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Holding the walls together

Humble home. In this wooden house resides the Mendoza family of Sitio Upper, Brgy. Dating Bayan, Sta. Cruz, Marinduque


Old wood and patches of galvanized roof serve as the wall of this small abode which houses a family of six. It was a gloomy day and the inside was dark having limited light coming from its windows. The small space of the house is only enough for the family to snooze in. Slightly bent due to typhoon Nina, the house remains standing ready to survive yet another storm to come.

There lives the Mendoza family with Ermelo, 43, as the “pillar” and Zenaida, 50, as “light” of the house. Being financially disadvantaged, the family has to experience life’s hardship even more. The couple struggles to ensure to provide their children’s needs and at the same time send them to school to have access to good quality education given their small amount of income.

It was beginning to rain when Ermelo and Zenaida invited their guests to their church near their house since they cannot all fit inside the house. They get the portfolio they made and look at their family picture during Oliver’s graduation. They cannot help but look back over the trials they have been through in order for their eldest son to graduate. Their utmost dream is to get all of their children to finish college despite their situation because they believe that it is their key to success. Being a devoted Christian, their willpower is strengthened with their trust in God to overcome these ultimate challenges they have thus far experienced. Holding the walls together, all the efforts of each family members contribute in keeping their family standing amidst those turmoil and unpredictable outbursts with their burning desire to get out of poverty.



Happiness. Family’s proudest moment

As a child, Ermelo has been taught farming by his father in the province of Marinduque. Due to poverty, Ermelo was not able to go to college but he was able to finish high school. It was with his goal to escape their situation that Ermelo travelled across the sea to work in Manila. After several jobs he took, he became a tailor in Royal International Manufacturing Garment in Bulacan, where he met Zenaida, who is also working there as a dressmaker way back 1992.

They started as friends, fell in love with each other, and later on decided to get married. They planned to settle in Manila, where their first child, Oliver, was born in 1996. A year after, Trisha, their second child, came and make their life much livelier. However, as the two children are growing up, the needs of the family are getting bigger. It became harder for the couple to sustain the family with their small income and it worsened when the two lost their job after the factory where they are working closed down. Life in the metro is costly hence, Ermelo suggested Zenaida to move the family to his hometown in Marinduque.

The family moved to the province to live a simpler life. They lived with Ermelo’s mother, Irene, in her small abode. To continue providing for his family, Ermelo returned to copra farming using the land they have rented from a relative. Meanwhile, Zenaida continued dressmaking using a treadle sewing machine given by one of her colleagues. Ermelo also started farming and planting vegetables in their backyard for the family to consume.

It was also then when Ermelo’s mother introduced the couple to Pastor Rogen Mayores of Jesus is Lord Church. According to Ermelo, after joining and attending their worship, it improved and changed their outlook in life. “Mula sa aming samahan, kahit mahirap ang buhay natutunan naming magtiwala sa Panginoon. Alam naming mas maganda ang plano niya kaysa sa inaakala namin,” he stated. They believed that the family’s relationship strengthened and their relationship with God improved, despite all the challenges life brings them. The family managed to attend bible study and religious workshop that play significant role in building and nurturing their family.

In 2001, the 3rd child, Brian, was born. Few months later, Zenaida discovered that she was again pregnant to Karylle. She requested Ermelo that she and the children will go back in Leyte to see her parents, and decided to deliver the baby there. Agreed by Ermelo, he stayed in Marinduque to continue farming to be able to send money to his family. But later on, Ermelo realized that the children are already growing without him by their side. So, he asked Zenaida to go back again in Marinduque for the family to stay together. But due to financial difficulty, it was only in 2005 when Zenaida and the children get back to Ermelo.

After going home in Marinduque, the couple decided to move out to Ermelo’s mother and have a house of their own. One of their closest friends let them borrow a piece of land, where Ermelo built a small house, enough to provide shelter for his family. Ermelo and Zenaida started to grow vegetables again to at least provide nutritious food for their family in times when they have not enough money to buy food.

Their new house has no electricity. They have their own pipe for drinking water, which water comes from a spring.  When there is no water in the pipe, they get their water from the Ram Pump Project’s water pipe which is built for the community to use. However, the water coming from it is only good for bathing and watering the plants. Ermelo has also built their own flush toilet, which is separated from their house.

However, when Oliver and Trisha are already in high school, it was becoming harder and harder for the couple to finance their needs. And since copra farming is seasonal and Zenaida’s sewing is only a side job for her, the family has to seek for another source of income which led the couple in selling porridge and hotcake for elementary school children in Dating Bayan Elementary School, which is near their house. Adding to their income are the honorariums that Ermelo receives as a Barangay Kagawad, and Zenaida as a Barangay Health Worker (BHW).

