There is a documentary on TV about a nine-year-old boy who takes care of his paralyzed grandmother. In spite of his depressing condition, he still manages to smile on camera as he talks of his hopes and his fears. He hopes that by taking care of his Lola (grandmother), the old woman might get well and gain back her strength. He fears the day his grandmother will die. He could not imagine life without her.
Dungkoy is the nine-year-old boy who, instead of spending his time in school or at play, has taken the responsibility of a caregiver to his old, ailing grandmother. The grandmother named Nonita has suffered a stroke and could no longer talk nor move.
The documentary follows Dungkoy as he goes about his daily routine. Early in the morning, he goes to a neighbor to get some hot milk or hot coffee for his grandmother. As always, bread goes with the beverage provided by kind neighbors who cannot turn a blind eye to the plight of the boy and the sick old woman.
Dungkoy feeds his grandmother like a parent feeding a little child. He is very patient with the old woman as he tries to understand her grunts and moans. He controls her food intake for fear that she would choke to death.
After his grandmother has finished breakfast, Dungkoy goes about his business. He goes to look for available jobs in a small eatery, doing the dishes and cleaning up after the customers. He also helps the owner pack charcoal. In exchange, he gets free breakfast for himself and bread for his grandmother plus ten or sometimes fifteen pesos as wage. When there is a feeding program in their area, Dungkoy goes there for his and his grandmother’s meals.
While other kids his age are in school, Dungkoy has one more chore to do for his grandmother, and that is to give her a sponge bath. With a bucket in hand, he walks a long way to fetch the water he needs.
The documentary shows how the boy struggles to give his grandmother a sponge bath, and how he gets the old woman into fresh clothes. He says it’s tough because she is heavier and bigger than he is.
It is heart-rending to see a little boy trying his best to support the frail body of his grandmother so she does not fall back as he helps her to sit up. It is agonizing on the part of the grandmother to have her little grandson bathe and dress her up like a small child. After his work is done, he tells his grandmother that he needs to rest. It is such a labor-intensive job for his little body.
He tells the camera that he does not mind taking care of his Lola. He does not make a fuss about it, that he is doing it so that she can regain her health, that she is his only hope. He asks dreadfully, “What would happen if she's gone?”
He believes that he owes his Lola so much. She has taken care of him when his mother left him. So he is taking care of her now.
When his Lola could still talk, she has told Dungkoy that his mother left when he was two years old. His Lola has since taken care of him, reading to him a book called “Alamat ng Ampalaya” (Legend of the Bitter Gourd) which has become Dungkoy’s favorite, the book that he can read. He has not gone to school but he can read his favorite book.
Anybody who looks at Dungkoy and does not know his story would perhaps say that he is just like any other boy. He looks with envy as children his age play or ride bicycles. He has a penchant for bicycles. He is at his happiest when he is on a bike which some people lend him.
He tells the camera that he has not heard of any other kid taking care of his Lola except him. Sometimes kids tease him that he does not have toys, he does not have playmates except his Lola whom he takes care of. He envies the kids who can freely play. At times, he tells them that if they continue to jeer at him, they might also experience his hardships.
The Good Samaritans
There are those in the area who could not care less for the old woman and the boy. There are those who say that they do not even know there are people living in that squalid house in their neighborhood. But fortunately, there are good Samaritans in the area who look after the grandmother and grandson in the house where the door does not even have a lock. Dungkoy puts a stone behind the door to close it.
The Block Leader in their area says that almost all the residents in their neighborhood are typhoon victims who have been relocated to the area three years ago. Dungkoy and his mother arrived with his grandmother.
Accordingly, Nonita, the grandmother is a less than ideal parent to her children so her children left her. She is also a battered wife, as the rumor goes. They have been abandoned by Dungkoy’s mother who has found another man. More rumors say that Dungkoy’s mother is a surrogate mother, when she gets pregnant, she sells her child.
One of the neighbors narrates that Dungkoy’s mother has left them with P50 and a telephone number to call when something happens to the old woman. But all calls and messages made to that number have been unanswered. Though the neighbors are annoyed with the mother, they have looked out for Dungkoy and his grandmother because they cannot live with themselves if anything happens to them.
There has been a time when the husband of one of his Lola’s daughters, has taken them in but in a short while, they are back. Upon their return, someone named Aling Lucia has been coming to their house to take care of them, doing their laundry and cleaning up the house but she has stopped coming eventually.
Dungkoy takes the people behind the documentary to Aling Lucia who knows a lot about the story of Dungkoy and his Lola. Aling Lucia’s husband and Dungkoy’s grandfather are brothers. She has stopped coming to help out because she’s been suffering from glaucoma.
According to Aling Lucia, when Dungkoy was young, the family was a bit well-off because his grandfather worked overseas. But after they moved to the relocation area, they suffered financially because the grandfather, though still alive and working in Saudi Arabia, stopped communicating, and stopped sending money. That could be the reason Dungkoy’s grandmother had a stroke, because her husband had abandoned her.
Dungkoy has two more siblings. The older one is a girl but no one knows where she is, Dungkoy is the second child, and the third child has been sold. Then the mother has left with another man, and vanishes from Dungkoy’s life. Aling Lucia can not send him to school because she is jobless. She is glad the neighbors help him out.
You and Me Against the World
In one scene of the documentary, Dungkoy comes home to find that his grandmother has made a mess on her bed. He cleans it up while reprimanding her about doing “number two” without warning him. He tells her that the flies are swarming because of the filth. The grandmother looks at him with anxious eyes and grabs his hand. Dungkoy says, “She’s scared that I might leave her.”
When she shivers, Dungkoy pulls away from her tight grip, and covers the old woman’s frail body with a blanket.
For Christmas, he wants a comb, some antiseptic alcohol, and he wants his grandmother to get well. But most of all, he wants a bike so he can get to the feeding programs faster.
I wish there is a law against parents who abandon their children. They should languish in jail or they should never be allowed to have children. After this documentary is shown on TV, I am sure the authorities would do something.
They should send the boy to school and the grandmother to a home. Why does it take a documentary to bring these issues to the authorities?