"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.
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 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|
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.
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.
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.