Home Featured Stories Gateways A recycling ‘classroom’ that teaches basic life skills

A recycling ‘classroom’ that teaches basic life skills

Saturday, 03 June 2017 16:4 PM | ARTICLE BY | Jonas Trinidad
Another bag of recyclables goes on top of Jerry Layosa’s stack in his pedicab. The combined weight of plastic bottles, cardboard boxes, and other recyclables bears down on him and his pedicab. To him, however, it’s just another day in the office. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

Story Highlights

  • Jerry Layosa came to the big city with his family unprepared for city life. Unable to read and write, he struggled to survive the harsh grind of daily life. He found brothers-in-arms willing to help him go the extra mile in Tzu Chi’s cash-for-work program, which helped him to learn starting by writing his name.

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.

Last Updated: Saturday, 03 June 2017 16:4 PM

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