By Rjay Zuriaga Castor

PHOTO: John Cristopher Lara

Every child has the right to holistic care, security and education, and yet, around the world, millions of children are deprived of such opportunities in life as they suffer on an unthinkable scale because of poverty — a life that no one wants to live in.

Jaypee Sumugat, called by the locals as "Ompoy", a 16-year-old boy in a far-flung village in Occidental Mindoro, was among the millions of underprivileged children who struggled to cope in the grim reality of life at an early age. 

Growing up in the prison cell of poverty, the Ompoy was born with an eye problem that was left undiagnosed by an ophthalmologist until now. 

Born third of the five siblings and supposedly in 4th grade, Ompoy bore the brunt and stopped his schooling when his eldest sister— the breadwinner of the family, died due to complications on her childbirth.

His eldest sister's demise also consequently resulted for his other two siblings— Vincent and Henmark, in seventh and fourth grade respectively, to also end their schooling for a while. 

Ompoy's mother had left them, leaving no traces of where she could be found. For the sustenance of the family, his father and older brother are working as a daily wage earner in an onion farm in the neighborhood. 

John Christopher Lara, content development officer of Kilusang Nagmamalasakit sa Lalawigan (KNL), described Ompoy as an eager beaver, and a young lad that despite the adversities he experienced in life, still envisions a better life someday. 

"Nakikita ko kay Ompoy na eager siya... Based rin sa kwento ng mga nakakakilala sa kanya, ayaw daw talaga niya yung walang ginagawa. Imbes na tumambay sa kanila nagiikot-ikot daw talaga siya at tumutulong sa bukid o kaya sasama sa mga nanghuhuli ng isda para may pandagdag sila sa pang-araw araw," Lara noted. 

Parable of the Good Samaritans

Ompoy's story inspired and touched the hearts of people on social media. As such, Kilusang Nagmamalasakit sa Lalawigan (KNL), a community organization in Occidental Mindoro showed compassion and manifested acts of kindness to the needy. 

KNL endured the scorching heat of the sun and traversed the nearly half an hour away from the town Sitio Catmon, Brgy. Mapaya 3, San Jose.

Bringing a streak of hope to the family, KNL endured the scorching heat of the sun and traversed nearly half an hour away to reach Sitio Catmon, Brgy. Mapaya 3, San Jose and brought food packs, new sets of garments, underwear, slippers and toys to the family.

While Ompoy cannot continue his schooling at Catmon Elementary School because the academic year is already in its second quarter, the organization opted to grant Ompoy a full scholarship. It also assured that his education will be processed and monitored. 

"Isa siyang batang may pangarap at may gustong marating sa buhay. This is despite nang hirap ng buhay nila at ng kapansanan niya," Lara reiterated. 

The Least, the Last and the Lost

There is no denying when it comes to progress and development, residents in remote areas are always the last to be reached. 

This is true to the families of Sitio Catmon who are quietly bearing poverty and were stuck in the same hole for decades. In fact, locals of the area only finished elementary school, pushing them to just work on their farms. 

"Sa pag aaral ng ilang students, nagbibigay naman po ng help ang government through programs like ALS (Alternative Learning System), yun nga lang po parang may target number of student ang ALS at hindi ata mareach ng sitio nila 'yon kaya 'di matuloy tuloy ang project," said Lara. 

When asked whether the children in the community are malnourished, Lara revealed: "Based on my observation, medyo maliit at payat sila compared to what is expected sa age nila. Evident na talagang kinakapos sila sa buhay."

As per the Department of Education (DepEd) numbers who failed to enroll, Ompoy and his siblings constitute one-fifth of Filipino elementary and high school students— equivalent to more than five million heads, whose dreams are currently put on hold.