by Maria Nicole Dominique Dimayacyac, John Kirby Marquez and Israelbelle Ferolino
From a very poor and underserved family in the slums of Pamarawan Island, Malolos, Bulacan to being a well-respected leader in the field of civic engagement in the Philippines and a Professional Fellow of the Young Southeast Leaders Initiative of the United States Government, Rex Dayao shared to us his story of overcoming poverty in the Philippines.
UNICEF estimates that 356 million children live in extreme poverty, and 12 children die every minute of every day. Rex and his siblings could have been one of these children.
With a family of 14 and a daily budget of 46 pesos, it was difficult for them to survive. Most of the time, Rex and his family can only afford to eat twice a day. On their worst days, they only eat one meal and then sleep for dinner.
“'Pag nagugutom kaming magkakapatid ang ginagawa na lang namin is mag kuwentuhan, mag quiz bee,” Rex said as he recalls how they tried to distract themselves from hunger.
Since they live near the seaside, their repetitive diet was oysters, fish, and shrimp paste. But on the days when there is no catch, they are forced to pick swamp cabbages growing on a dumpsite near his school. Rex was indifferent to the fact that swamp cabbages might have been contaminated. More so, he was indifferent to the ridicule he received from his classmates.
Despite being ashamed, Rex had no choice but to swallow his pride for them to survive the starvation. At the end of the day, he was still the best student in the class, graduating as valedictorian.
"Halos literal na basura lang yung tingin sa amin, although unti-unti siyang nababago kapag March, kasi ga-graduate nanaman ang isang Dayao na class valedictorian," he said.
At an early age, Rex realized that he needed to do something for himself and his family for them to walk a better path. For him, hunger is more painful than his desire to prove something to others. The humiliation he felt at that time served to ensure that the next generation of his family would never have to go through it again.
Using his determination and wit, Rex was able to build a comfortable life for his family. Through various institutions that provided him support such as scholarships, food, and daily devotions, achieving a stable lifestyle for his family has been possible. Moreover, he also maximized the funded training and other international engagements to serve as his stepping stone towards his dreams. His experiences urged him to dedicate his time to reducing poverty in the Philippines. Given that there are better and a lot more opportunities available now than in his time before, Rex believes that today's youth can help him in his advocacy.
"The youth of today, sila yung kailangang humubog sa mundong mayroon sila. 'Yung mga kabataan kasi ngayon ay mayroong hangarin to really change the world," Rex stated.
The estimate of UNICEF on the number of children dying from poverty is horrifying. But with the help of people like Rex and by harnessing the power of the youth, we can reduce those statistics.
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