On the line

Lockdown putting families on the brink in the Philippines

Photos by David Hogsholt
Allen Melecio, 13, stands on a boat posing with a tennis racket
UNICEF/2020/David Hogsholt
16 August 2020

Allen Melecio, 13, has dreams of making money playing tennis. A local man in his fishing village introduced him to the sport three years ago and before the lockdown, he was practicing three times a week, competing in tournaments and even winning cash prizes.

“I like tennis because I’m good at it,” he says. “I could go to many different places and play and meet new friends. I like it when I win, especially if there’s prize money in the tournament!”

His family of seven is supported by his father, a fisherman; his mother, who makes and sells pastries; and his oldest sister. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, they barely made enough to get by, earning only around US$5-8 a day.

Allen sitting on a boat with his friend
UNICEF/2020/David Hogsholt
Allen and his friend sit on his father's fishing boat. They rely on fishing as a main source of income, but it became difficult during COVID-19 lockdowns

“We never have enough money for school supplies,” says his eldest sister Alyssa, 20. “We rarely have enough money for lunch at school or snacks and not enough for medicine or to see a doctor. The most we can do is to take medication for fever.”

Alyssa has been working hard to help herself and her siblings get out of poverty. Before COVID-19 struck, she was focusing on her education and that of her siblings. She was a ‘working student’ working as a live-in maid in exchange for her employer paying her school fees and providing her an allowance. This enabled her to enroll at a teachers’ college, which was due to start this year but it remains unclear if she will be able to start or not.

Alyssa poses with her sister Alena
UNICEF/2020/David Hogsholt
Alyssa (R) with her younger sister Alena

While working as a maid, she also managed to save enough money to open a small neighborhood 'hole-in-the-wall' shop in a narrow alley near her home which was supposed to support her studies and that of her siblings. But since the lockdown, what little money she makes goes to food for her and her family.

“We don’t eat breakfast, just lunch and dinner,” says Alyssa from the family home. “Before COVID, mom would buy 5kg of rice a day. Now we can only afford 2-3kg, so we just have one meal a day on most days. Our aunt gives us vegetables and sometimes, some meat.”

With the COVID-19 lockdown strictly in place, the Melecio family is making only half of the income they were previously earning which makes it difficult to get by each day.

“It feels like prison sometimes,” says Alyssa when asked about the lockdown. “Since I make less money now, I feel useless because I can’t buy as much food as I would like for my siblings. I can’t even save money for their education at all.”

Alena prepares pastries
UNICEF/2020/David Hogsholt
Alena, 17, preparing pastries for the family to sell

A dedication to education

Alyssa’s dedication to learning and helping the family has inspired her siblings. When at home, she tutors her young sister and brother. Alena, her 17-year-old sister, also hopes to continue her studies.

“I home study at the moment,” says Alena. “Every week, I go to my teacher’s house and pick up the assignments and take them home. I like school because it gives me more knowledge so I will do my best in choosing a college course that we can afford. Hopefully, it will help me get into nursing but we probably can’t afford that. If I go to college, I will be able to get a job that pays well and I will be able to help my family.”

Alyssa tutoring her siblings
UNICEF/2020/David Hogsholt
Alyssa regularly tutors her younger siblings

Allen also has hopes beyond tennis and appreciates Alyssa’s help. “I am happy to have Alyssa because she helps me with my homework, my studies and supports me in school. She is very good at explaining the homework and giving examples so I understand the assignment.”

The Melecio children are a symbol of hope in the most testing of times. Despite their hardship, made worse by the pandemic, they are still fighting to realize a better future together.