“You are never too old to learn. That’s when you become old when you stop wanting to learn and to explore” – Alexandra Potter

“Daku kaayo akong kalipay nga nakahuman ra gyud ko og elementarya  (I am so happy that I finally finished my primary education),” said the emotional thirty-four (34) year old Manobo named Moni Peling of barangay Mt. Carmel, province of Agusan del Sur.

Moni’s dream when she was still young was to become a teacher, “I wanted to become a teacher because I want to teach the children how to read and write.”

She was a consistent honor student back then, “permi ko apil sa top five sa una, dili sa pagpanghinambog kugihan man pud ko mo tuon (I am always at the top five because I study hard).” She also shared that she had to walk three (3) kilometers from their house going to their school; she sometimes doesn’t have packed lunch and she would settle in drinking water. But that didn’t stop or discouraged her to excel in class.

That’s is why when her parents told her that she had to stop going to school because they can no longer afford her school expenses, Moni’s dream was shattered, but as much as she wanted to finish her study and become a teacher someday poverty stopped her in achieving her dream.

“Grade five (5) ra gyud ko taman ma’am, gusto gyud nako mahuman og eskuyla kay dili ko gusto nga kanunay mi pobre (I only finished grade 5 and I really wanted to finish study because I don’t want us to be always in poverty),” teary-eyed Moni said.

After Moni stopped schooling she got married at the age of 15 and gave birth to her eldest child at the age of 16. Moni then became a mother to eight (8) children.

In year 2012, Moni’s family became a beneficiary of the Modified Conditional Cash Transfer (MCCT) wherein like Pantawid Pamilya, they also receive monthly cash grants provided that they comply with the set conditionalities of MCCT.

One of the conditionality of the program is for the MCCT beneficiaries to attend the monthly Family Development Session (FDS) conducted by MCCT case workers. In this session they were thought how to become effective and responsible parents to their children.  The importance of education was also discussed during FDS.

“Maski wala ko nahuman og eskuyla ma’am akong pinaka dakung pangandoy ang makahuman ang among mga anak sa ilang pag eskuyla (Even though I didn’t finish my studies my greatest dream is that my children will be able to finish their studies and achieve their ambitions),” hopeful Moni said. “Through our FDS I learned that Education is a vital tool for us to succeed in life, when a person is educated nobody can easily step down on you,” said Moni.

Her experience didn’t stopped Moni and her husband Jaime to work hard in order to send their children to school. Moni help her husband in toiling the land they owned, they plant it with cassava, sweet potato and corn.

The couple earns a maximum of Php 1,600 a month in farming. But with such meager income the couple was still able to send five (5) of their children to school who are now in elementary, 2 of which graduated elementary in Mt. Carmel Elementary School in March 2014.

“Nalipay kaayo kog daku maam kay naka graduate gayud sa elementary akong duha ka anak, kay ako bya gyud nang gipangandoy sa una pa (I was so happy because two of my children graduated in elementary, I really dreamt of that),” teary-eyed Moni said.

Moni’s children dreams of becoming a Lawyer, teacher, and engineer. “I want them to finish school and become professionals one day, I don’t want them to be in the same situation that we are in right now,” she said. I don’t want my children to have the same fate as mine; I want them to have a brighter future.”

And just when Moni thought she could no longer go back to school, Moni learned about the Alternative Learning System (ALS) in their barangay. Armed with determination and willingness to learn, Moni enrolled herself in ALS in 2012 in order to finish her primary education.

“dili gayud babag ang kadak-on sa edad sa tawo para siya makakat-on, mapasigarbohon ako nga maski tigulang na ko ako gipaningkamutan nga maka eskuyla balik aron malahi ang direksyon sa akong kinabuhi labaw na sa akong mga anak (having an older age is not a hindrance for a person who really wanted to learn, I am proud to say that I am very willing to go back to school because I want to change my life’s direction especially my children’s future),” emotional Moni said while wiping away the tears that are about to fall. “We are never too old to learn,” Moni added.

Moni plans to enroll again in ALS this year to finish her secondary education.

Moni is just one of the Indigenous People (IP) in Caraga who has become a beneficiary of the Modified Conditional Cash Transfer (MCCT) for Families in Need of Special Protection that is implemented by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).

The target beneficiaries of this program are those children and families in pockets of poverty not covered by regular CCT. These families who spen majority of their time on the streets because it is where they earn their living; IP migrant families, they are families of indigenous descent who are often seen in the streets of highly urbanized cities, or as rural migrants; families with children with disabilities; including those who have long term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with other; families of child laborers, they are families who have children who work in regular and sustained labor in small industries, mining, agriculture, etc, that prevents the child from enrolling in schools; displaced families due to manmade and natural disasters and other environmental factors, they are usually the victims of fire, typhoons and other forms f disasters and calamities and whose properties were lost during such events and other factors such as income displacement, death of main breadwinner of the family and other forms of crisis  in the family; and lastly, families in need of special protection which includes which include households where children were abused, abandoned, exploited, orphaned in or on the streets and are not in school and in difficult situation. ### (Stella Maris V. Barcelon/ Information Officer/ Social Marketing Unit)