Rosali Mosende has spent all of her 18 years growing up on Paterno Street in Manila’s Quiapo district. It has been a life of hard knocks. Her family has no house, just a lean-to on the sidewalk. A high school student, she studies her lessons at night under the streetlight or by candlelight. She gets up early in the morning to take a bath on the street. Before going to school, she helps her mother sell candies, cigarettes, snacks and religious items on the sidewalk.
To help her mother earn money for the family, Rosali works for other vendors on Carriedo and R. Hidalgo streets on weekends and on days when she has no classes. But she finds time to serve on the Sangguniang Kabataan of her village where she is an elected kagawad.
Even with a youth council in the area, teenage fights on Paterno Street are frequent, especially at night, and Rosali goes to sleep fearing that her family’s spot on the sidewalk may get knocked down in the next clash. She wants to get out of Paterno, live a better life with her family in a better part of the city. That’s why she presses her studies—education is her ticket out of Paterno, out of poverty, and to a new life.
She’s getting close to attaining that dream. On Thursday, she graduated from Manila High School, third in her section. Next: college. And she is sure of going to a hotel and restaurant management school, thanks to photographer Rick Rocamora who discovered her on Paterno and whose accounts of her struggle against poverty have drawn a response from a benefactor. Rosali is getting a four-year scholarship covering her tuition, book expenses, and monthly allowance. She still lives on Paterno, but she is already sure of leaving it.
(Editor’s note: Rick Rocamora is a US-based documentary photographer whose work is often likened to that of Walker Evans and Dorothy Lange, Depression-era documentarians who recorded in photographs the lives of America’s poorest of the poor with dignity and pathos. A large part of his work has been shot in the Philippines, where he discovered 18-year-old Rosali Mosende while working on his project “This Is Our Home,” about people who struggle for a living but don’t earn enough to have a roof over their heads. GMA News Online is publishing a retrospective slide show of his work to mark his 25th year in documentary photography.)