Meeting people like Nanay Sario and telling their story are the reasons I love my job.
published April 5, 2013 - MST, page A5
Sixty-one-year old Rosario Mendoza, known to friends as Ka Sario, left her shoreline home in Naic, Cavite at five in the morning to make sure she’s not late for her 11 a.m. appointment in Quezon City.
“I’m never late for things like this,” she says. Indeed. She was two hours early.
Ka Sario is one of a several ambassadors handpicked by Oxfam in the Philippines to champion its key issues of achieving food security and coping with the effects of climate change. She’s a fisherman – err, woman.
Ka Sario’s parents, also fisherfolk, taught her and her siblings the trade early on. She dreamed of an office job as an accountant, though, because she loved numbers. She started an associate course in commercial science at the Philippine College of Commerce (now Polytechnic University of the Philippines), but it was the early 1970s and classes were routinely disrupted because of political rallies. Sario decided to work as a contractual employee at the Philippine Postal Savings Bank, manually computing interest on loans.
She soon fell in love and settled back to Naic with her boyfriend Rafael, whom she had known a long time from their school days in the province.
The couple had seven children with ages now ranging from 22 to 41. Despite their modest means—fishing for hasa-hasa, bisugo and salay-salay enables them to have food on the table but leaves room for little more—the children have managed to finish courses from management to fisheries to computer technology.
They all live in the same barangay and continue to be active members of their fishing community. Mang Rafael used to be councilor, one child became a Sangguniang Kabataan chairman, and Ka Sario is also a barangay health worker.
The business of fishing
Until last year, Ka Sario refused to be that traditional wife who waited for her husband on the shore, praying for good catch and fretting for his safety. Instead, for more than 30 years, she went out to sea with him, providing a steady hand and a watchful eye. “We have our roles. We work with each other.”
She observes that fishing in Manila Bay has become more difficult; the water has become dirty and they face competition from big commercial fishing companies and illegal fishermen.
The weather is also a challenge, becoming more volatile and unpredictable. One sails under clear skies, and all of a sudden finds oneself amid heavy rain and big waves.
Often, even after long hours waiting, there is no catch. On some good days, there is plenty. “That is the difference between fishermen and farmers. Farmers know they are going to harvest something. Fishers go out there without that certainty,” Ka Sario explains.
For the Mendozas, fishing is an exercise in livelihood as well as in family communications. Ka Sario narrates that when she and her husband need to discuss something—even argue—they board their fishing boats and air their sentiments while at sea so the children could not hear them.
A family tragedy one New Year’s Eve claimed the life of a daughter, who left behind one daughter who is now six years old and who is very close to her Lola Sario. It is good that everybody lives close by. “One thing we taught out children is that they should always be there for each other.”
Her husband could be a disciplinarian, but over the years their children have found ways to go beyond the strict exterior and engage their father in conversation, sometimes banter. As for herself, Ka Sario says her hobby is to document everything that takes place in her family’s life—dates and events, seminars attended, courses completed, awards received. One of these awards was a Model Family citation in the community.
Embracing the unknown
She does realize that she and her family live in an especially vulnerable area, given the threats posed by climate change. “We have lived here for many years and we know what to do when a storm is coming,” she says, launching into a complicated discussion of what everyone in the family does during a storm to push the water back to the sea.
Her tone shows her innate optimism and sense of adventure.
Ka Sario likes going out even to places she has not been to before. Her family gets worried, especially since she refuses to carry a cell phone with her. But no one rains on her parade.
“This is what I tell other women in our barangay,” she says. “Go out of your houses. Don’t be afraid to have new experiences. Look at me: Every time I go out, I gain 3 Ks—kakilala (acquantaince), kasanayan (skill), kapaligiran (environment).”
The meeting ends and Ka Sario gathers her things, including an umbrella —“you never know when you need it!” —and a bag bulging with documents and notes. She actually prepared a statement, afraid she would not know what to say. But the words flowed easily because she spoke of matters close to her heart.
“I will have another good story to tell my granddaughter.”