by Glenda B. Gutierrez
“I quit school when I was 15,” relates 19-year-old Avelino G. Gonzaga Jr. in the vernacular. “I was then in my third year in high school.”
Avelino enumerates three causes of his decision: financial constraints, involvement in gangs and his addiction to basketball.
He lives in Navotas City, a coastal city north of Manila. He helps augment the family’s income by joining his fisherman-grandfather catch fish using the small boat the old man owns.
He would always cook during these fishing trips to Cavite, Parañaque and Pamarawan in Malolos, Bulacan.
When I asked him what his father’s job is, he answers, “He is a foreman-welder.” I was a bit puzzled because I know foremen are paid handsomely. Then he explained that his parents separated when he was 10. His father now has a second family and was no longer able or willing to support them.
Avelino proudly adds that his mother knows how to manage their money. She works as a caterer of dealers in a casino. Her income, however, is not regular and so she saves during peak seasons.
Avelino learned of the Alternative Learning System (ALS) program of Kapatiran-Kaunlaran Foundation Inc. (KKFI) from a friend who knew Ana Martin, KKFI volunteer massage therapy trainer and coordinator of the St. Peter United Methodist Church (UMC).
“Nahirapan ako noong una na makisama sa kapwa ko ALS learners,” he admits. “Pero nung nakilala ko na sila, okay na.”
He adds that he was able to cope with the lessons, although he took the lessons seriously only in the early part of 2016, especially the essay writing.
Avelino says that it was not because he didn’t want to study. He says this was due to his work. He continued to join fishing trips even when he attended ALS sessions. He also works as a stevedore in Divisoria, a business center in Manila.
He says he developed his self-confidence in KKFI, especially because he participated in activities like Youth Leadership Education and Advocacy Development (YLEAD) and Likharal. He believes his leadership skills were honed by these activities.
Avelino, left with fellow Likharal teachers, Roselyn Pudao and Ian Sabdao
He says he was able to talk to the Barangay chiefs and the mayor confidently during the planning for their YLEAD project. Their project was entitled “Kilos Kabataan para sa Kalinisan.” This involved teaching children about caring for the environment.
For his efforts, he received the “Best Leader Award.”
“Lahat ng hirap ko ay natanggal,” he enthused. “Masaya kami na ginawa namin ang best namin, lalo na nang nakatanggap pa ng award.” (All my fatigue melted away. We were happy that we did our best, especially when received the award.)
Avelino hopes to be a social worker-businessman someday. Yes, he plans to augment a social worker’s income by setting up a burger or pizza franchise.
Here’s hoping that a fisherman-stevedore’s dream will come true. With perseverance and determination, I am sure this is in the offing.

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