WHILE most kids go to school with backpacks, 14-year-old John Michael “JM” Belida has been carrying a “special baggage” on his back for eight years now.
The third child in a brood of eight, JM has been carrying on his back his younger sister, 12-year-old Ella Mae, to school since Grade 1 until their graduation day last April 7. Ella is a person with a disability (PWD).
“Bug-at ug kapoy, pero ako giagwanta aron makahuman siya og eskwela (She’s heavy and it’s tiring, but I did it so that she could finish school),” he told SunStar Cebu.
To help their parents save money, JM would sometimes walk to the Looc Norte Elementary School in Asturias town with 40-kilogram Ella on his back, with their school bags clutched under each arm.
The school is a kilometer away from their house. While the journey would have been made easier by taking a public transport, JM would rather have his mother save the money for rice.
Erlinda, 38, takes care of the younger children while her husband Marlon, 39, drives a tricycle plying the Asturias-Balamban route. Marlon makes P300 on good days, but most of the time, he only earns P200 a day.
Erlinda admitted asking Ella to stop schooling and stay home where she could be better taken cared of.
“It pains me to see my children suffer. But my daughter is a fighter and she told me, ‘Ma, I have to finish school so I can help you and father,’” she said.
JM said Ella motivated him to work harder in school so he can be a step closer to his dream of becoming a seaman. He recalled how his sister scolded him for doing his homework late and how she did all her school work despite having shaky hands. Ella suffered taunting in school.
“I get angry when people look at her and call her names. But she always retaliates and tells the bullies off,” said JM.
But Ella is a young girl who has a fragile heart.
“Up to this day, she still asks me why she can’t be like the other kids. Her birthday wish has always been to be able to walk,” Erlinda said.
Erlinda gave birth to Ella on May 15, 2004 through normal delivery.
But 11 months later, Ella fell two feet to the ground, causing trauma on her pelvic area.
After that, Ella started getting high fevers and having irregular bowel movements. Later on she was unable to stand on her feet.
Erlinda said she had the child checked, but the physician said “it was nothing serious.”
“She was still able to walk a few steps with a cane until she was seven. But after that, she couldn’t carry her own weight,” she said.
The mother said they would’ve wanted to take Ella to a specialist in the city, but they did not have the means to do so.
Since the accident, Ella’s older brothers Asther, 18, and Jemar, 19, took turns carrying their younger sister, until they had to leave home for greener pastures.
It was when JM took over the responsibility of taking care of Ella. The two were classmates since Grade 1.
Ella, though, isn’t the only one with a special condition in the family. A three-year-old brother is also a PWD.
The boy also fell to the ground when he was seven months old and suffered the same symptoms like his sister’s.
But Ella may have her birthday wish granted soon, as the Municipality of Asturias will send the siblings today to a specialist in Balamban town for a medical checkup.
Health Officer Resalde Climaco said the two are suffering from severe potassium deficiency but still have a chance to walk.
“I’ve been praying all these years. I wish I would be able to walk so I can help my family,” said Ella.
Aside from the medical checkup, the Asturias Government and several private donors also sent help in kind. This came after their neighbor, Leonard Nuñez, uploaded on social media a photo of JM and Ella during their graduation rites.
Ella has received four wheelchairs, a pair of crutches, a bicycle, and school supplies for her and JM less than a week after finishing elementary school.
But despite all this, JM said he will continue to carry his sister, even if they have to go to separate schools in college.
“I will carry her no matter what. I hope someone can support her studies. She wants to take up a computer course,” he said.