Grade schooler’s suicide draws attention to urban poverty

Grade 6 pupil Marianeth Amper, who committed suicide in the afternoon of All Souls' Day in a room of their house in the sloping hills in Maa, has caught the national limelight as she was reportedly pushed to kill herself because of her family's hunger and poverty.

Dalmin Faith Igaña, of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) who interviewed the family on Nov. 7, said Marianeth had reached a stage when she could no longer cope with the poverty around her. This was further exacerbated, the social worker noted, by the fact that the girl had nobody to whom she can express her feelings.

"She was observed to be a silent child who met realities of poverty as she dreamt about many things for her and her family," Igaña said of their initial findings of circumstances around the suicide.

Marianeth did not pen down a suicide note but had kept a diary with entries from Oct. 1 to 25 and an unsent letter to the reality television program "Wish Ko Lang" over GMA network.

Her suicide on Nov. 2 placed on the limelight her situation and the fate of children like her born to poor families in the slums of Davao City.

Now, government officials, social workers, other personalities and the media flocked to the Ampers' little shack by the hills to know her story and to see what went wrong.

Social Welfare Secretary Esperanza Cabral ordered the DSWD regional office in Davao City to check the poverty that drove the girl to kill herself.

Igaña said central to the child's concerns were schooling, her parents' livelihood, and things she wanted to have, or activities in school she wanted to join, but could not because of poverty.

On Oct. 6, she wrote in her diary, in Tagalog, that she had been absent from school for almost a month. But two days later, she wrote a thankful note that she could finally return to school.

Marianeth was stuck at home because her parents had no money to pay for their fare and could not give them baon (school allowance), said her younger brother Reynand, 10. It was Reynand who discovered her just before she died by the rope.

Isabelo, her 49-year-old father, a construction worker, had been unemployed for a year because of a kidney ailment and arthritis. Her mother, a housewife, earned by washing the neighbors’ laundry. Later in the month, she was hired in a nearby noodle factory.

The Ampers originally had 10 children, four of them already married. Marianeth was the sixth. A twin died at birth, another due to illness while still an infant.

On the day Marianeth died, Isabelo said he was able to get advance payment for a construction job so he could give his daughter money for school projects. "Life has been difficult since I fell ill," he said.

But he admitted he is in pain even more with Marianeth's death.

Isabelo told reporters he has mixed feelings over the help his family has been getting since reports of her daughter’s death came out in the media.

"Nalibog ko, nalipay ug nasubo nga naa gyud diay mga tawo nga lunod patay nga motabang nako(I feel confused. I’m happy and sad that there are really people who would really help me), " he told reporters at Marianeth's wake at their residence in Purok 41, Maa district.

He said DSWD personnel visited them on Wednesday. The next day, the DSWD donated P5,000.

"My daughter’s dream has been realized but, sad to say, she’s gone. She has become an instrument for people in government to see that there are really people like us who can use some help," he said.

Isabelo said his other children have adjusted to their economic hardship and have to terms with his situation.

"She might have thought that's (committing suicide) the best thing she could do to help," he said. "Now, the government and other sectors got our attention," he added.

He said he hope that village officials would now take time to find out the situation of the poor and report this to the concerned government agencies.

Igaña told MindaNews they have pledged to attend to Isabelo’s medical condition and provide skills training for his wife.

She said the Davao City Social Service and Development Office is taking charge of Marianeth’s burial Nov. 10.

Marianeth, in her letter to the reality TV program that she failed to send, wished for her parents to be able to make both ends meet. In the letter, she appealed to host Vicky Morales to help provide livelihood for her parents; and for her — a new pair of shoes, a bag, and a bike that she could use to school.

"Gusto ko makatapos ng pag-aaral (I want to finish schooling)," she wrote in the undated letter. Her father said she wanted to be a nurse.

She also documented her life — both joy and pain — coping with poverty in her diary written on a thin grade school notebook.

In several entries in her diary, she noted the days she was absent from school and her longing to return to class. She also noted the days when her father fell ill, her brother's anticipation of his birthday, and finally partaking a chicken meal on that occasion.

On Oct. 5 she noted that her father was still feeling sick, three days after the onset of arthritis. Although she noted her month-long absence by Oct. 6, she was happily anticipating the coming of Christmas.

Her diary revealed her feelings and observations about a misunderstanding between her parents and her elder brother.

Marianeth wrote about her fondness for boxing champion Manny Pacquiao, even watching the recent fight with Mexican fighter Juan Manuel Marquez. "Magaling siya kaya nanalo siya (He is good, that’s why he won)," she wrote on Oct. 7.

Igaña said Marianeth’s death should serve as a wakeup call for parents and the government.

She said parents, rich or poor, should spend time talking to their children. "There is no substitute to quality time with family. Parents should find time to attend to the needs of their children, not only financially but also emotionally," she said.

The government should also find bigger budget to its poverty alleviation programs, she said. "The small budget is spread too thinly to the magnitude of people who needed help," she said.