The dream and life a boy left behind

Rhadyz B. Barcia
Help finds its way to the family of Ricky Benig, 19, whose death spotlighted how students at the fringes of society struggle with the requirements of distance learning

PAIN AND STRUGGLE. Romeo Benig, 62, and Maria, 60, of Barangay Fidel Surtida, Sto Domingo town in Albay, rest inside a hut after working in a vegetable farm. Their meager earnings could not get their children internet access and gadgets for their online classes. Photo by Rhaydz B. Barcia/Rappler

ALBAY, Philippines – A few days after 19-year-old Ricky Benig passed away, his family received a sack of rice, groceries, financial assistance, and a tablet computer from a partylist lawmaker. Help also came in from others who were moved by Ricky’s story.

His family said he died by suicide, distressed that they cannot afford the distance learning classes during the pandemic.

Ricky’s mother, Maria, said she did not expect Ako Bicol partylist Representative Zaldy Co to visit them in their home in Barangay Fidel Surtida in Santo Domingo town.

“He gave us assistance for Ricky’s wake and a tablet for my son Romnick. He also promised us to support Romnick’s schooling until he earns a college degree and provide us a capital for a sari-sari store,” Maria said.

Romnick, 17, an incoming high school senior, had almost quit school, too. But he can now enroll with Ako Bicol’s educational assistance. Romnick promised to make his older brother’s dream come true.

Ricky, the 10th of 11 siblings, had wanted to become a policeman.

He was supposed to be in Grade 9 this school year as a Balik-Aral learner of Santo Domingo National High School.

Sixty-year-old Maria and husband Romeo, 62, do not have a stable source of income. They tend a piece of land owned by a relative. Still, Maria encouraged Ricky to enroll for the online classes this August. Her son, instead, showed her his pair of worn out slippers that they could not even replace. 

(READ: No student left behind? During pandemic, education ‘only for those who can afford’)

On June 17, a day after Ricky died, Department of Education regional director Gilbert Sadsad issued a statement that the DepEd would provide pyscho-social intervention to his siblings who might also be students in Sto. Domingo.

Sadsad said that DepEd Bicol has been informing the public that blended learning or modular learning modality using printed materials will be adopted in the region since these are more favorable among majority of Bicolano students. Students will be provided with modules and self-learning kits with the help of the school authorities and local government units.

Sadsad reminded school officials not to impose mandatory purchase of gadgets and other ICT equipment for enrolment and distance learning in a June 17 memorandum.

He said that the memorandum was issued to ensure that parents and students, especially those who do not have the capability to purchase ICT gadgets, will still be able to enroll.

The memorandum also said that the DepEd Basic Education Learning Continuity Plan (BE-LCP) guarantees and provides learning opportunities that do not require the use of ICT gadgets and equipment. The remote learning or distance learning offers flexible learning options through modular learning approach and self-learning activity kits.

The SMILE BE-LCP, a contextualized learning continuity plan of DepEd Bicol is developed to be the most adaptive and flexible learning strategy for all Bicolano learners.

SMILE stands for Security and Safety, Modalities of Learning, In Service Training, Learning Resources and Engagement of Stakeholders. –

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