the times when he could participate in writing tasks.

"I would like to go back to school, but not for now," he said in a mix of Filipino and Waray.

Nimfa has been looking after Migeu since he was five years old. His mother left to work in Calbayog City due to lack of livelihood opportunities in their area. His mother is taking care of his other two siblings.

Nimfa attempted to seek help from Migeu's mother for his welfare, but unfortunately, she was unable to provide assistance.

"I said to her, 'Your children will suffer like me, without education. Personally, I want them to study, but I have many concerns to attend to,'" she said.

Assistance for alternative livelihood

As part of its humanitarian response to El Niño, Save the Children Philippines, in collaboration with Western Samar Development Foundation Inc., provided cash assistance to 200 households of farmers, including Nimfa, who have been severely affected by El Niño in Samar.

Save the Children Philippines extended conditional cash assistance worth P10,000 to these families. Additionally, the 200 farming households received technical and livelihood training sessions covering animal production, as well as vegetable, plant, and crop cultivation.

These sessions aim to impart sustainable agricultural practices and enhance their livelihood prospects despite worsening impacts of climate change.

“Our emergency response to the El Nino-stricken families provides crucial support to families' livelihood so that they will be able to afford food, and support the learning of their children, thus safeguarding their well-being and future amidst challenging climate crises,” said Faisah Ali, Humanitarian Manager of Save the Children Philippines.

Nimfa said the assistance she received from Save the Children Philippines is a much-needed support to help tide them over in the coming weeks.

"This is really a big help for us, and I'm very grateful because I didn't expect that grace would come. I also feel sorry for my family. I have my own problems, but I always think about them," she said.

Nimfa said she intends to use the cash relief to purchase a hog, which she plans to raise and eventually be a source of income and eventually send Migeu back to school.

Meanwhile, Migeu clings to the hope of returning to school and pursuing his dreams.

"I hope I can go back soon, so I can continue my studies, graduate, and find work," he said.

"I want to become a seaman and an engineer when I grow up," he added.

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Save the Children Philippines has been working hard every day to give Filipino children a healthy start in life, the opportunity to learn, and protection from harm. We do whatever it takes for and with children to positively transform their lives and the future we share.

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