By Christian Love Daroy-Gagno
“Wow! Ang ganda!” (Wow! Beautiful!) 12-year-old Annie Murillo exclaimed as she absorb the sights and sounds of the University of Santo Tomas, which is just a stone’s throw from Kapatiran-Kaunlaran Foundation Inc. (KKFI) compound at P. Paredes Street, Sampaloc, Manila.
“Paglaki ko, gusto kong mag-aral dito” (Someday, I want to study here), she added still obviously dazed as she continued to gaze at the inside of the campus from behind its gates.
Annie at the University of Santo Tomas
I accompanied Annie to the country’s oldest university after we attended the Philippine National Children’s Conference held at the Lancaster Hotel in Mandaluyong City last May 18-20. I wanted her to see the institution where our national hero, Gat Jose P. Rizal, graduated.
I wanted her to realize that Rizal dreamed a dream a century ago and realized it. I wanted to impart a message, albeit indirectly and without saying the words out loud, that she, too, can do it.
Annie is among the 30-plus children I met during my first visit to the dumpsite of Pulilan town in Bulacan. They were among the 100-plus children-participants of the KKFI program called, “Kalinga Mo, Kinabukasan Ko” (Your Care, My Future) in 2014.
Out of the many faces, that of Annie’s instantly struck me. I got to know her more as days passed. I learned that she is the eighth of 10 siblings. None of them was able to finish high school. The income of her parents, both scavengers, were too meager for such a “luxury.”
Some of her sibling married early. I was afraid Annie might take the same life-path.
“Teach them to dream,” is my mantra as a community development worker. I know that I can’t free all of the children like Annie from poverty, but if I can put a dream in their hearts. If I could successfully do it, I always tell myself, there’s a good chance something good will happen.
Part of the “Kalinga Mo, Kinabukasan Ko” program in 2014 is teaching children about what we call “life-skills.” On one of our sessions, I asked Annie what her dream was. “I want to be a fashion designer” she replied.
After a several months, I read an essay Annie wrote and I found out she has gift of writing. I told her about it. After about a couple of week, she came to me and said, “Ï have a new dream. I want to be a writer.”
A good dream, I thought to myself. I encouraged her to constantly practice the craft of writing. I asked to particularly write poems and short stories. I thought they were promising because her outputs, I noted in particularly, come obviously from the heart.
Last April 1, she graduated from grade school as Top 3 in her class. Where to?
When I heard Annie say she wanted to study at UST, I silently wished this her dream will come true. I know that her family’s financial situation could never get her the educations she wants. If only I could afford it, I would gladly sponsor her studies.
I cried inside. Teaching children to dream may be easy, but keeping it alive in their hearts is the real challenge. I felt helpless at the time. I could not do anything.
Thankfully, I realized that it was not me who holds the future of my dear Annie. As Jeremiah 29:11 says: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
I decided to keep my faith that one day that Annie would, like Rizal, would study and graduate. Maybe not necessarily from the University of Santo Tomas. Maybe from some other school. All I wanted was that she would be able to break the vicious circle of poverty and ignorance in the family. That she will live a better life.
If this is God’s will, it will be done.