by Dr. Bernardo M. Villegas
To illustrate what Punlaan has done to hundreds of lives, let me quote a testimonial that appeared on its official newsletter called Punlaan Waves. One of its alumnae, Mary Ann Garcia Agajanian, currently pastry jr. sous chef in prestigious Discovery Primea on Ayala Avenue, Makati, traced her educational journey: “I am Mary Ann Garcia Agajanian. My father is a printing press operator and my mother a housewife. With the minimum wage earnings of my father, I knew it would be hard for them to send me to college. I was losing hope thinking I might not be enrolled that year. However, along with a prayer, I looked for a college scholarship program. Luckily an NGO from my parish introduced me to Miss Clarice who sponsored my expenses to go to Punlaan….Right after graduation I was hired at Azzurro. After my first contract I joined the Discovery Suites Hotel as pastry helper. After a year, when Discovery Shores Boracay opened, I grabbed the opportunity to be part of the opening team and was regularized as pastry chef de partie. I stayed on the island for 8 years where I matured a lot, became independent, professional, and I met my better half….Now, I hold the title of jr. sous chef in pastry at Discovery Primea, happily married with 3 children… I thank God for showering me with continuous blessings and all the sponsors for the support — you’ve made many lives better — and Punlaan for moulding me to be a good person…Punlaan School changed my life. They moulded me not only in academics but, most importantly, in values that became my foundation as an individual and as a professional…Fellow graduates, let me end this with a quote I once read: ‘I learned to give not because I have plenty, but because I know exactly how it feels to have nothing.’ ”
In her testimonial, Mary Ann also shared an insight that shows the potential of a Punlaan-style training that combines academics with actual work experience. More often than not, its graduates develop entrepreneurial skills, especially considering that the women in the Philippines have almost an innate talent to start small businesses. She reported that, in addition to her employment as a pastry jr. sous chef, she started a small business of accepting made-to-order customized cakes and pastries. She intends to make it a future business which a daughter of hers could manage. She also proudly announced that, together with the earnings of her husband — who is also in the hospitality industry — they were able to purchase a house and lot in Cavite and are paying for a condominium unit in Mandaluyong. In her words, “these are for my two boys because we want them to have a decent place in the future. I know what it feels to live in a slum area.”
It is also heartening to know that four of her siblings are doing very well professionally: One is a heavy equipment technician in Australia. The second, studying for her master’s degree in law. Another is a certified electrical engineer and the fourth is, like her, working as a chef. I cannot resist the temptation in reminding those who are so concerned about birth control that a poor family with eight children — with appropriate support from society and diligence on part of the members of the household — can attain a reasonably comfortable life in the Philippines. This is another illustration that the greatest treasure of the Philippines is a young, growing, and English-speaking population. So much for the RH Law!
Let me use this occasion again to reiterate what I have written a number of times. We should encourage a greater number of those going to senior high under the K to 12 curriculum to consider technical education as a better route than college education to employability and thus to contribute to the economic development of our country in the coming years. We should tell both parents and their children that college education is not the only way to a dignified and economically rewarding job. At the same time, we should remind the technical schools that, like Punlaan, they should not just be concerned with equipping their students with skills that are in demand by industry. They should be equally, if not more concerned, with forming values and virtues among their graduates. Our educational institutions should reinforce what fortunately many Filipino families, especially among lower-income households, still instill in their children — refined manners, generosity, diligence, and perseverance.
Those educators who want to learn from the experiences of Punlaan may get in touch with their officials through the email address email@example.com or Tel. Nos. 727-05-81 to 82. Its website is www.punlaanschool.edu.ph. Businesses or NGOs who are interested in helping Punlaan address the coming tourism boom may want to contact the officials to find out how they can be of assistance to this multi-awarded school. I encourage generous individuals to help Punlaan in its current building program, joining Mr. George Yang, founder of McDonald’s Philippines who was so kind as to contribute his singing talents in raising funds for the construction of the expanded facilities for the school.
For comments, my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.