Ivatan mom learns welding to escape poverty

Jee Y. Geronimo
Ivatan mom learns welding to escape poverty
Siena Mergal dropped out of college because she can't keep up with her more computer-literate classmates. But when it comes to welding, she has proven to be a fast learner

BATANES, Philippines – One would think that Siena Mergal already has her hands full: while looking after 4 children, she sells fish and vegetables every day, and serves as house help on Saturdays.

But at 28, she wants to do, learn, and earn more. Next on her list is to be a welder.

Mergal  explained: “Kasi in demand abroad. Ang Dubai nga nagha-hire, e siyempre maraming bungangang umaasa sa akin (Because welding is in demand abroad. Dubai is hiring, and I have many mouths to feed).”

She has 6 children in all, but only 4 are with her. One is with foster parents, the other with the father, who lives separately with Mergal. They’re not separated, she explained, they’re just not together.

Magkasama kami at night time (We’re together at night time),” she said with a playful smile.

The children’s father, himself a welder, doesn’t want his wife to go into welding. She’ll ruin her eyes, he said.

But Mergal cannot pass up on the chance to earn more through welding, especially since the father rarely gives her money to support their children. (READ: Aquino: Gov’t focused on economic emancipation of women)

Ngayon, boy and girl, pareho lang ang status. ‘Di katulad noon na, lalaki lang ang nag-aararo, lalaki lang ang nagbubukid. Dito sa Batanes, hindi na. Kung anong kaya ng lalaki na kayang gawin ng babae, pwede na, kasi ang way of living ngayon dito, kumayod ka,” she explained.

(Today, men and women have the same status. Unlike before, when only men plowed the fields, only men did farming, here in Batanes, that’s not the case. What men can do, women can do as well, because the way of living here today requires that you work hard.)

Leaving Batanes

Mergal just started learning welding under the education department’s Abot Alam program, which provides interventions on education, entrepreneurship, or employment for out-of-school youth ages 15 to 30.

COMMUNITY CENTERS. Residents of Mahatao, Batanes, no longer have to go to Basco to learn welding. Photo by Jee Geronimo/Rappler

Batanes is the first province in the country to achieve a zero out-of-school youth status, with education officials teaming up with local government units and different government agencies to provide opportunities that will keep young people from being idle and unemployed.

Like many of the 117 Abot Alam learners in Mahatao, Batanes, Mergal finished high school.

She completed one semester of Information Technology in Batanes State College, but dropped out because she could not keep up with her more computer-literate classmates.

When it comes to welding, however, she has proven to be a fast learner.

At present, Mergal is the only woman in Mahatao’s Abot Alam training center on welding. She says she’s good at anything that involves her bare hands: welding, weaving, farming, and plumbing. She already has a certificate for weaving, and she’s going to learn farming and plumbing next.

She heard from friends in social media and neighbors in Mahatao that women welders are in demand in Dubai.

Data from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) showed that in 2013 alone, the country deployed 7,767 land-based welders and flame-cutters abroad – all new hires.

Mergal wants to be a Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA)-certified welder so she can go abroad and give her children a future. (READ: The Ivatan boy who wants to be a carpenter)

Aalis ako, iiwan ko ‘yang mga anak ko sa tatay nila; bahala na. Kasi oo nga, malulungkot ka’t mahihiwalay ka sa mga anak mo, pero ‘di mo naman mapakain ng lungkot yang mga anak mo e. Kailangan mong kumayod, kaya nga gusto kong ma-master yung welding, para at least makaalis man lang,” she said.

(I will leave my children with their father; I’ll leave it up to fate. Yes, you’ll  get sad because you have to leave behind your children, but you can’t feed your children with sadness. You have to work hard, which is why I want to master welding, so I can leave.)

With 4 children to look after and her long list of jobs, Mergal said she is physically drained. 

But there’s no time to think about the pain, she said. There are mouths to feed, welding lessons to learn, and she only has herself to rely on. – Rappler.com

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Jee Y. Geronimo

Jee is part of Rappler's Central Desk, handling most of the world, science, and environment stories on the site. She enjoys listening to podcasts and K-pop, watching Asian dramas, and running long distances. She hopes to visit Israel someday to retrace the steps of her Savior.