RISING FROM THE DEAD

by Glenda B. Gutierrez

 

“We now live outside of the cemetery,” says Anna B. Villegas, 32, apparently with proud air about her.

Anna is referring to the Manila North Cemetery (MNC), where her family used to live. To her and thousands of others who reside there, the life-goal has been to be able to own a house or at least rent a place outside of the MNC.

Anna’s dream came true because of the $4,000 livelihood grant that the Kapatiran-Kaunlaran Foundation Inc. (KKFI) received recently from the United Methodist Women (UMW).

On March 8, 2017, the grant was distributed to 13 recipients and Anna was one of them. She immediately bought a pedicab for her husband, Joselito, who now uses it to collect recyclable materials like plastic and glass bottles in Manila North Cemetery and neighboring communities.

Before acquiring the pedicab, the Villegas couple were caretakers of tombs in MNC.

“It was difficult living in the cemetery, especially when it rains and floods,” narrates Anna. “It is not safe there and there are a lot of drug addicts around.”

She says she and her family are now “happy to live in Caloocan City” albeit, still making both ends meet.

“Our monthly room rental is P2,000 plus P1,000 for electricity and water. My husband earns an average of P300-P400 a day, enough to meet the daily expenses,” she discloses, adding that Joselito works six days a week.

The Villegas family is blessed to receive a scholarship grant from a Korean national that benefits three of her four children, thereby augmenting the family income. She proudly says that her children are honor students: Krishen Keith Althea (Top 3), Kyle Dustin (Top 6) and Kristel Keith (Top 9). The youngest is yet to go to school.

Anna has her church, San Pancratio Parish in Caloocan City, for linking her to the generous Korean benefactor.

Anna wants the best for her family. Though she is a graduate of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) Housekeeping Course, she wants to prioritize taking care of her family instead of working abroad.

She keeps on learning and has attended workshops on candle-making, fabric conditioner-making and dishwashing soap-making.

She is also a parent-leader of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) City Link since 2012.

Indeed, Anna is worth emulating. She and her husband continues to strive to improve their lives, and the first step came when they brought their family out of the cemetery.

 

Advertisements

DETERMINATION OVERCOMES ALL ODDS

 

By Glenda B. Gutierrez

 

“I am happy because I have proven to myself that despite poverty, one can succeed,” shared by Hazel Dungog, 22 in the vernacular. “I was determined to succeed because I do not want to disappoint or break the trust given by Kapatiran-Kaunlaran Foundation Inc. (KKFI) management and staff.”

Hazel, a KKFI scholar, is the first Alternative Learning System (ALS) passer to finish a four-year college course. She belongs to the first batch of students in Sampaloc, Manila who pioneered the ALS program of KKFI in August 2011.

dungog
Hazel Dungog during the graduations rites at the University of Manila last March 31, 2017

Last March 31, she graduated with a degree of Bachelor of Science in Criminology from the University of Manila.

In my previous interview with Hazel in March 2013, I have seen how determined she was to achieve her dreams. She was teary-eyed when she narrated to the hardships she was undergoing.

She is eldest of five children of a construction worker. Though their mother helps augment the family’s income by accepting laundry and selling bananas, their income was not enough. Hazel had to stop going to school and help earn money.

“Before, my dream was just to graduate and pass the board examination and be a faithful and honorable law enforcer. Now, I want to give a better and comfortable life for my family,” expressed by Hazel.

“I am thankful to KKFI for being supportive. They even gave me a place to stay during my last year in the university,” added Hazel.

Hazel was referring to her one-year stay at Kapatiran dormitory when their rented room in Mayhaligue, Sta. Cruz, Manila was demolished. Though they were able to save money for the room rental fee and down payment when they stayed at their grandparents’ place, the room they could afford was too small.

She said she enjoyed staying at the dormitory where she was comfortable. She was a diligent student whose routine is dorm-school, home-dorm.

Most of all, she is thankful to KKFI for giving her a chance to finish school and achieve her dreams.

“I am grateful to see and know the importance of education,” she exclaimed. She added, “I am happy to experience the importance of unity in a group and to be able to participate in the activities of KKFI.”

Hazel was referring to her stint as a volunteer assistant teacher at the Child Development Center and as a teacher at the LikhAral (Create and Learn) Program. She was also able to experience the Lakbay-Aral and team-building activities for KKFI staff and volunteers.

hazel
Hazel, leftmost with her fellow Likharal teacher, Judith Ramirez and their students

At present, Hazel is working as a collector at the CMDCO Cooperative. She believes in the mission of CMDCO to help vendors expand their business and to increase their capital by providing loans to these vendors at low interest rates.