To further improve what they earn, Zenaida uses the knowledge and skills she acquired from a training on handicrafts-making using recycled materials. She decided to make a profit out of it by she selling wallets made from empty foil sachets of coffee, junk foods, etc. for 300 pesos each. Whenever she visits the market, she actually looks for materials to use in the garbage but most of the time asks her friends to give her their empty foil sachets, which she washes, cuts to strips, folds, then sews to make the finished product. Zenaida, with the help of Ermelo and th eir children, can manage to create 2 wallets for selling in one day as it takes a lot of time and effort to make.

Still, it is not enough. “Minsan nahihirapan na po akong magbigay para sa mga pangangailangan nila. Pero sinisiguro ko na may baon sila araw-araw, kung wala man pinapaliwanag ko sa kanila na kailangan naming gumastos sa ibang bagay pa,” shared Zenaida. As the budgeter, she makes sure that the family will eat three meals a day. But there are times when she struggles to provide funding for the needs of the children in school. “May mga projects po kami ‘nun na hindi po namin napapasa nang maaga kasi wala pong pera para sa mga gamit. Kaya nanghihingi na lang po kami ng mga gamit sa mga kaklase namin,” narrated Brian, their third child.

Kaya noong napasama po kami sa 4Ps, laking tuwa ko talaga lalo na’t malapit na pumasok sa kolehiyo si Oliver,” Zenaida added. The cash grant that Zenaida has been receiving since 2012 through one of the programs of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program, has helped the family a lot. But the program did not just give them financial assistance but also provided them the greatest lesson for improving their family – that is to work together even in the simplest things.



Opportunity. Piglet from the female swine which SLP gave to Zenaida’s Pantawid cluster

The Mendoza family became part of the Pantawid Pamilya under set 5A. “Napakalaking tulong po talaga ng programa bilang pangdagdag sa pangaraw-araw na gastos ng pamilya. Nagagastos ko sa tama ang nakukuha ko lalo na sa pangangailangan sa eskwela ng mga bata,” explained Zenaida. She continued that a portion of her burden has been lifted off her shoulders after becoming a beneficiary especially when Oliver entered college. While there is help, Zenaida and Ermelo are encouraging their children to reach their goals but not to the point of pushing them within their limits.

Besides the cash grant, she is also grateful of the values the program has contributed to the family. According to Zenaida, they have become more committed to improve their life as strengthened from the lessons they have learned from their monthly attendance to the Family Development Sessions (FDS). It is through the FDS that Zenaida learned how to budget better the little income they have. She shared that proper budgeting is a big help for a poor family like them as this allowed her family to save money to support their other needs and even invest on expanding their livelihood. More of that, it is also through the program that they become a beneficiary of DSWD’s Sustainable Livelihood Program (SLP). Through it, their cluster was given a female swine which piglets were distributed to the members for them to grow and sell again. The profit from it will be used by the cluster to start a lending business.

With these opportunities for their family, they already find hope. They know that they are no longer alone in chasing the dreams they thought was impossible to achieve before. According to Zenaida, “ngayon nakatapos na si Oliver at sa malaking naitulong ng programa, sa tingin ko ay kaya na naming tumayo sa sarili naming paa”.

With all of their hard work and with the help of the program, Oliver graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering in Marinduque State College (MSC), who passed the board exam this year, and is now working as a lecturer in MSC. Trisha, their second child is on her third year as a BS Secondary Education student in MSC, while Brian and Karylle are studying in Dolores National High School both in Grade 10. Karylle was accelerated in Grade 1 that is why she is on the same grade as her brother.



Sabi ko sa sarili ko, magtatapos ako ng pag-aaral para mapag-aral ko din ang mga kapatid ko at masuklian ko ang sakripisyo ng mga magulang ko,” Oliver asserted. This is his mantra since he was a child until now that he graduated and obtained his college degree. Oliver was always the smart kid. He was the Math wizard, the Science genius, and the English guy. He really strives hard because he wants to exchange the goodness his parents give him and he has the desire to help his family. “Nakita ko iyan si Oliver noong bata pa na nasa court at nagpapailaw,” narrated Cilina Ferrol one of their neighbors. Struggling to study and do his assignments at night, Oliver has to stay under the lamp post of their barangay basketball court to give him light since the small kerosene lamp that his family owns is not enough to help him finish his school works. With his hard work, Oliver graduated in high school as their class valedictorian, hence letting him get full scholarship in college. But the challenge has only just begun.

