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3 generations of educating the young: The garland girls

By Lina Sagaral Reyes
Special correspondent .

“Every time I work on these garlands, I remember how much I wanted to go to school, how much I wanted my daughters to finish high school.
I only finished four years of elementary school.”

(First of two parts)

Stringing paper flowers has been Grandma Marlinda’s rite of marking the new year for nine years now, in Palalan, Barangay Lumbia, Cagayan de Oro. 

Two children of school-age in Barangay Lumbia, Cagayan de Oro City help in stringing paper flowers into garlands to be sold during graduation ceremonies at universities and colleges throughout the city. For every 100 boys enrolled in public elementary schools, there are a corresponding 103 girls. Photo by Lina Sagaral Reyes

She would start by waxing the five-petal paper blooms and throw the heaps  into a winnowing basket,  then her daughter Rima and her grandchildren, Marimar and Rosinda, would  take some plastic yarn, and begin stringing flowers from the basket.

Later, the paper blooms will be interspersed with satin ribbons in gold, silver and red. Each day, chatter, songs and the radio soap operas enliven the tasks.  Each day’s slack hours in the early morning and early evening will be spent this way for the next three months. The garlands are sold at P12 a dozen to a wholesale buyer. Grandma Marlinda and her brood make between 200 to 400 necklaces a day.

These trinkets are sure sellers at graduation rites in March and April all over the island. At the gates of schools and universities, a throng of vendors will be selling these garlands. Every graduate is expected to wear at least one garland given by well-wishers. By then, the leis would fetch between P20-30 a piece.

 “A pittance, you might say, but we do earn and it is better than none at all. It is also a good way to spend some vacant hours,” she tells me, speaking from the lode of insight learned from almost half a century of eking out a living from the land.

Marlinda

Born in the late 50s; finished fourth grade

“I have two regrets. One is that I have never been able to wear one around my neck because I never graduated, and two, my daughters never graduated from high school,” she laments. “Every time I work on these garlands, I remember how much I wanted to go to school, how much I wanted my daughters to finish high school. I only finished four years of elementary school. ”

For Marlinda’s father, she said, functional literacy was enough. “As long as you know how to read and write, sign your name into documents, and count seeds and coins, and add and subtract, that’s enough to survive,” her father would tell his children.

“Besides, you are a woman. You will stay at home and care for your children and husband. Your husband will work for you and your family as I am doing,” Yolanda remembered her father telling her.  He thought that farming and business, not education, would bring wealth. “He would compare himself to a friend who was an office clerk in the city hall who always come to borrow money from him. He taught us all nine children how to farm,” she recalled.

So Marlinda learned how to plow with a carabao, plant rice and corn and raise livestock. Before she was 15, her father married her off with someone she did not love. Yet she did not question her father’s decisions. In the late 50s, a father’s word was decree, and a good daughter was an obedient, unquestioning and silent.  She birthed five children in five years, and soon after her husband deserted her. Her parents helped her provide for her children’s needs. She studied dressmaking and tailoring. “It was a hard life, but we always had plenty of food on our table,” she recalled. 

With earnings from the farm and the dresses and pairs of pants she had sewn, she tried to send her children to school. The two boys finished high school and became skilled electricians, and got married in their late 20s. The three daughters barely began high school and dropped out to marry early, with barely her consent.

 “When I think about how I survived, I saw that I could have done better if I had more years at school, even just high school. It has something to do with having more options and knowing more ways to solve problems. I always told my children that the land their grandfather will pass on to us will not be enough. By the 80s, the land was already infertile. We would invest so much in fertilizers and pesticides then long droughts or strong typhoons came, and different bugs that were resistant to pesticides. Sometimes, there was no harvest.

“I do not know why I failed to convince my daughters. I kept on inspiring them to go to school. I tell them it would be easier to find less arduous work than farming if you have a degree, and if you opt to start a business you would know how to do it better.

‘’But still my daughters, like me, married early in their teens. Unlike me, they decided to marry young, on their own. My consolation is that they all finished the elementary grades, which by the 70s was already compulsory. When they graduated from the elementary grades, there were no ready-made garlands for sale. I made them garlands made from fresh gardenia, everlasting and corsages of orchids and ferns.

In the Philippines, at the public elementary school level, which is provided free to all citizens, during the school year 2010-2011, female Net Enrolment Ratio (NER) was computed at 91.07 per cent while the male NER was at 88.75 percent. This means that 9 out of every 100 girls and 11 out of every 100 boys aged 6-11 years old did not go to school. The Gender Parity Index is set at 1.03: 103 girls to 100 boys. —Philippine Statistics Authority Gender Parity Fact Sheet March 2019

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