“Ballebas, Trisha, Cum Laude”, as I hear those words, I can’t help but to be amazed at what’s happening around me. I looked around the hall and saw my fellow Iskas and Iskos in their best dresses with their sablays on the left and with the eyes full of tears. I stepped into the stage, offered a handshake, and received my diploma. My heart was overflowing with gratitude and awe. “A simple person like me who came from a very simple family is experiencing this kind of blessing in the form of an achievement”, I remarked. The second and middle child of a janitor and a food vendor was able to complete an undergraduate course with Latin honors. With all the challenges I and my family faced, I can’t help but to be grateful as I put into my remembrance the things that I’ve experienced in this journey – the trials that paved the way to my triumph.

I grew up in a family living at 2461 P. Villanueva St., Pasay City. Our family indeed lived a very simple way of life back then. Our house was neither made into bricks nor was complete with furniture. We used to sleep on the floor covered with woven mat or carton. My father worked as a maintenance employee while helping my mother in our small food stall at midnight market. Most of the time, the income they were getting was enough for the expenses of the family. In consequence, our parents taught us how to value first the things that we need over the things that we want. I can’t even recount how many times my mom told me that needs come first before wants as work comes first before rest. I am grateful that my parents did not sugar coat our financial situation, but I am even more grateful that they did neither took away the hope from us to have a better life. On the contrary, they always inspired us to value education as for them, education is highly considered as a need and not just a want. “Kahit di kami nakapagtapos ng pag-aaral, gusto namin lahat kayo makapagtapos ng pag-aaral”, they exclaimed in a sincere and genuine voice; both of my parents were not able to enter college. Yet, as much as they wanted us to finish school, they did not pressure us, but instead they encouraged us and stood along with us from the moment we learned how to write our name and read ABAKADA to the moment we knew how to solve an algebraic expression, explain a chemical reaction and understand a programming language.

Moreover, I also witnessed how my dad went to his “side-line” works on Sundays and how my mom diligently looked for scholarships offered by government officials and even processed our documents. My relatives also extended their hands in times when we needed them most. There was an instance when my mom had nothing in the pocket and had to wait for my dad to come home around 5 PM to have money to buy us food. How grateful we were when my grandmother who is living with us lends my mom money enough to buy us meal. We then had an egg and rice for breakfast, an egg and rice for lunch and egg and rice for dinner! An egg and rice was life! As my taste buds were in love with egg-ketchup-rice combination, my stomach and heart were filled with gratitude! My parents balanced it by making us take vitamins and supplements they either bought at low prices or they received free from health centers.

On the other side of the story, our limitation in finances did not limit me to dream and explore the talents and gifts given to me. Despite the challenges at home and school, I hold on to the vision of me becoming “someone” in the future. That “someone” was not that clear back then as I wanted to be a nurse, chef, pilot, astronaut, scientist, teacher and more. A typical kid, indeed! But one thing was cleared to me: I have a dream and nothing is too hard for the Lord! I then became so active at school and joined different organizations and activities. Some of the organizations that I love most include Girl Scout Philippines and Red Cross Youth. I also enjoyed joining competitions, and quiz bees. As books are free in public school, it wasn’t difficult to find ways to learn my lessons at school. However, there were projects that need the service of computer and internet. We did not have any computer and internet back then. Consequently, I was always at computer shops doing my assignments and projects. At some points in my life, I with my mom and sister who accompanied me also stayed up to midnight at computer shops just to finish my project. When it comes to projects that needed arts and crafts, we usually recycled materials from our projects in previous years. I learned how to make a presentable output with limited resources. We also used the school supplies given by the government – may it be school bag, shoes, notebooks, or pencils. My family indeed is a beneficiary of the services provided by the government! I’m blessed to have parents who are humble enough to ask and receive help. With the support of my family, I was able to receive achievements and was also privileged to deliver the valedictory speech during the graduation ceremony of Padre Burgos Elementary School.

With God’s grace seen in the perseverance and resourcefulness of my parents and in the support we were receiving from other people and institutions like the government, I witnessed how the quality of our life was becoming better. My sister was able to take her undergraduate course, namely Bachelor of Science in Computer Science at Technological University of the Philippines. I can’t imagine how happy my parents were to see the first member of the family stepped into tertiary education. As with our previous schools, it did not matter to us if it’s private or not, what my parents always told us was to give the highest weight on the quality of education offered by the school. On the other hand, I was a freshman student then at Pasay City West High School – DOST ESEP while my younger brother started his primary education at Padre Burgos Elementary School. As expected, the expenses increased, but so as the blessings we received from God. God blessed our food store. From a few varieties of sweet delicacies, my parents were able to partner with other vendors to sell more kinds of food. With more items, the income also increased.