Hazel plans to continue working while reviewing for the comprehensive examination for would-be law enforcers. She intends to save as much as she can in order to help out in her family’s expenses.

She advised her fellow scholars and ALS students to continue what they started and to never give up and give in to trials and difficulties. She said they should focus on their dreams and be determined to succeed and not to break the trust given by KKFI and to prove that it did not make a mistake in helping them.

Her wish for KKFI is stability. She hopes KKFI will continue its mission of helping the needy and underprivileged. She prays that KKFI would have more recipients and beneficiaries.

“Thank you to all the staff of KKFI in the Administration, Resource Development and Program departments most especially to Sir Vincent Eliver, Sir Rex Dayao, Ma’am Nancy Nicolas, Ate Love Gagno and Ate Judith Ramirez,” as Hazel enumerated the staff who proved instrumental in her success.

“Thanks too to the donors and partners of KKFI like Ma’am Ruth Flores, Sir David Ahearn, Sir Philip Myers and to the LaGrange College.”

In conclusion, she thanked everyone for the unending support and assistance to the scholars and ALS students, saying, “May God bless you. Mabuhay po kayong lahat!”

HOPE AMONG THE TOMBS

by Rev. Julie Schendel

(Rev. Julie Schendel is one of the faculty members of the LaGrange College, Georgia, USA who participated in an immersion program of Kapatiran-Kaunlaran Foundation Inc. (KKFI) in January 2016 and January 2017. She is also the  Associate Pastor at Peachtree Road United Methodist Church. We are reposting her blog last Januaray 12, 2017 in https://julieschendel.wordpress.com/ so that more partners may be aware of our programs and services. Readers may visit her blogsite as she made a lot of posts in her 2-year stint at KKFI.)

 

Welcome to the world of Manila’s poorest citizens: Manila North Cemetery. Actually, even that’s being generous, since the government doesn’t recognize them as citizens. Since many can’t afford to be born in a hospital, they have no birth certificate, and therefore no identity. Their greatest hope to gain any kind of ID comes through baptism. They can use their baptismal certificate to prove who they are and start the process of becoming a citizen. How’s that for gaining a new identity? Get baptized, gain new life in Christ, gain new life in your community.

Manila North Cemetery (MNC) is 54 acres filled with beautiful mausoleums and 10,000 residents, above ground. There are countless other permanent residents encased in granite and concrete, serving as beds and tables for those who share their space to make their homes.

Most of the families that live in the cemetery are employed by the relatives of those buried. Wealthier families hire individuals to keep their mausoleums and crypts clean and free from vandalism. In exchange, they get to live there, rent free, and since there is no electricity or running water, there are no additional bills. Earning about $1 a day, families struggle to feed all their kids.

There are benefits to living in a cemetery besides the free rent. Everyone jokes that it’s peaceful, the neighbors are quiet, etc. It’s built on higher ground, so the space is less likely to flood during typhoon season. What might be most significant, for better or worse, is the sense of community. Most homeless living on the street may be scattered here and there, but never really feel like they have the support of neighbors. In the cemetery, everyone lives in close quarters. There are small stores along the corners to purchase snacks, toiletries, and other necessities. And there are people all around. Families pile in together, older siblings take care of the littles, and there is always someone nearby to help with laundry, motorcycle repair, or to teach the children. Since there aren’t always solid walls on the mausoleums, it’s hard to hide. Neighbors can call through your entrance gate, or simply look in to see if you’re home. While it may lead to a loss of privacy, there’s this sense that everyone’s in this together, and it brings a closeness to the community.

 

Erica, a KKFI scholar, showing us her home.

With everyone in such close quarters, it’s easy for things to get dangerous, especially for young girls. Fights break out, drunks can stumble into the wrong home or even intentionally abduct the women. Then there’s the stigma that comes from living in a cemetery. People on the outside shun most of the community. If children go to public school, they get teased and called ghosts or witches, accused of eating the dead. Most can’t handle the taunting and drop out of school, which kills their chances of ever breaking free from this environment. All the more reason for KKFI to step in and lead programs offering a glimmer of hope.

Our assignment was to lead 4-6 year olds in Supervised Neighborhood Play.