In 2015, Trisha graduated in high school while Oliver is on his 3rd year already. Getting Trisha in college will be harder for Ermelo and Zenaida since they do not have stable income to put up with the needs of their two children who will be in college both at the same time.

Trisha, having understood their situation, stressed to support her parents in helping his brother finish college by stopping school to get a job. But the couple refused. “Sabi namin sa kaniya, pagsusumikapan naming mag-asawa ang pag-aaral nila at hahanap kami ng paraan para makapagpatuloy siya sa pag-aaral,” Ermelo shared. But then, as Oliver needed money for the completion of his projects and a lot of requirements needed for him to finish his subjects, it gets more complicated for them. Trisha again opened up to her brother that she will stop in order for their parents to focus on financing his needs but Oliver offered to stop instead so that Trisha could continue. But as the family analyzed the situation, they all agreed to let Oliver continue his studies while Trisha on the other hand, was offered by a relative to work as a baby sitter in Manila which she accepted so that she can be able to send money to her family as well as help her brother with his expenses. “Masakit para sa amin na hindi mapag-aral si Trisha. Natatakot kami noon na baka hindi na siya makapagpatuloy pa,” shared Ermelo. It was the hardest decision for them to make but they soon realize that the sacrifice today will be a big help to the future of the family.

Into the light. The small kerosene light which illuminates the house of the family at night

On the other hand, Brian and Karylle also managed to save money by walking from their home to their school which is 3.5 kilometers away. “Sabi ni Karylle, yung unang dalawang taon niya dito sa Senior, Grade 7 at 8, talaga po silang magkapatid, naglalakad. Pataas pa po yun at malayo. Pero para daw po makatipid, nilalakad nila iyon dahil dalawa yung college. Tumigil nga po yung pangalawa, si Trishia, to give way sa panganay,” testified Nonita Arellano, homeroom adviser of the two children. Whenever there are projects in school which need to be printed, Brian and Karylle both submit their projects handwritten or drawn since they do not have money to rent in an Internet Café.

After two years of the stormiest part of their life, Oliver was able to finish college in 2017. Due to financial constraints, he was not able to enroll his self to review centers. But with the help of his friends, he photocopied their reviewers and studied by himself which led him to pass the Civil Engineer Licensure Exam this year on May on his first take.



Despite their humble life, the family manages to become actively involve in different activities. “Dahil alam po namin yung pakiramdam nang naghihirap, gusto rin po naming makatulong sa iba sa paraan na alam at kaya namin,” said Ermelo. True enough, the whole family has been active to church and community activities. “Passion na lang po siguro talaga nila ang tumulong pa kahit sila mismo ay nahihirapan na,testified Marilyn Rioveros, one of their family friends.

Sa lahat ng activity sa barangay, madalas at regular na sila Kagawad Ermelo at ang asawa niyang si Zeny sa nangunguna at nag-aayos ng iba’t ibang mga bagay para sa aktibidad ng barangay. Kahit hindi pa noong hindi pa kagawad si Ermelo, natulong na talaga siya sa barangay sa boluntaryong pakikiisa sa mga gawain sa komunidad lalo na sa kalinisan at kaayusan ng barangay,” stated Barangay Captain Lincoln Aytona. Ermelo is the chairman of the Committee on Infrastructure and the vice chairman on Sports. As the chairman on Infrastructure, he managed to lead in forming ordinances for solid waste and proposed resolutions so they can be provided budget for their water tank project as well as the construction of their farm-to-market road, evacuation center, and covered court of the barangay. As a member of the Sports Committee, he led sports competition for the youth in the barangay. Ermelo also served as the president of the Parent-Teachers Association in 2007 to 2008, where they were able to raise 2 make-shift classrooms in Dating Bayan Elementary School in his leadership. Moreover, they were also able to manage to form a resolution for building extension classroom to the school.

Meanwhile, Zenaida as the BHW leader in Barangay Dating Bayan, is responsible and helpful. Brgy. Cap. Aytona said, “kahit hating-gabi pumupunta siya doon sa sitio kapag may patawag or nangangailangan na magtingin ng BP.” Zenaida is assigned to three distant sitios of their barangay such as Sitio Anusan, Mandalano, Mapangles Tres. According to Julieta Villaruel, parent leader of their cluster, “malaki po ang natulong niya (Zenaida) sa akin lalo na po nung nanganak ang aking anak na highblood. Kahit po maraming ginagawa niya, siya yung nagmomonitor sa aking anak kaysa pumunta pa kami sa ospital at dun pa magmonitor sa aking anak. Sinabi niya sa akin na siya na lang ang magmonitor at ipakita ko na lang ang record. Kaya po pagdating sa mga ganun siya po ay matulungin. At nagtuturo rin siya kung ano ang dapat gawin.” Other than being a BHW, Zenaida is also an advocate of organic farming and renders community clean-up service around the community as the Vice President in Samahan ng Magsasaka in Dating Bayan.

