Friday, 6 July 2012

Features: Mambulao native continues to advocate against child laborers in his hometown

Rodel Morcozo … former child laborer at the gold mines is now a professional trying to help rescue child workers in his hometown Jose Panganiban. - IoQalpic


WHEN RODEL Morcozo was given the opportunity to finish school, he saw it as his chance to escape the harsh life of being a child laborer.

Now a working professional, Rodel never forgets to go back to his hometown Jose Panganiban to help children working in mines in his hometown.

At the age of 10, Rodel had to drop out of school and work in a mining site to help support his parents and nine siblings.

Even today, the 25-year-old Bicolano is still in pain whenever he tries to look back on what he and his other siblings had gone at such a young age when they should have been living normal lives, enjoying child’s play instead of doing manual labor.

“I had to bend my back to carry a heavy wooden pan. I also mixed mercury to extract gold from sand without proper protection,” he shares.

He says he was aware of the dangers of mercury at the time, but he can only think of a ‘work-study’ lifestyle to survive. He also sold cigarettes and candies to earn additional income.

At the age of 14, he was already carrying mining equipment. His father was a miner and he experienced first-hand the risks involved in using dynamite to blast rocks.

“I remember one time I had to run and get out but I tumbled instead and fell from about 100 to 200 feet high.  I realized how miserable my life could be if I continue doing what I was doing then. It was not what I wanted to do in life.”

Morcozo joined a summer youth camp conducted by the International Labor Organization and Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement (PRRM). It opened his eyes on the endless cycle of child labor in his hometown.

While working in the mines, he would air his concerns to the other young miners like him – against his parents’ wishes. He became more active in his advocacy and in 1998 joined the Global March against Child Labor.

With ILO’s endorsement, he was granted a scholarship by Senator Loren Legarda.

“It was my chance to leave that dark tunnel and my scholarship helped me dream of finding a decent job,” says Rodel, who finished computer system design and programming and now works as a full-time staff of Senator Legarda.

He still goes back to Camarines Norte as often as he could and joins other volunteers in educating parents about the dangers of sending their kids to work in the mines. They also parents how to earn income through livelihood programs.

“Not because I have gone out from that dark tunnel means I have to stop dreaming. I hope to help other children experience a better childhood, something I never had. 

This can only happen if we help them realize that there’s a light outside that tunnel,” says Morcozo. -- IoQal

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