We were told these kids were ages 4-6, but their size made them look 2-4. It was a rainy day in the cemetery, so 32 kids were gathered together on an 8 foot square tarp, under a makeshift roof in the mausoleum.

At first, they weren’t too sure about their foreign visitors. They don’t get outside the walls of the cemetery much, and many have never seen people with skin as white as ours. A couple of kids laughed as we circled up and they saw my skin next to theirs. Pointing back and forth between our arms they giggled…”brown, white, brown, white.”


Once the games began, the giggles exploded, and the joy these children shared was contagious. If you ignored the crypts surrounding us, you’d never know these kids grew up in an environment worthy of nightmares. This was life for them, and they were resilient. I saw several kids fall flat on their face on the concrete, look stunned for a second, then jump up to brush themselves off and keep going, no tears or shrieks were uttered. Mothers or older sisters were always nearby, tending to the littlest and making sure they felt included in the group.

Despite the rough environment, these kids are bright and patient and loving. They’re quick to forgive, gracious to whatever is given them, and as curious and playful as any other children their age. After spending the day with them, I found myself inspired. After being shunned because others see them as different, they easily welcomed strangers into their homes and their lives. After scrounging for any advantage they can get, they’re quick to share with their siblings and care for their family. After growing up surrounded by death, they still strive for a future and keep finding life. And that is a beautiful thing.

KEEPING THE DREAM ALIVE

By Glenda Gutierrez

“I always wanted to be a teacher; it was my childhood dream,” Marjorie Seda, 21, confessed.

Marjorie knew how important education is in achieving one’s dream. But then, she got pregnant when she was just 16 years old. She had to stop schooling and married her boyfriend. They now have two sons, aged 6 and 3.

Her condition in life drastically changed, but not her dream. Little did she know that the opportunity to finish her high school was just around the corner.

“When I learned about the Alternative Learning System (ALS) Program of Kapatiran-Kaunlaran Foundation Inc. (KKFI), I immediately grabbed the chance,” Marjorie narrated. “I was one of the members of first batch in 2014.”

It was Teacher Lovely Joie Orgado, an Instructional Manager, who promoted the ALS Program of KKFI in Navotas City, where Marjorie resides. When she learned about it, she excitedly enrolled with high hopes.

However, there was not straight road to success. In fact, it was extra-long and extra-winding for a young mother like Marjorie.

“I almost gave up,” she said. “I was a bit embarrassed because I had to bring my two sons to ALS classes.” Her children slept while classes were ongoing.

But her desire to offer a better life to her family prevailed. She knew that education is the key to a better future. Inspired by her sons and husband, Marjorie struggled on.

“I failed on my first attempt so I studied harder,” continued Marjorie.

She was determined to pass the Accreditation and Equivalency (A & E) examination of the Department of Education. She borrowed modules since she could no longer attend classes when they moved to Malolos, Bulacan. She read and practiced writing essays at home.

She and her husband were overjoyed when she passed. She had to set her dreams aside however, to work in abroad as a domestic helper. She flew to Saudi Arabia a few weeks after learning she passed the A&E exam so she was not able to attend KKFI’s 66th Founding Anniversary celebration, where a graduation ceremony was conducted by KKFI for the new batch of passers.

She was unlucky, however, with her employer so she came back to the Philippines in October 2016. She is now looking for a scholarship grant so she could pursue her dream of being a teacher. Her back up plan is to take a course in welding or tailoring in Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA).

Indeed, the pathway to success may involve crossroads. We need to choose and go on. That’s life.

Success is Kind to Those Who Persevere

Success is Kind to Those Who Persevere

By Glenda B. Gutierrez

 

The reason why Lilibeth Eliver, 38, decided to pursue high school diploma was she wants “the best for my family. She said she wants to help her husband earn money so her children can enjoy the best they, the parents, can offer.

Lilibeth is the wife of Vicente “Vincent” Eliver, a social worker of the Kapatiran-Kaunlaran Foundation Inc. (KKFI) who is in-charge of the organization’s Alternative Learning System (ALS) Program. Vincent knew the value of education and that of ALS as another route in achieving one’s aspirations. Hence, he encouraged her to pursue her dreams and the journey starts with ALS.

But the destination did not come easily nor immediately to Lilibeth. Nothing did. Lilibeth hails from Lucena, Quezon. The youngest in a brood of eight, she had to stop schooling because her parents could not afford it. So she looked for a job to help augment her family’s income. She worked as a secretary to a photo printing company. She gained the skills in photo printing and was promoted as printer.

