Bikes for the World

Monday, December 5, 2016

We Can Do This

"We can do this!" the words of a little girl growing up too fast. Stressed by the hardships of her family, this young student will do anything to help her parents thrive.

"The reason why I haven't stopped going to school, it's so we can have a better life. So I can help my parents. It's been really hard."

Sheila Punzalan has eight brothers and sisters, two of them married and one that is physically challenged. Her family struggles to make ends meet and feels the burden of having a family divided between the classroom and the family business.

Many poorer families in the Philippines rely on the children in the household to help take care of younger siblings, to help with errands around the house, and in some cases to help bring in money from outside jobs.

Attending school often adds an increased burden on these families who need those helping hands at home rather than commuting to school and sitting through class. That can steal up to 12 hours a day and for a family with more than one student enrolled in school that can be quite an impact.

For many of these parents who have never finished school themselves, the time restraints often force them to similar conclusions. As their children struggle with long commutes that affect their attendance, attention in class, and ability to complete their school work, their grades often suffer. Some parents fail to appreciate the importance education can have on their lives and allow their kids to simply drop out.

Sheila's parents work in the fields
Sheila's mom is not one of those parents. "I'm proud of them because even though the distance to school is far, they still walk." But that said, she also expects Sheila to help around the house and care for her younger siblings as much as she can.

Sheila tearfully admits the long walk makes staying in school tough. She is often hot and tired after school and has a hard time concentrating on school work. Sometimes, on the way to school, they study for quizzes or think through projects during the walk. The last thing she wants to do when she gets home is work in the field or take care of her special needs sibling.

Sheila's dad is also a carpenter
Sheila shares all the same responsibilities of her parents. Everyone helps in the family business making and selling tables. Carpentry is a popular form of work in San Simon so competition is tough.

The family also tends to water spinach fields that can be found growing wild all over Pampanga. Unfortunately, because it is an abundant crop there isn't much money to be made. Some of the rice fields in the area are being converted to mango fields, but the fear is if too many of them switch over prices will drop due to over supply.

In addition to helping around the Punzalan household, Sheila is also in high school at Concepcion Integrated School. She knows the importance of staying school; she wants to be the first person in her family to graduate knowing that is the best path to helping her family survive and do well in life.

She is a role model to her younger siblings who look up to her and hope to follow in her footsteps. Only now, since Sheila and her sister and brother recently received bikes through the Bikes for Education program, they are weaving behind following her tire tracks at a much faster pace.

Since Sheila received her bike in August her teacher already sees a difference in her school work. Sheila herself admits, "My grades are improved. I'm rarely absent and I'm much happier."

She also enjoys taking part in community rides on the weekends. The activity improves her productivity both in school and at home. She is enjoying getting out on her bike to see where she lives and is appreciating her surroundings more and more every day.

More importantly, she is still in school and loves learning. She and her siblings have shaved more than an hour off their daily commutes leaving more time for homework and helping out around the house.

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