In some countries, when poverty hits, it’s not uncommon for children to quit school to help their parents make a living. However, for two brothers in the Philippines, poverty did not stop them being students in the day and vendors at night.
In December 2016, a story of two brothers studying and selling sampaguita, which is also known as Philippine jasmine or Arabian jasmine, went viral on social media. Marlon, 11, and his brother, Melvin Mendoza, 9, sell sampaguita flowers on a footbridge in Quezon city. They do this to help their mother, Rochelle, 37, make ends meet, as their father is serving jail time after being accused of illegally selling drugs.
The sweet-smelling sampaguita is the national flower of the Philippines, and symbolizes purity, simplicity, and humility.
While selling sampaguita till late at night, the boys, still in their school uniforms, do their schoolwork at the same time, as they don’t have time to do their assignments in a quiet home environment after school.
The brothers earn about 50PHP (Philippine Peso), which is approx. US$1, from the PHP300 (approx. US$5.90) worth of sampaguita they sell every night, ABS-CBN News reported.
According to Rochelle, the boys asked to follow along and wanted to help her sell the fragrant flowers. “I didn’t force them to do it or made it an obligation. I make sure they’re safe and won’t be harmed,” she said.
But, whilst Rochelle has her boys’ wellbeing at heart, she has revealed that she understands the risks associated with working late at night, especially in the notoriously dangerous area they sell jasmine at. However, she feels she doesn’t have much choice, given their circumstances.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development was alerted to the family’s plight after their story went viral. When social workers offered to relocate the mother and two boys from under a bridge to a more stable shelter, Rochelle refused, worried it would affect the boys’ studies, by moving too far away from the school they’re currently attending.
Despite their current circumstances, Marlon’s painstaking efforts are so far paying off. He was in his class’s top 10 list when he was in Grade 4 and hopes to become an accountant in the future.