She was in the first level of high school but was able to pass the Philippine Educational Placement Test (PEPT) of the Department of Education to qualify for third level of high school.

In 1997, she met Vincent, fell in love, lived together and had four girls. Their eldest was born deaf, a   challenge they hurdled by learning sign language by observing their daughter’s class.

Lilibeth enrolled in the Massage Therapy training of KKFI and graduated in October 2013. She became a certified massage therapist when she received a National Certificate II (NCII) from the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA).

The next year, she set her eyes on finishing her high school studies and enrolled in the ALS Program. She came upon another bump on the road when she failed to pass the Accreditation and Equivalency (A&E) examination in 2015.  However, she was unfazed. She pursued and dedicated whatever free time she had in studying her lessons.

She borrowed and read the modules at home. She took the essay portion of the exam seriously and practiced at every opportunity.

Indeed, perseverance and dedication are the key to success. Lilibeth was able to pass the A&E exam on her second try. She was among the 23 who successfully passed in July 2016 who were honored by KKFI on its 66thFounding Anniversary.

 

VOWING TO HELP HER FAMILY

by Glenda B. Gutierrez

 

“We have sunk deep in debts,” narrates Toni Rose C. Fuentes, 17.

Thoni Rose, as she preferred her name to be spelled, is one of the out-of-school youth in Barangay 109, Tondo, Manila. She stopped schooling due to financial problems. She was then about to enter the third level of high school at the Antonio J. Villegas Vocational High School.

Though her father, Antonio, has a steady job as a butcher, her mother, Julie, has a penchant for material things. The latter would borrow from loan sharks. This has been a cycle of borrowing and payments. She would even borrow to pay previous loans.

“Life had been better when there were just two of us children,” relates Thoni Rose. “But there were three more and our mother’s loans became too big to manage. “

Their grandfather, who also lives with them, added to the family expenses. Their eldest, Jhenny Rose, is a high school graduate but has also stopped schooling and just laze at home.

Thoni Rose took advantage of the opportunity shared by a friend to enroll in the Alternative Learning System of the Kapatiran-Kaunlaran Foundation Inc. (KKFI) in partnership with Barangay 109. She said free classes at the Barangay Hall has eased their family‘s financial burden. Added bonuses are free snacks and no uniform/shoe requirements.

She thanks the Lord God for answering her prayers. She enrolled at the Bookkeeping course of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) at the Don Bosco TVET Center in Tondo, Manila.

Indeed, Thoni Rose considers the ALS program a blessing. She is now a high graduate with a chance to better their lives. She vows to help her mother financially when she is able.

She thanks KKFI for guiding and teaching her. Indeed, KKFI is indeed a blessing to OSYs like her.

MAKING WEAKNESSES INTO STRENGTHS

by Glenda B. Gutierrez

 

“There are people who look down on me. Therefore, I made my weaknesses into my strength. ” says Algin Tan, 17.

Gin, as he is fondly called is gay. He experienced discrimination due to his gender preference. He knew when he was in grade school that he had a female heart in a man’s body. But he says his family especially his parents supports him. Outwardly, he looks happy but he has some insecurities.

He stopped his schooling due to an unexplainable illness. He had skin sores that lasted five months. Due to embarrassment, he went to Nueva Ecija, a province north of Manila, to recuperate. He was in fourth level of high school then at the San Roque National High School in Navotas, a city north of Manila.

Their family also experienced financial lack. His father, Avelino, is a laborer and his mother, Ma. Gina, is a “kasambahay” (housekeeper.) Gin has a sister who is in second level of college.

He learned about the Alternative Learning System (ALS) Program of the Kapatiran-Kaunlaran Foundation Inc. (KKFI) from his aunt.

“I really want to continue my studies so I enrolled in ALS,” says Gin. “I want to get a good paying job so I can help my family,” he added.

Surrendering never entered his mind. He is set on his goal to pass the Accreditation and Equivalency (a & e) examination.

When asked what he did to pass. He answered “I prayed and encouraged myself I could do it.”

“I feel blessed and proud to be me,” exclaimed Gin. “I am ready to achieve my dreams. My passing is a sign for me to achieve my dreams.

Indeed, he did it. He passed the A & E examination and has enrolled in a university to take up BS Accountancy. People may looked down on him but he never made it an obstacle in achieving his dreams. He made his weaknesses into strengths.