Sugar is one of the most widely traded agricultural commodities in the world. About 80 percent comes from cane sugar grown by small-scale plantation owners in countries like the Philippines. But many of the sugar cane farmers never actually get to benefit from the fruits of their labour.
Meet Jason, Joevic and Wency. They are best friends from Negros Occidental in the Philippines. During the last holiday season, all three could be found working on a sugar plantation.
Each morning, they woke up at 5am, grabbed a quick breakfast of coffee and salt bread before picking up their homemade sickles and heading out to wait by a shed. Inside would be the foreman who would pick the workers for that day. “We [had] to be early to make sure we made it onto the list of labourers for the day,” Jason explains.
Using water buffalo to harvest the sugar canes.
It was back breaking work. Once there the friends would spend the next 8-12 hours bent over, cleaning out weeds amongst the sugar canes. You could hear the methodical swoosh and snap as Jason, Wency and Joevic attacked the undergrowth with vigour and practised hands. As midday arrived, temperatures would go up to a sweltering 35°C, so the friends took a short break to cool off and rest.
Sadly, for Jason, the routine was all too familiar. At 19 years old, he has already been working on the plantation most days for the last seven years. “I began working in the fields to help my parents when I was only 12 years old, many of my friends are the same, and I know that most of the seasoned labourers here in the hacienda began that young too. It is hard work, but I have to do it to buy rice for our family.” He earns 500 Pesos a week. This is the job that his father did and his grandfather before him, it is one of the few forms of employment in the area.
But for Wency, things are different. For him, the sugar plantation was a temporary job he chose to take on during the holidays. For him, the back-breaking work was a short-term way of earning some extra money for his family and his siblings' schooling. For him, it was a choice.
“I want to be an electrician someday. But since I’ve just finished high school, I decided to work in the field for a few months before I go to school again,” Wency explains. Because he is registered at the local Compassion project, he has been enrolled into a skills training course that gives him a chance to pursue his dreams.
In Hacienda Paz in La Carlota, not many teenagers get this opportunity to enter college. Most cannot afford to go to secondary school and are content to simply work in the sugarcane plantations. A sponsor can be the difference between a child being trapped in this cycle of labour and a child who is able to fulfil their their dreams.
Wency's project director, Janice, explains, "We are very happy that Wency has decided to study electronics. We would like to help all of our youth enter college or a vocational course."
Janice and the Compassion project staff work hard to educate parents and break the cycle of children working on the plantations. “Their parents understand that a child’s place is in school, not the hacienda,” she describes. “I believe that through the seminars and Bible studies we have had with the parents, their outlook in life has changed. Each child is monitored by a dedicated child worker specialist who makes sure that they go to school regularly and are doing well."
Compassion-supported children are known, loved and protected. By working with the local church, we’re able to reach children who are most in need. By giving them the chance to go to school, get health checks, receive vocational training and hear about Jesus, sponsors are helping children to break free from the crushing grip of poverty. To us, that is truly a fair trade.