A young girl’s journey, from victim to counselor
“DI KO PO ALAM kung bakit parang suki na ako ng pambu-bully ng classmates ko (I don’t know why I’m always the pick for bullying by my classmates).”
Anne (not her real name), considers the taunting of her classmates the new normal. A Grade 11 student in a public high school in Antipolo City, she knows that the struggle of bullying will be upon her even before the day breaks.
If you take a closer look at her, she looks common and without any physical defects – which would have been a convenient reason for the bullying. She may be relatively shorter for her age, with brown complexion, but in all aspects, she looks typically Filipina. It confused her whether it was her skin color or her height that became the pet peeve of her schoolmates.
School bullying is nothing new, or so says the American Psychological Association. In fact, psychologists are identifying new ways to prevent it. It also debunked myths linking bullying to just the unpopular or unattractive students. It added that the perpetrators are just anxious and are insecure individuals who “use bullying as a means of compensating for poor self-esteem.”
Good traits as liabilities
Upon close scrutiny, their ganging up on her goes beyond the physical. It turned out her enterprising ways was the cause of her stigma.
“Nagtitinda po kasi ako ng kung ano-ano sa klase. Siguro isang rason po iyan kung bakit ako nakakaranas nito sa kanila (I was selling different stuff in class. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons I’m experiencing this from them),” she said. “Nakikita po nilang nakakapag-ipon ako ng pera at sinubukan nila akong utangan. Pero dahil di ko sila pinagbigyan, ayun, nagsimula na silang gumawa ng tsismis tungkol sa akin (They see me earning money and tried to borrow from me, but because I did not accede to their request, they started making stories about me).”
Students who make money selling wares to their classmates are not exactly an anomaly in the educational system. Working students who strive hard to make both ends meet are a poster boy for success, milked of every drama by traditional and social media, whose bittersweet stories are the stuff of television drama. A recent order from the Department of Education (DepEd) however prevents her from making money from her simple retail venture.
In her case, the perpetrators are not the stereotypical tough-talking blokes or popular mean girls.
“Madalas po kasi, mga kaklase kong lalaki. Minsan naman po mga babae na akala ko ay close na sa akin (Usually, it’s my male classmates [who bully me]. Sometimes it would be the girls who I thought were close to me),” she recalled. “Kapag sumasagot po ako sa klase, nagtatawanan na po sila. Minsan po ang teacher di na lang makapagsaway kasi buong klase na silang magtatawanan (When I stand up to give answers at class, they would start heckling me. Even the teacher could not stop them because the entire class would be laughing altogether).”
Mending broken dreams
Despite the obstacles, Anne’s English teacher, Ella, had good things to say about her. “She’s a strong, independent young woman,” she described her. “For someone who is a product of a broken family, she has to be. That, I think, is her defense mechanism. That keeps her afloat.”
Based on her conversations with Anne, it turned out her parents separated and what ensued were the ugly repercussions of that action: the tug of war to whom the children shall live with.
In her case, she had to live with her father whose work as part-time construction laborer does not suffice; that started the economic crumble of resources. They were barely surviving, thus resulting to Anne’s selling of adobo peanuts, buttered coconut crackers and gooey candies.
The warrior is hurting too
The few people who Anne considers her ‘true’ friends consider her a ‘warrior in life.’ But beneath that tough disposition is a crushed soul. She knows that she could not keep up with that persona for so long. Sooner than later she would have to give up if this bullying does not stop.
“Di po ako magsisinungaling sa inyo na may naiisip po akong masamang gawin sa sarili ko para lang matapos na itong lahat (I would not lie to you that I was thinking of doing something bad to myself, just so that this would come to end),” she confessed.
Consequently, her grades and performance in school were affected. She had committed consecutive absences in the stretch of the first semester enough to have her class standing tethered on a tightrope. Her father was often called to school by her adviser for a monthly report of her ranking.
Even amidst the struggle, Anne considers herself lucky because there was a good Samaritan who helped her pick herself up from the hurt. It was her class adviser, Marie, who first noticed. She investigated the root of Anne’s problems and began to counsel her on how she would deal with them.
Marie shared that most of her intimate conversations with Anne ended up in tears. “The struggle was too real for her,” she recalled, especially when the bullies taunted her of ‘not being able to make it.’ “Sometimes it’s not the physical threats that can unhinge a person’s mind. Words can be poisonous especially if aimed at a person’s weakness.”
Confronting one’s oppressors
Marie decided for the class to undergo a retreat in the form of an outing. She grouped Anne with her bullies. Their group was under her close scrutiny.
While in church, she decided for everyone to send each other “Palanca letters.” These letters are in effect a platform in which each one of the students would pour out everything emotional that they have kept to themselves – bottled-up feelings in the form of resentment, anger, hopelessness. She particularly asked each and every one of them to read the letter directly to their recipient, asking them why they have such feelings for them.
It turned out, based on these confession letters, that Anne’s bullies had far more terrible problems than her but were not able to process them properly – one is addicted to drugs, another has problems with a boyfriend, somebody else is insecure with his looks. Anne, rather than spew out all her pent-up feelings with them, offered them a shoulder to cry on. The night ended up with everyone in tears; this time, it was Anne who was consoling them.
From then on, Marie noticed a different demeanor with the class when it comes to dealing with Anne. “Napansin ko bumait na sila (I noticed that they were kinder),” she observed. “Wala nang magulo habang may discussions ako. Lahat sila nakikinig at nagpa-participate sa mga activities namin (There was no more commotion while there are discussions. Everyone listens and participates in our activities).”
Marie also noticed some changes in the way Anne carries herself. She was able to redeem her confidence, and she attended classes more frequently. Though Anne failed three subjects, she did not stop and feel defeated. She feels hopeful that she will pass all the required subjects for the second semester because of a profound change with her relationship with her family and schoolmates.
“This makes me happy because finally she is coming to terms with herself,” Marie said. “She suffered enough with what their family has to go through and this renewed Anne is more inspired, ready to tackle the challenges of life with confidence and inner strength.”
The author is a junior and senior high school English, Creative Writing and Journalism teacher at a school in Antipolo City. He is also currently co-adviser of the school’s official English school paper.