She risks it all everyday to provide for her family.
Hailing from the southern Philippines, the Badjao people are an ethnic group known for their seaborne lifestyle, and this elderly woman is a perfect example of that.
With the sea permitting, 74-year-old Maria Tequillo goes to a port nearby her home to scavenge for coins that are thrown overboard by passengers. The tourists throw coins in because they genuinely want to see the natives dive or because they are taking pity on those essentially panhandling.
Many of the Badjao people living in the area spend their time diving for money, and the way they live over the water in shacks has helped them to become better swimmers and more accustomed to the sometimes unruly sea.
Tequillo is one of the oldest still diving at this port, and she agrees that she is too old for this “job,” but explains that her family relies desperately on this money. She goes after all coins, even P1 coins which are essentially pennies, because it truly adds up at the end of the day.
She was featured in a documentary by Front Row, a group that puts together weekly documentaries in the Philippines, where she said that the money she earned on the day they filmed, which amounted to $2.30, would buy her family a 6-pound bag of rice.
Her husband no longer dives with her as he used to, but on the days that the sea is too rough and Maria can’t go out, it’s his turn to beg for money on the streets.
The Badjao people are plagued by extreme poverty, and the shacks they live in above the water are connected by thin planks of wood they must step over precariously to avoid falling into the polluted ocean below. The group doesn’t have adequate access to healthcare, jobs, or food, leaving them often deathly ill and hungry.
Tequillo’s grandchildren help her dive on the weekends but are, thankfully, busy on the weekdays with school. Education is a key component of breaking the cycle of poverty, and their primary school could help them one day get a job rather than relying on a life spent diving for coins that people pitifully throw at them.
Maria’s bravery and dedication to her family is inspiring, albeit a little sad because she should be retired, but she won’t let anything get in the way of providing for her family.
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