How my Claim for Justice was Excessively Paid
"If only I am rich, I will give you everything you want". These were dad’s words written at the back of his solo picture mom sent me during my first year of stay at the Sisters of Mary School. He was smiling. Standing tall at 6’2″. Wearing a sports t-shirt, his favorite "chalico" and a pair of brown leather shoes. His hand resting lazily on a jukebox. Behind his not so slender figure were sets of tables and chairs that happened to be added facilities to his newly acquired bar and restaurant. He was fine. He will never say he isn’t.
Approximately 25 years ago, our life as a family, revolved around a small room, the farm and school. My mom was a casual public school teacher. My dad helped her land the job aside from her parents’ support when she was not yet married. As a starter, she was assigned from one branch to the other and we followed wherever that was. A small room was provided for her by the host school to accommodate us. It was real small so that the kitchen, bedroom, and living room were all in one and the six of us were fully packed inside. One day, mom got sick. She was diagnosed of bronchitis. She lost her voice and also her teaching job. We were forced to leave our small room to give way to her substitute. While she was in the hospital, dad searched for a place for us to stay. Unfortunately, he couldn’t fund one due to mom’s ongoing hospitalization and medications. We were hopeless until a neighbor offered his emptied poultry house. It could have been alright if not of the chicken lice that came creeping up our skins. It was something we almost couldn't bear. In addition to this, mom carried and delivered our youngest brother while she was sick and so both of them were sick. Worst was, our brother's critical condition . The hospital has been their home for months. We were slapped with big amounts of hospital bills. We were left with almost nothing but debts. This was the first time I realized we were poor.
The second time was July 16, 1990 when a 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit our place. Buildings collapsed. Roads were closed. Food, medicine and other basic commodities were trapped. We almost went starving while 1,621 or more others died. Most people relied on relief goods to survive. Dad’s crops were unsold. We went around to exchange it with rice or anything that we need. This did not only made me realized that we were poor but a Supernatural Being is in total control. So, with grief but with the thought that we were granted a second life, we managed to survive.
Dad was a farmer and I would say farming was not easy. He used to rent a piece of land at a place near to where mom worked. He grew vegetables and flowers. I and my sister, being his helpers, weeded unwanted bushes, tilled, cultivated, and sowed seeds with him under the heat of the sun. Unfortunately, even if all the work was done, it was not enough to finance our schooling. It was a trend in the country that farmers get low profit from their crops. The middlemen pocketed the largest cost instead. Often at school, we were ask to submit a promissory note prior to taking our exams. We paid afterwards when we were able to. We didn’t also belong to the group of lucky pupils. I went to school with a pair of broken shoes. We didn’t always have penny in our pockets for recess. We missed a field demonstration because we didn’t have the costume needed. One instance, dad anticipated the harvest time for his crops to catch up to the school fee payment deadline. Sadly, he was paid less because his crops were not fully grown.
The worst scenario came about when a strong typhoon hit our place. All of his budding cabbages were swept away. I remember, we helped him during the start of that planting season. He rented a wider than usual piece of land so he can harvest more and we won’t run short of money for the next school year. But then all of a sudden, everything was gone. Instead of gaining, he ran into debts. He decided to stop farming because of what happened. He tried his luck for an overseas job but more tragically, he was faked. He ran into more debts. This was the first time I saw my dad so disappointed. He nearly sobbed and in the following weeks he became thin. He went around though, trying to find ways to augment his misfortunes. This was the third time I realized we were poor and realizing it was not only what I can do. Blaming anyone or anything was not also helpful. I must do something.
I was 11 years old, about to graduate in elementary year 1995 when I heard about the Sisters of May School in Manila. It is a charitable institution that offers free highschool education and accommodation provided that you stay with them for a whole year away from your family. I did not let go of the opportunity. I submitted all the requirements. I took the exam and interview. I passed. April of that year, I was scheduled for a Manila bound trip. My dad was with me in that 6-hour bus ride away from Baguio. Unsure of what would it be when I reach there, my determination to do something has won over distance and time away from my family. I might not have helped them financially but I was sure I lessened their burden. As soon as we arrived, got out of the bus and directed to our new home, I bid dad goodbye with a glance and he answered with a nod. In my mind was anyway we will be allowed a 2-week-once-a-year vacation and writing letters will be alright.
