by Glenda B. Gutierrez
“Life used to be a struggle,” says Joanna Marie Merced in Filipino vernacular.
Teacher Joanne, as she is fondly called, is one of the Instructional Managers (IMs) of the Alternative Learning System (ALS) who have been helping the Kapatiran-Kaunlaran Foundation Inc. (KKFI) provide education to erstwhile out-of-school youth.
She is the eldest of three sisters. The youngest died of heart attack in 2006 when she had just graduated from high school.
Their mother took it seriously and had difficulty coping. She could not cope with the reality that her daughter who always came out on top of her class and was very conscientious is gone.
“Why did God take her when she had a bright future ahead of her? Why so early,” she bewailed. “God should have taken others who were far worse than my daughter.”
The small eatery, the family’s main source of income, slowly went under and with it the mother’s health deteriorated. Later that year, she suffered her first stroke. This was followed two years later, in 2008, by another that rendered her bed-ridden and helpless. She never fully recovered and died in 2012.
The year after the mother’s first stroke, in 2007, the Merced family adopted a baby boy, who became a source of its joy.
To augment the meager family income, Joanne worked as a “yaya” or baby-sitter in Las Piñas City. She also worked as a clinic staff.
Life continued and Joanne trained in Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) in Hotel and Restaurant Services and gained a National Certificate II accreditation. She also was able to finish two years of studies in BS Nursing.
She learned about the ALS Program from a friend of their middle sister. The KKFI and Magsaysay United Methodist Church (UMC) were then looking for an Instructional Manager (IM) to teach in Tondo district in the city of Manila. She later met Arvin Reyes and Rev. Rey Viernes, former KKFI Community Development worker and former Magsaysay UMC administrative pastor, respectively.
Joanne is a member of the Roman Catholic Church, but is now attending worship services at Magsaysay UMC. She also assisted in the day-care center of the said church.
“I was elated when a member of the in Batch 2014 passed the Accreditation and Equivalency (A&E) test of the Department Education. To me, it was a validation. It meant that I taught them well,” Joanne said.
For Batch 2015, the latest batch, 10 more took the A&E test and five of them passed. One could imagine the happiness that engulfed when she learned of this.
When asked why there was a higher passing rate, she answered, “I motivated them. I told them to take just one more goal at a time in order to achieve success.”
She said their house-to-house visit helped. She and Nora Cunningham, a Filipino-American Global Mission fellow who has already returned to New York City in the United States, would visit ALS learners who failed to attend their classes.
Joanne said the Family Development Sessions (FDS) also helped motivate parents to encourage their children to go to school.
Joanne came out of her comfort zone, which was Tondo, and came to KKFI. There, she got the much-needed affirmation that she has the talent for teaching. She also learned that there are others whose life stories are worse than hers.
“KKFI, which is celebrating its 66th founding anniversary, should continue to help children and youth through its education programs,” Joanne said. She said she always prays that KKFI will continue to exist for years and years to come.
Her advice to ALS learners who failed? Study again. She told them to persevere and study harder and practice writing essays.
Joanne emphasized to them that the opportunity to study and have a better shot at the future—exactly what the KKFI offers–is rare. They must not bungle it. God gave Joanne such a chance and she did not bungle it.
She certainly could teach young students more than what textbooks tell them.