IT WASN’T a typical Boracay sunset when a friend and I met Joey. We were whiling our time away on a sand bar waiting for the sunset when a boy who looked about 8 years old (we would later learn that he was actually 11) approached us and tried to entice us into buying some sea shells. When I declined his offer, he turned his attention to the sand sculpture my friend and I were trying to create. Without any invitation, the boy, who introduced himself as “Joey,” plopped down on the sand beside us and proceeded to finish our creation.
As the three of us gathered, poked and shaped the white sand in our hands, Joey started talking. At first, I was skeptical, exchanging looks with my friend as Joey described the hardships one had to face when one lives below the poverty line. It sounded like he was trying to win our sympathy and make us part with some of our money in pity. But when Joey started speaking earnestly about his beliefs, our raised eyebrows went down and we began to marvel at the wisdom he was showing, which was way beyond his years.
At first, Joey talked about how he makes a living. He collects trash left on the beach to help his family. He scours the trash bins and shoreline in front of hotels, resorts and restaurants for anything he can sell to the junkyard. He earns about P40 a kilo for anything he sells.
“Mabuti nang ganito lang kami, nangongolekta ng basura, kesa gumawa ng masama (We are better off this way, earning a living from collecting trash, rather than doing bad things),” he told us. I couldn’t stop but wish that more than a few people in power would live by his ideals.
Joey told us stories about other kids on the island who prefer to make money the easy way—stealing cameras, phones, wallets and gadgets. He said kids like them would amount to nothing. He shook his head at the fact that he sees so many young people on the island doing illegal things and drinking themselves to a stupor. “Okay lang naman kung paminsan-minsan lang ’yung inom nila. Pero pag masyado na, nakakasama na ’yun, hindi sa bituka, pero sa ulo na (It’s all right if they drink occasionally. But if they drink too much, then it will cause them harm, not so much in their stomachs as in their heads).”
I doubted if Joey knew a lot about liver diseases, but he seemed to be firmly convinced that drinking heavily was not a good thing. He said the same things about drugs: “Ay, nakakasira ’yun ng ulo (It addles your brain).”
Whether he meant it literally or figuratively, his words rang true.
Joey’s love for Boracay was evident in the way he talked about the island. Whenever older kids would bully him and try to keep him from collecting his share of trash, he would argue that Boracay is part of God’s creation and is therefore for everyone to share. He said animals of all kinds used to live in the trees until resorts and hotels drove them away and now there are not too many of them living in the mountain where he and his family live.
Pointing to the yachts, jet skis and sailboats docked nearby, Joey asked us if we had even been on them. My friend and I said yes. Then he told us that even if he has lived on the island all his life, he has never been on a sailboat.
When we asked why, he grinned and said they were only for tourists. He added with a laugh that when the tourist season is over, the boats are nowhere to be found.
I asked Joey what he wanted to be when he grows up. He said that his highest ambition is to be a teacher, but alas, he had to stop his schooling when he was in Grade 4 so that his parents could provide for the other children. Being the second to the eldest, he has to earn some money so that they will have something to eat every day.
I asked Joey when he had his last meal, and he said he only had breakfast that morning.
It was getting dark. After exchanging knowing looks with my friend, I asked Joey if he would like to have dinner with us in a nearby restaurant. His eyes lit up, and he accepted our invitation immediately, thanking us profusely.
When I looked at Joey, I wondered how someone in his situation could have preserved his morals intact. Here is a boy who has every excuse to despair and give up on life, yet he has turned things around and strives to do what is right. I find it ironic that so many people my age, who are far more privileged, throw away their blessings and treat them as if they have no value. Meeting Joey proved to me that life is what you make of it. No matter what your situation, you can still turn things around and become a better person.
After dinner, my friend and I said goodbye to Joey. He assured us that we would always be in his prayers at night.
At that moment, I felt truly blessed to have met him. Watching the sun set has always had a profound effect on me because of its beauty, but that particular Boracay sunset was made all the more meaningful when I met the boy named Joey.
Ma. Alexandra C. Austria, 18, is a journalism sophomore at the University of the Philippines-Diliman.
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