More than a concerted effort to mitigate disasters, a day in the life of Jerry Layosa as a cash-for-work recycling volunteer is also a lesson in penmanship. If not busy sorting recyclables with his fellow volunteers, he practices writing his name on a piece of cardboard. Slowly but surely, Jerry gets better to the delight of Tzu Chi volunteer Lilia Zarate, acting as his teacher.
“It works for us because he couldn’t sign on the attendance sheet [of cash-for-work volunteers] back then. So we had to teach him how to write,” Zarate explains.
Jerry and part of his family came to Manila unprepared for city life. Apart from his near-inability to read and write, he also doesn’t know how to count. When he received his first wad of cash from Tzu Chi’s cash-for-work program, he had little idea how to budget it. The Php1,250 he gets every week might have gone down the drain had his fellow volunteers not taught him how to read bills and coins.
Now, although counting still proves to be a challenge, Jerry knows what kind of bills to give to his mother Josefina come payday. Of his weekly allowance, Php750 goes to his mother. He puts away the rest for the rainy days or anything he needs or wants. His dentures were among the fruits of his labor.
“I managed to save enough to afford a set of dentures,” the sheepish Jerry narrates.
Any good school can teach such basic life skills, but Jerry never got the chance to go to one. He spent most of his days tending to the family’s plantation in Bicol. Not that the family could afford to send him to school with money from growing bananas and coconuts.
“I decided to move to Manila for work. Of course, I can’t take all four children with me. Leaving two of my kids, I brought [Gerry and another child of mine]. I promised my family back home that I would come back for the other two once I managed to settle down,” Josefina narrates.
They settled in Barangay Nangka, Marikina City next to Zarate’s home.
Jerry starts his recycling stint as early as 5:00 a.m. His routine takes him to the more affluent neighborhoods of the city such as Barangay Santa Elena several minutes away. Between collection and sorting, recycling would take up most of his day.
But the work never stops at his off-days. Armed with a plastic bag, Jerry searches for recyclable materials along the banks of Marikina River. Despite Tzu Chi’s continuous campaign to keep the waste out of vital waterways, some still make its way there. Jerry isn’t afraid to slide down to a ditch filled with garbage to look for plastic bottles and cardboard, among others. He witnessed what Typhoon Ondoy (Ketsana) did to the community.
“Even when he’s not working in Tzu Chi, he goes around picking up paper, cardboard boxes, and plastic bottles by the riverbanks and brings them home. He’ll put them in his pedicab so, by the next day, he’ll bring them to the recycling center,” says Josefina.
Since helping Marikina get back on its feet post-Ondoy, locals like Jerry have learned to care for the environment through recycling. Already known before the disaster as one of the cleanest in Metro Manila, Marikina has come out even cleaner due in no small part of Tzu Chi’s advocacies. Nenita Mangune, a 53-year-old street sweeper in Barangay Tumana, witnessed the change in the environment ever since Tzu Chi began recycling activities in the city.
“Before Tzu Chi, there was garbage all over. I could barely put them in sacks or the trash can,” Mangune explains.
“When Tzu Chi began working here after Typhoon Ondoy (Ketsana), the volume of garbage decreased. There were now volunteers collecting cardboard boxes, cans, and plastic bottles, keeping them out of the very streets I clean,” she adds.
A goal to work for
More than a weekly source of income, Tzu Chi’s cash-for-work program helped Jerry find a goal to work for. He might be stuck writing his name now, but one day he may start writing sentences to express himself. One day, he may know to add, subtract, multiply, and divide to manage his income well.
One telltale sign of change can be seen in his speech. Sheepish at first, Jerry has learned to open up to other people, especially his fellow volunteers. While he’s still a man of few words, constant nurturing might just change that.
“He’s been able to talk to so many people and is proud of donning the Tzu Chi uniform,” says volunteer Zarate.
“His fellow volunteers in Tzu Chi know how to guide him. That’s why I’m thankful to Tzu Chi because Gerry finally found his purpose in life,” says his mother Josefina.
For now, he’s happy making his rounds with his pedicab and fellow volunteers. He found a group willing to teach him things he never got to learn back in his country life, not to mention brothers-in-arms keen on being his pillars of support. In the end, the value of cash-for-work goes beyond the monetary.
“We don’t treat the Php250 we earn from this as salary. Rather, we treat it as reward for helping Tzu Chi Foundation, as well as a chance to respond wherever Tzu Chi needs us, especially disaster areas,” Zarate adds.
At predawn light, Jerry leaves his home in Barangay Nangka to make his recycling rounds. Earning Php250 a day, he works five days a week. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】
Three Tzu Chi volunteers join Jerry in today’s recycling activity. Among them is Tzu Chi volunteer Lilia Zarate (in blue), who lives next door. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】
The volunteers accept this household’s stack of recyclables including a pair of empty pizza boxes. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】
Folded cardboard boxes go inside the plastic bag along with others for sorting later on. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】
Morning had just begun and Jerry’s pedicab is already filled to the brim with recyclables. Still, he and his volunteers drop by several more households before returning to their recycling point in the suburbs. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】
Tzu Chi volunteers find a way to stack more bags of recyclables in an already-full pedicab. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】
With so many bags of recyclables, pedaling will only tire Jerry. He has to push the pedicab to the recycling point less than a kilometer away. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】
Jerry ties some straw around his load of recyclables to prevent it from spilling onto the road. Beside the pedicab, another bag of recyclables awaits loading.
Tzu Chi volunteer Lilia Zarate (left) gives Jerry his penmanship lesson, which is to practice writing his full name. Jerry could neither read nor write as he wasn’t given a chance to go to school because of farm work in the countryside. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】
Slowly, Jerry hones his handwriting on pieces of cardboard. Years of practice have helped him made his handwriting more legible. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】
Jerry with his handwriting. Note the left batch seems to shrink with each line, unlike the right batch that manages to maintain its size somehow. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】
Constant practice in penmanship benefits both Jerry and his fellow cash-for-work volunteers. In the past, they had trouble with Jerry as he couldn’t write his name on the attendance sheet. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】
Even in his free time, Jerry continues to collect recyclables. In this ditch near Marikina River, he manages to gather several pieces of cardboard and a few cans. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】
Jerry finds two bags of empty glass bottles left by the riverbanks. He gathers them into the bag, unwilling to see his home become inundated by mud and rain once more. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】