I was born poor, but I am lucky.
To give you an idea, here's what kind of life I have before I entered The Sisters of Mary School.
The year was 1989. While my classmates were all talking about their plans where to enroll for high school, I on the other hand was having a problem where to get black pants and white polo for our graduation ceremony. My mother converted my sister's white blouse so that I have something to wear during my graduation. We borrowed my cousin's black pants and black shoes. Problem solved.
But now comes another problem - high school education.
I was only 9 years old when my father, a carpenter, died. My sister was 12 and my younger brother was only 5. We were left to the care of our mother who doesn't have a job at that time. She only managed to finish elementary school. But that wasn't an excuse for her to give up.
Imagine how difficult it was for me to finish elementary school, specially if there are projects, events and practically every time money is needed.
To support the three of us, my mother worked as a housemaid, accepted laundry jobs, and as factory worker. She did other sort of sidelines to have extra income like direct selling (Tupperware). But her income wouldn't be enough to send us all to good school, unfortunately.
When my mother heard about The Sisters of Mary School (SMS), the free education that it offers, we immediately inquired. I was interviewed and got accepted. Students have to stay inside the school during the school year and were allowed a vacation for only a week or two every year. Being separated with my family is difficult both for me and my mother.
If I am to describe my four years of stay inside the SMS Campus, it would be: paradise. For four years, I did not worry about food, tuition, clothing, shelter and other basic needs. For four years I was molded to become a better person, closer to God; I understood and appreciated Christianity. Looking at the examples of Fr Al - or the story of his life for that matter - taught me to always take the side of the poor, the needy and marginalized sectors of our society; to follow Christ in serving the people. This is the turning point of my life.
After graduating from high school, I got a job through the help of SMS. A year after, I decided to pursue college degree. It was also difficult specially when I lost my scholarship during my 2nd year in college. But you know, my mother and my sister helped me get through it. And as they say, the rest is history.
However, my journey wasn't smooth at all. I have my share of mistakes, failures and at one point almost gave up when I hit rock bottom. During those times that I feel there's no more hope, I always talk to Fr. Al through prayers. There was a time I attended a Lenten Retreat at SMS Silang when I was really down and I think it did the trick why I was able to rebound.
I am now married with 11 year old daughter. I have an immigration consultancy business with some employees who are also from The Sisters of Mary School. A portion of my company's income is being donated to Fr. Al's Children Foundation to help continue the mission of Fr. Al. We actually visited The Sisters of Mary School in Silang, Cavite lst July 6, 2014 as part of our company's 4th year anniversary celebration.
Although we are not rich, I would say we are now living a very comfortable life. I'm driving an SUV; I can afford to travel abroad with my family once in a while. My daughter goes to a private school and doesn't experience problem with school supplies, food and those other problems due to lack of money that I have experienced back in my days.
I owe The Sisters of Mary School and Fr. Al what and where I am now. They gave me hope and guided me towards a better future.
I also owe it to my mother. Despite the difficulties we faced after my father died, she never gave up. If not for her sacrifice, dedication and love for us, I wouldn't experience the comfortable life I am experiencing now.
I may have lost a father at an early age, but God gave me Fr. Al. And aside from my very strong and determined mother, there are many Mother Sisters inside SMS who took good care of me.
I was born poor, but you see, I am lucky.
Apol Apuntar (4th Batch, SMS Silang)