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About the Author

Iris Cecilia Gonzales
journalist (Quezon City, Philippines)

I work as a reporter for the Philippine Star, a Manila daily. At present, I cover the Department of Finance beat but I also write other stories here and there. I'm also a coffee and scotch drinker, a barefoot traveller and a collector of memories. I live in a parallel universe.


Jona’s Sampaguitas

Published 19th April 2010 - 4 comments - 3117 views -

Carrying her son, Jona tries to sell stringed flowers outside a church in Quezon City. Photo taken by the author using a mobile phone

QUEZON CITY, Philippines - Jona fervently waits for customers tonight, a windy evening outside St. Paul’s Church here in Quezon City in the Philippine capital region.

It is like this on most nights. Jona, a 26-year old mother of two girls and one boy, waits on the same cold concrete steps leading to the church everyday to sell the fragrant petals to church patrons. She starts at 6 a.m. for the first mass in the morning and stays until she is able to sell all the Sampaguitas for 200 pesos (roughly USD$4 at the current exchange rate of USD$1 to 44 pesos).

When she’s lucky which is usually on Sundays when members of the predominantly Philippine Catholic population hear mass, Jona is able to earn 300 pesos or more.

She spends all the money to feed her family.

For now, she is the breadwinner, with her husband having been retrenched from work as a laborer a few months ago.    

In the meantime, while she struggles to earn a living, her husband takes care of their daughters, one six year old and the other, four. They live in a small shanty in a resettlement community in Fairview.

But Jona can rarely go home to her family. She sleeps by the stairs leading to the church with her son whom she breastfeeds, to be able to earn a living.

“I wish I could find a better job,” Jona says in an interview with this blogger.

Asked how she thinks that can happen, she answers in the same breath.

“I wish the government would help people like us. It’s not easy to sleep hungry,” Jona says, her voice fading away.

Her son, in a tattered white shirt, starts to cry.

I say goodbye.

Hearing Jona’s story, I think of the Philippines' progress in attaining Millennium Development Goal number one: To Eradicate Extreme Poverty and Hunger.

On the government’s latest progress report, there is a blank yellow face: medium; pace of progress between 0.5 percent and 0.9 percent.

I wouldn’t dare ask Jona if she agrees with this. My guess is she’d put a dark face, one of extreme pain and desperation. Exactly how she looks tonight.

No, I wouldn’t dare ask her. 



*At the current exchange rate of 44 pesos to a US dollar, 20 pesos is equivalent to USD$0.45

(photo by the author using a mobile phone)

Category: Hunger | Tags:


  • Daniel Nylin Nilsson on 19th April 2010:

    A really strong text. I guess the official pace of progress is quite irrelevant to the people who actualy live in poverty.

  • Iris Cecilia Gonzales on 19th April 2010:

    Thanks for your comment Daniel. Yes, all they want to see is real progress.

  • Giedre Steikunaite on 19th April 2010:

    So sad. Iris, do you know how your government is tackling goal one in practice?

  • Iris Cecilia Gonzales on 19th April 2010:


    There are initiatives made by the government. It has feeding programs credit initiatives for small earners and other similar measures but what is needed are long-term solutions such as proper employment so that people can get decent pay. Sadly, this is not easy because the government does not have enough funds for social services. It has been operating on a deficit for so many years now. I strongly believe that is one major cause of the problem of hunger in my country. I will post another article on the fiscal situation on a later date.

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