My parents still continued to find other avenues for income. We also went to Divisoria before and bought plastic supplies for packaging and sold it to the friends of my mom who were also vendors. Given the atmosphere of Divisoria, the heaviness of the plastic supplies and the hassle of public transportation, I found such very exhausting. Nonetheless, it was helpful for us so we persevered. We were also given the opportunity to be part of Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4P’s) offered by the Department of Social Welfare and Development. It was a great help as the Program provided financial aid, trainings and seminars that improved our health, nutrition and education.

Interestingly, at times when we were also in need, my parents did not fail to remind us to also lend a hand to others if we have the ability to do so. That’s why, at moments when there was provision, whenever we see plastic bottles, we no longer collected it, but we gave it to other collectors who needed those more than we did. How true it is that we can always help in our own simple ways! We were indeed blessed to be a blessing! Even though we experienced breakthroughs in finances at some extent, my family continued to be resourceful. We still recycled the things that were still useful and borrowed books from friends, relatives, libraries and schools instead of buying one. The hardships were paid off when my sister received her college diploma. Alas! My family rejoiced as the first member of the family earned a college degree! We celebrated all the more as in the same year I also graduated from high school as valedictorian and passed the entrance examination at the University of the Philippines Manila! If I tweeted my thoughts at that time, I’d probably include #blessed.

I took BS Biochemistry as my undergraduate course. I developed during my primary and secondary education my deep passion for science! It became clear to me that I wanted to do experiments in the laboratory and not in the kitchen neither in the outer space. Throughout my undergraduate years, I encountered a lot of trials and difficulties. Some on the list are the challenges on finances, the difficulties of the subjects, problems on health, and issues questioning my perspective on my social and spiritual life. During those tough times, some of the things that kept me going were my family, stories of miracles in the past, a dream and the voice that says I was created for a purpose. I am also blessed that like the previous years, I was not alone in my journey. My family continued to show their relentless support and love. And aside from them, I have also met friends, professors, and spiritual family inside and outside the campus who introduced to me the Gospel of Jesus Christ and offered to me the invitation of receiving Him as my Lord and Savior and of having a relationship with Him. It was indeed the major turning point of my life and the greatest gift I have received… as no amount of achievements can fill the emptiness I felt in my heart!

Going back with the challenges faced by my family, majority of them still revolved on finances. But with six hands working, the challenges had become more bearable. I admire my sister for helping my parents when she had been given the ability to produce wealth. The tuition in University of the Philippines- Manila then was not free but instead was subsidized and under the bracketing system. I was qualified for Bracket C which made my tuition fee to be more than P15, 000 per semester. It was quite heavy for us. Unfortunately, I failed the examination for DOST scholarships. But He never failed to provide for us! I received another scholarship which was Expanded Students’ Grants-in-Aid Program for Poverty Alleviation (ESGP-PA) under the 4P’s. The benefits of the scholarship included a P10, 000 off for my tuition fee and book and school allowances. With such benefits, we were able to use the money intended for my tuition for other things I need in school such as the laboratory supplies and clothes, educational field trips, and projects. Undeniably, the scholarship was a great help. Thank you so much to all the people behind that scholarship! You helped this kid walked in her destiny!

Last June 2018, I earned my degree in Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry with Latin honors. I am now the second member of the family who was able to attain a tertiary level of education! My younger on other hand received a voucher for K-12 and enrolled at Philippine Christian University. The dream God has placed in the hearts of my parents was being fulfilled step by step. After my graduation, the next financial challenge we faced was the tuition fee for review center and registration for Chemistry Licensure examination as those fees were expensive. But like how we have been provided in the past, provision also came! I took the Chemistry Licensure Examination and passed it. I had my oath taking last November 22, 2018. I cannot t believe that the one who went to school with five pesos in the pocket and Fudgee Bar and Zesto is now licensed to perform experiments on laboratory. I am now a Registered Chemist! And in a year to come, I will work as Chemist I at Philippine Institute for Pure and Applied Chemistry, a testing laboratory located inside Ateneo De Manila University Campus. A dream came true! And now, another dream has been given birth in my heart: to help my family and relatives, to inspire people with my stories, to provide scholarships for students with limited financial resources and to share with them the Hope that enabled me to stand even when everything else was falling apart.

From the things I have experienced, I can say that the pursuit of education and the dream was never easy. But I am a living testimony that with God and the people He placed in my life, there is nothing impossible. Education, contrary to the popular belief, was not just for the privilege, rather it is a privilege offered to anyone who believes in the beauty of his/her purpose, calling and destiny! As we were not made out of accidents nor for unknown purpose, I hope we would not let our mistakes, past experiences, and even labels – including the cultural and socio-economic labels such as being in the lower economic class of society, dictate how we see our future and how we live the present. While for the past years, I received some achievements, my story is not mainly a story of success but of hope. And I hope that somehow my stories sparked a fire in you causing you to continually run the race that has been set for you and before you!

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