Both Zenaida and Ermelo became participants of the training entitled, “Ram Pump”: A Solid Waste Management and Organic Fertilizer Production Workshop. This is where Zenaida learned how to make handicrafts from recycled material which has inspired other BHWs from other barangays to replicate her work.

Leading. Oliver and Trisha leads the Youth Camp activity in Mogpog Marinduque

But the couple are not the only members of the family who are involved in community services. Oliver and Trisha are both youth leaders in church. Trisha was elected as President of the whole province of Marinduque’s Kristiyanong Kabataan para sa Bayan (KKB). She initiated the cleaning drive every Sunday in different barangays as the president of the group. Moreover, Brian serves as the Vice President of KKB in Dating Bayan, while Karylle is the Treasurer.

On Sundays, the family works with the music ministry in church. Zenaida teaches religious songs to children with Oliver and Trisha, while Brian and Karylle also participate through playing guitar or singing.

The perseverance of the children in school is also recognized by their teachers. Teacher Nonita said that the children’s hard work has gained admiration of their classmates who help them in financing for their projects in school or share them their food. Some of their teachers also offer food and give gifts to them as they see the determination of the siblings to study despite their financial condition.

The family is an inspiration to others because of their compassion and support to their neighbors. The family is known to be generous to all even though they also have their own shortcomings. Ermelo has no vices, does not smoke, or drink alcohol. He is also not involved in any form of gambling. Zenaida is known by his neighbors for being humble and modest. Their children, on the other hand, are also a source of inspiration to other people as they are observed to be caring and thoughtful to their parents and very understanding to their situation. “Kung titignan mo rin kasi ang kanilang pamumuhay, wala talaga silang masasabing yaman pero nakikita mong nakakaya nilang itaguyod ang kanilang pamumuhay na nasa tamang paraan. Na nakakahanga po. Kasi pare-pareho lang naman kami doon, pero makikita mo sila nakapagtapos pero yung iba, bakit kaya hindi makapagpatapos?,” said Marilyn.



Family Picture. The Mendoza family poses for a picture in their best dress inside their church

The Mendoza family is seen with strong emotional support, love, security, and protection from each of its members. There is a sweet closeness within the family which is enhanced more during their Sunday activities in church. This relationship is tightened during holidays and weekends as the family makes sure to spend their time together through fishing or going on a picnic by the river or near the sea.

Ang bonding po talaga ng pamilyang yan ay paglukad(pagkopra)”, claimed their neighbor Cilina. When the children do not have classes, the boys help their father in copra farming. Meanwhile Zenaida, with the girls, are in charge of weeding the farm. Nothing has changed even after Oliver graduated in college. “Nakita ko si Oliver nung araw pagkatapos niyang makapasa sa board, nasa bukid kasama ng tatay nya at naglulukad pa,” Cilina added.

Their humble home resounds laughter and joy filled by love, respect and shared responsibility. And though they do not have all the comforts the world has to offer, their simple life is enough to make them all contented and still become an inspiration to others.

In all this endeavours of the family Ermelo believes that “sa lahat ng napagdaanan ng pamilya namin, kahit mahirap ang buhay naroroon pa din ang suporta, respeto at pagmamahalan ng bawat isa. At ang pinakamahalaga po sa lahat ay ang paniniwala namin na ilagay sa gitna ng aming pamilya ang Diyos kung saan nagmumula ang lahat ng kaligayahan at tunay na pagmamahalan.”

When Oliver graduated, the family has never been prouder. “Ito ang isa sa maipagmamalaki ng aking pamilya. Mula sa sipag at tiyaga ng bawat isa naging posible ang lahat para sa amin,” exclaimed Ermelo.

The family knows that this is not yet the end of their struggle. Like their house, crooked but firm, the family will always remain intact knowing that nothing can break them apart. With the collective effort and perseverance of the whole family, little-by-little, they are on their way of reaching their dreams yet to build much stronger walls ahead. ###

The Mendoza Family is the regional winner for the Regional Search for Huwarang Pantawid Pamilya 2017

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- who has written 71 posts on DSWD Field Office IV Mimaropa Official Website.

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