The privilege and joy of empowering the youth

Photo of students from different year levels. Some have already graduated and found respectable jobs, a few are now married. They are children of single parents, vendors, security guards, farmers. One was a newspaper boy. The author used to meet them for formation sessions every Sunday afternoon, and enjoy simple celebrations every now and then.

Of all the many parish ministries I held at the Sacred Heart Parish in Cebu, the one closest to my heart is the college student assistance program, or “Scholarship Program” for the impoverished youth. Over the past 10 years, the program has enabled about 50 young people, children of farmers, fishermen, janitors and security guards, to attain a college degree. Without this scholarship program, a college education would have been far beyond their reach.
The scholarship program is closest to my heart because it does not simply help feed the poor, but empowers them to become self-sufficient. As the saying goes, “It is better to teach a person how to fish than to give him a fish every day.” Or, “It is better to teach a person how to find answers than to feed him with answers.”
Aside from paying for their schooling, there are weekly spiritual and personal guidance meetings. Such meetings help develop a sense of personal dignity.
I feel greatly rewarded and joyful whenever I witness their own happiness on achieving their college degree.
This year was doubly joyful for me, as two parish working scholars, Donabel C. Cuanan and Claudette Coyoga, have graduated.
Donabel is a farmer’s daughter from Calinan, Davao, and the sister of the parish sacristan.
I approved her application for a working scholarship. Initially, she found making the adjustment from a rural high school to the University of Cebu overwhelming.

Students present a special number at a fiesta celebration.

In addition to academic adjustment, especially with English and Computer Science, she was extremely shy. And then there was the culture shock of city life.
She failed English and Computer Science in her first semester, and started preparing herself to go back to the farms in Calinan. But I talked to her and after being assured of her determination to try harder, I bought her some books on Basic English, and arranged with the more advanced students to tutor her in computer.
I also placed her in a “ladderized” two-year Secretarial course. If she made good in two years, she could proceed to a four-year Office Management course. She did well. On October 2016, she graduated with a degree in Office Management.
She went back to Davao, a dignified professional, the first college graduate in her family clan. Our parish scholarship program had transformed Donabel’s entire future.
Claudette came from San Miguel Chapel Community, one of the poorer sections of our parish. Claudette is petite in appearance, and looked like a high school girl. As a working scholar she helped out in the parish office.
Later, I was happily surprised to find out that this unassuming little girl graduated cum laude from a Civil Engineering course! With a little personal help she was able to review and took the Board Exam. Today Claudette is a bona fide civil engineer!
The working scholarship program has made a difference in the lives of many others. The credit, of course, goes to the many generous and understanding friends and relatives. Without their untiring support, all I could have offered were my prayers and sympathetic heart and ears. God is good. May he continue to bless us. And we wish all the best to Donabel and Claudette, and all the others before them.
Last Oct. 17, two days ahead of my retreat with the other Jesuits, I went to Cebu. Happily, Oct. 17 was the graduation day of one of our scholars, Ilyne M. Cepe. She is the youngest of the seven children of Dioscoro Cepe, a fisherman from Davao and Belinda Medel. I was able to meet the grateful parents who traveled from Davao for their daughter’s graduation. Ilyne graduated with a degree of Bachelor of Science in Business Administration Major in Accountancy.

Reaching the unreachable
By Ardilyn Abatayo

Being the breadwinner of the family never stopped me from pursuing my studies. I may be eight years older than my peers but I am proud of my decision to dedicate myself to reach out and catch that elusive star.
The academic training in Cebu Normal University was rigorous and intense. I took up political science and belonged to a class where most were achievers during their high school years. I admit that the foundation of my elementary education was weak but I survived. I took coverage notes in recycled notebooks and studied twice as hard.
Nothing was easy. It never was. During my sophomore year, a professor gave me a failing grade on a major subject. I almost gave up.
As school demands piled high so did the ordeal in my family life. I am not married but I feel like I am supporting dozens of hungry mouths to feed. My mother was very sick. It even reached a point when I seriously considered letting go of that unreachable star. As the school year rocked, so did my strength. But I persevered.
Despite low grades, divided attention, weak spirits and demanding subjects, I persisted. I had to choose between failing grades and missing duty time at Sacred Heart. I chose my studies again, and was in danger of losing my scholarship.
These were not the only hurdles I encountered. My brother was detained because of a minor street violence, the goats that I raised to ease our financial struggle were hit by a truck and the driver never bothered to replace them. I would go to school on an empty or half full stomach and pretended everything was alright.
But I found other ways to survive financially. Aside from raising goats, I raised chicken as well, did “buy and sell” of supplementary medicine and delivered sewed mats. To ease transportation expenses, I befriended a dispatcher of a multi-cab so I can ride for free, and walked from Citilink to school every day.
Looking back, I remember June 13, 2006: my first day in college. Four years later, on March 25, 2010, I marched, filled with pride that I made it.
Even though I didn’t graduate with flying colors, I feel happier than a summa cum laude. For what I’ve been through was beyond drama and tragedy.
My medals are my supporters, scholarship, my family and friends, and above all, God. I thank the Children of Asia Foundation and Sacred Heart scholarship. Their generous help is one I would always be grateful for. These are the individuals and groups of people, who are the force beneath my resilient spirit and the voice of encouragement for me to reach that reachable star.

How the scholarship from SHP reshaped my life
By Ricardo Tanutan

I came from a broken family. My father, unable to take care of us, left us starving, and we were forced to find the means to survive and finish studies by ourselves.
I was a “Sapak boy” from the SAPAK Farm in Compostela, Cebu, which was headed by Fr. Emmanuel Non, SJ. I worked as an all-around houseboy while studying at the Zapatera Night High School. While I studied high school, I kept praying, asking God to grant me the way to attain a college degree.
My first step in pursuing my dream was participating in Sacred Heart Parish activities. When I discovered that SHP offered a scholarship program for deserving individuals, I was blessed with an opportunity that was truly a grace from God. Because of this scholarship, my dream came true.
Please permit me to humbly share with you how this scholarship reshaped my life.
It gave me courage. I used to be a shy individual who feared to tackle life’s challenges. Now, after taking various courses, I am able to confidently speak out. I believe that my faith in God has strengthened me and gave me the courage and confidence to face trials.
It gifted me with understanding. I was once apathetic due to my lack of insight on who I was and my place in this community. As I got involved in SHP activities, I was able to understand the importance of each person’s relationship with God. That it is important to know what is within oneself, and that one must always, with faith, dedicate our life, dreams and career to God.
It healed my wounded soul. In the past, I used to question why God gave me many trials in life. Through the session “Free to be Me”, my heart was freed from these bad emotions. I now understand that my hardships were God’s way of forging me into being a “real man” for Him. It helped me come to grips with my emotions.
It made me believe in justice and equity. I learned that justice does not depend on man’s subjective interpretations. Rather, we have a God of Infinite Wisdom, whose justice encompasses every aspect of our lives, even the smallest of our concerns.