My stay in the Sisters of Mary School was the opposite of my elementary days. I didn’t worry about school fees, shoes, uniforms and school supplies. I did not worry of working in the farm, washing clothes, nor cooking food. I didn’t worry about transportation to school, church, market or anywhere else. Everything was furnished and made accessible in our dormitories. In school, we were taught of the necessary knowledge, skills, and values to be productive Christians. I was also given all the chance to hone my academic, vocational and leadership skills. I met fellow students from all over Luzon, heard their stories and learned from their experiences. Most importantly, I learned more of my religion and its teachings like the virtues of faith, hope and love to name a few. It is also in this school that I learned of unconditional love and selfless service to the poor, sick, and needy as manifested by the founder Fr. Aloysius Schwartz, the sisters who took care of us and our donors and benefactors. It was a blissful four years, full of blessings and a lot of receiving. It was the best four years of my life.
January of 1999 when I left my beloved Sisters of Mary School and again faced with a lot of uncertainties and fears. I decided to go home to pursue my studies. I was convinced by my mom who promised me to scout scholarships for my college education. I was a little bit doubtful at first. I suspected she missed me the reason why she wanted me home. She once went to the Sisters of Mary School to see me but was not allowed in compliance to a contract. But as I said, though in doubt, I went home. Chances were, I might find some scholarships same as what the Sisters of Mary School offered me. Pursuing college was so tempting that I gave up my option to work. When I arrived home, I was caught by surprise. A new house was being built for us. My sister told me that Dad and Mom argued about starting to build the house out of what they have saved before I go home so I will wish to stay. Dad was also able to run three branches of a self-owned bar and restaurant. He used to only cook for one owned by a friend when I left. To cut it short, he busied himself in mastering and commercializing his unique and native dishes until he was able to establish his own restaurant. Mom, in her case, was promoted from teacher-I to guidance counselor-III. She was able to avail a scholarship grant and finished her master's degree. My eldest sister took care of our younger brothers when dad had to work day and night and mom could come home only during the weekends. She shouldered the household tasks while our parents were building their careers. I would say, it was all paid off after that. Our family became financially able compared to the time when I left. Our parents sent the three of us, my sister, me and our brother next to me, to the best university in the city. We all graduated and earned our four-year bachelor's degree. Now, we are all working, earning for ourselves and helping each other in the family. We can choose a job we want. We can work overseas by choice plus our dad’s constant invitation to continue the business and legacy he started. In my case, though for a short period of time, I was able to go back and work for my dear Sisters of Mary School. We can also now live comfortably and healthily. We can fund our emergency needs. We can send off family parties and gatherings. Our youngest brother, due to his poor health, is enjoying his overdue college life. He is taking up all the courses he wants.
Had it not been for Fr. Al and the Sisters of Mary School that took me in for free, the sisters who constantly reminded us to pray for our families back home, the teachers who gave us the best education we can have, our donors and benefactors who generously shared their blessings to us, my fellow students who lived with me and shared the same sacrifice as I did, my own family who were equally challenged and did their part in the journey to overcome all hardships and God who permitted all of these to happen, we could not have reached where we are today. We succeeded as a whole. Not only me but every member of my dear family. I might have narrated more of the downs but the ups will last for a lifetime. The success will continue to our next generations.
If I have to send my solo picture to my dad now, written at the back will be "Thank you. You have given more than enough". If I will say something to my dear Sisters of Mary School, "Thank you. I was held captive of love and wrapped around generosity’s arms." And to myself, "If poverty is a crime, my claim for justice was excessively paid. Now, it’s time to give back. Why won’t I?"