By Catriona Gray
Juda Diclay belongs to the Tau’t Bato tribe in Palawan, an indigenous community which lives in isolation inside the crater of a volcano.
Given the remoteness of her community, which is an eight-hour hike from the nearest town, Juda had never known what education is all about.
But that was until social workers from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) came to their place and extended to her the privilege of going to school.
At 25 years old, Juda was, at first, hesitant on embarking on that educational journey.
“Dahil lumaki ako sa kabundukan, hindi ko alam kung ano ang pamuhay sa ibaba, so mas komportable ako doon… parang doon lang umiikot ang buhay ko sa bundok kaya ayaw ko nang lumabas (Because I grew up on the mountains, I didn’t know what life was like in the lowlands. I was comfortable there in the mountains, so my life revolved around there and that’s why I didn’t want to go out),” Juda said.
But she eventually made the giant leap. However, her first immersion into a community outside of her own was an unforgiving one, as she recounts.
“Na-encounter ko pa ang diskriminasyon [ng aking tribo] sa pag-attend ko ng klase…lagi akong sinasabihan na wala akong kuwenta (I encountered discrimination when I attend my classes, they always tell me how worthless I was), she recalled.
Worse, some ruthless schoolmates even told her: “Wala raw akong alam kaya huwag na lang daw ako mag-aral, wala raw yumayaman sa pag-aaral (They keep saying I knew nothing, so I shouldn’t bother studying, and that nobody gets rich studying)”
But Juda found her strength under the guidance of her teachers who constantly reminded her, “Kaya mo iyan (You can do it),” they encouraged her.
Drawing purpose from her journey so far, she shared, “Iyong hirap kung saan ako nanggaling, iyong mga magulang ko at mga kamag-anak ko na hindi marunong magsulat at magbasa. Ito ang naging motivation ko kung paano ko itutuloy ang pagaaralpara maging guro.”(The challenges I endured from where I came from – with having parents and relatives who do not know how to read or write. That’s was my motivation to continue my studies in order to become teacher.)
There, too, is the story of Johanna Heart Genon, a recent senior high school graduate, who embarked on her own journey, starting from the doldrums of the place her family chose to call home – a Chinese cemetery in Barangay Carreta in Cebu City.
“As early as 14-years old I already dreamt of becoming an engineer and building my own house,” she shared.
But her family’s peculiar abode drew constant teasing and negative judgment from her peers, Johanna recalled.
“Noong high school po ako (When I was in high school),I got depressed because people were telling me, ‘Hanggang diyan kalang (That’s all you’re going to be), you’re a cemetery girl,” she related.
However, in 2014, hope came for the family when it was taken in as a Modified Conditional Cash Transfer (MCCT) partner beneficiary.
“With the monthly financial support and the rent subsidy, everything changed: a change for the better for my family,” Johanna shared.
Secured with the opportunity of continuous education, Johanna focused all her energy on excelling academically, seeing it as an avenue to one day provide for her family.
“That experience [living in the cemetery] convinced me to study and strive hard to reach my dreams in life,” she said.
Since graduating with top honors from her senior high school, Johanna has since been accepted on a scholarship to take up Civil Engineering at the University of Cebu. Despite her youth, Johanna has a strong sense of purpose. And from all indications, one day, she will accept her college diploma and become her family’s first college graduate.
Then there were the stories of Ryan Christopher Bucad, Joshua Cruz, and Bulkman Smith Lazano – all as remarkable and inspiring as they finished senior high school at the top of their class with the help of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program or 4Ps.
Ryan, who was raised with three siblings only by their father, learned early in life that a better life for their family rested solely on his shoulders.
He told himself: “Kailangan mong gawin ‘to, kaliangan kong magsikap magaral.” (You need to do this. You need to strive to pursue your studies).”
In hearing his voice break with emotion as he shared this commitment, one can’t help but also feel that that pressure that could have been too much for someone so young to handle.
“Takot po kasi ako ma-fail, nakakaawa naman iyong Tatayko kung mag-fail ako.” (I’m scared to fail;I’ll feel bad for my dad if I were to fail.)
True enough, Ryan was able to use this remarkable motivation to spur him on to finish senior high school with the highest honors.
Joshua’s situation was more dire.
Apart from belonging to a huge family composed of six children, he was born with abnormalities in his hands, legs and toes, and had a cleft palette.
“Noong bata pa ako, siyempre hindi naman po maiiwasan iyong makarinig ng panunukso ng mga kaklase mo,ng mga ibang tao. Pero kailangang lumaban eh (When I was young, you can’t help but just shrug off all the teasing that came from your classmates and other people. I just had to fight on),” he said.
And in his last year in high school, health issues even caused him to miss most of his classes.
But he still graduated senior high school with high honors – standing out as an empowering example to children and students with disabilities. ”Sa mga katulad ko pong may disability, tuloy lang ang laban (To everyone who is has a disability like me, never stop fighting),” he declared.
Bulkman thanks his parents for instilling in him a strong sense of value and the importance of being able to give back to the community.
“Iyong big influence parang taga-impluwensiya kasi sa mga anak nila, mga magulang nila. So I think in targeting the youth, we should first target the parents.” (A big influence to the children are their parents. The parents should be uprighted also because they are the only people the children see and learn from everything that they do.)
More than his academic achievement of high honors graduating from senior high school, what was admirable about Bulkman was his spirit and strong sense of self which was evident in his interaction with his peers.
While talking to him, one discovers that his active participation in community events, programs and advocacies has endowed him with the strong values and qualities to become a future leader.
“Lahat sana ng kabataan, maging aktibo sa kanilang barangay o sa komunidad (I hope that every member of the youth would beactive within their barangay or community) because while they are engaging themselves in the community they will learn,” he said.
The stories of Juda, Johanna, Ryan, Joshua and Bulkman were just a few about the hundreds of young and poor Filipinos who have been given a solid chance at making a good future for themselves through the government’s Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program, or 4Ps.
According to the DSWD, 300,000 beneficiaries will be graduating from senior high school, along with 30,000 college graduates who will be finishing their degrees through the Expanded Students Grants-in Aid Program for Poverty Alleviation (ESGP-PA).
“Education must be grounded on values. Education without values will not amount to the upright transformation of the person,” Commissioner on Higher Education Ronald Adamat pointed out to about 1,000 4Ps beneficiaries who graduated from school recently and were gathered by the DSWD for the Araw ng Pagkilala 2018 last May 7 at the SM Skydome.
He also underscored that the batch of graduates was fortunate, considering that such benefits were never extended to past generations of Filipinos.
Adamat also extolled the dedication and commitment of students like Juda and Johanna as a shining achievement that went beyond any medal or certificate they could ever receive.
He noted that it was the unwavering perseverance to overcome personal and environmental challenges, along with the sheer grit, that pushed the young graduates to rise above their limitations and excel against all odds.
As for me, to have met with such a group of driven young people whom the world has forced to grow up too fast, and to see that despite the hardships and struggles they still remain to have kind hearts, was truly an inspiring encounter.
I, too, advocate community involvement through charity work because it not only allows you to have a deeper appreciation of all that you have, but also makes you instrumental in changing someone else’s life.
There are heroes everywhere, in every walk of life, with each pursuing a dream, each wanting a better life for others and it seems the future of our beloved Philippines is in good hands.