November 25, 2022

The only thing that will stop you from achieving your dream is YOU

I was raised in Romblon. It is an island not known to everybody. A place best known only for typhoons, sunken ships, marble and nothing more. My family lived a simple life to the point that the society labeled us as poor.

My father is a fisherman while my loving mother is a plain housewife. Approximately, my father earns twenty to fifty pesos per day, not even enough to provide for our daily basic needs. How on earth can we survive with that dinky amount? We never complained, though. As long as we have rice for the day, problem solved. Viand was never an issue. A salt in a canister will put a smile on our face. We don’t have to ask anymore for breakfast, lunch or dinner. We should have known before asking. Sprinkling salt to rice is already a routine. A routine that I am very good at.

We have a very simple basis for wealth in our family. It depends on our viand for the day. If I woke up in the morning and my mother would offer me sugar as partner to my humble breakfast of pure rice or porridge, I am already elated. Feeling ko noon, mayaman na kami.

When I was in high school, things got better. If I asked my mother for breakfast, she would readily offer me a cup of pure coffee. I would simply drop a heap of rice to the coffee, and it’s good to eat. There were times that I really feel so blessed. Those were the moments that my mother would offer me coffee with creamer. Can you imagine how tasty is that? It feels like I am in heaven.

There were instances when I could really feel life is on our side. Nauso ang mamisong chichiria. With just a single peso, I already have a delicious viand. Every time my classmates would ask me, Ano ang ulam niyo? I would simply answer, “Bangus”. At times, I would answer, “Tilapia, Pusit, Lumpia, Inasal, Bitukang Baboy”, etc. Those were actually names of the junk foods I had as viand. They won’t ask for elaboration anyway. Maybe because it was so realistic considering the work of my father. My father is a fisherman but we barely eat fish. We were already happy if the fishes were either damaged by crabs or too small to be sold in the market. That was the only time we can have fish for our meals. The problem only arose when there was a junk food named “Searena”. I usually run out of words on how to explain why we are eating mermaids at home.

Our house is located in a frequently flooded area. Most people in our area don’t like the rainy season but my family thinks otherwise. We are usually looking forward to the relief goods distributed by the municipality for the flood victims. We are already happy receiving groceries. The sight of noodles and sardines works like magic for my family. It gives us happiness, making us forget the damage caused by the catastrophe.

I grew up without electricity at home. I had no other life outside school. Basically, my life revolved in my studies. Every time I arrive home, my books are my playmates. I usually study with only the light of a lamp illuminating my reading materials. Literally, I was burning the midnight candle. I cannot answer questions when it’s from current events since we have no television. I guess, those insufficiencies put me to disadvantage.

I was one of those students who never experienced to have a complete school supplies. Most of my things were not appropriately designed for my age–those I inherited from our friends and relatives. I go to school almost barefooted because the soles of my shoes are totally worn-out. My black shoes were almost white because of flaking so I had to paint it black using charcoal and a drop of glue.

I usually go to school without a penny for snacks. I actually appreciated it that way. Every time my father would give me a peso, I would return it to him. It will only give me stress deciding what to buy with my very limited money. So I just got contented to sitting on my desk during recess, eating my books and digesting its contents.

If there is one thing I am very grateful of, it is my family and the way we were brought up.  In my young mind, I never realized we were poor. I thought it was fine to have no electrical connection. I thought it was normal to eat unhealthy food every day. I thought it was normal to be out of style and old-fashioned. I thought it was normal to have no complete school supplies. I thought everything was normal. I never asked.  I never complained. It was the people around me that made me realized that what I am experiencing was not normal. Every time they will say, “Ay! Kawawa naman kayo. Ang hirap hirap niyo”.  I just had to accede. “Ay! Oo nga ‘no? Kawawa naman kami. Mahirap kasi kami eh.

Mahirap maging mahirap, pero mas mahirap ang taong walang pangarap

Yes. We are poor. I finished my studies na literally, utak lang ang puhunan kasama ang lampara at ang alat ng asin na aking ibinubudbod sa kanin magkalasa lang. There were times I would let my classmates copy my assignment and examinations in exchange of giving me free snacks during recess. After school, I would accept tutorials so I can have extra money for my school requirements. 

My first heartbreak happened when I was on my fifth grade. I was expecting to be the third honor (the least) of our class but I ranked fifth. The reason—I ranked last in extra-curricular activities. I cannot blame anybody. I cannot question anyone why I was born poor? But to die poor—I will never allow that to happen. I was broken. I was devastated. I was crying the whole time. When my mother can’t take it anymore, she went to my teacher’s house. That heartbreak turned into hope. It gave way for me to meet Ate Nieves Fiel Alvarez who sponsored my sixth grade and secondary education. I finished my elementary education as class salutatorian.

High school days became easy for me. I studied under Engineering and Science Education Program. I can now participate in various contests because I have a financier. I was able to balance my academics and extra-curricular activities so I graduated as class valedictorian and bagged numerous special awards. Then I realized during my “me time”, that indeed money is of great tool in achieving success. With that thought in mind, I became more appreciative and grateful to those who have showed love, care and generosity to me. A part of this was a promise I made, I will never forget those who helped me and in return, I promise to duplicate their generosity and kindness when my turn comes.

After graduation, the next challenge for me was how to pursue my college education. I took the UPCAT and was blessed enough to pass the entrance exam. But what seems a blessing to others became a problem to me. I had no money to enrol myself or even to process my papers. So I gave up the thought of studying in my dream school. I decided to study at Romblon State University, instead.

Weeks before the enrolment, I met Ate Deborah Esquejo Garcia. She was very willing to finance my tertiary education. Kinapalan ko na rin ang mukha ko. I showed her how determined I am to get a degree. Meeting Ate Debs was one of the greatest twists of my life. Though we were poor, I never struggled financially during my college days. My allowance is always on time—it’s even given advanced actually.  Esquejo family treated me like I was their youngest sibling. They showered me with material things. They treated me with love and care. They never let me feel that I have to beg to get their sympathy. They are naturally generous and I was more than blessed that God sent them to me.

I promised myself that I will do well in my studies. I will graduate on top of my class. For three years, everything went smoothly. Just when I thought I was doing my best, I never expected another heartbreak coming. It was during the second semester of my third year, I was given a grade that shattered my dreams into pieces. When I saw the 2.0 in my class card, it’s as if I lost a big part of me. I can imagine the sad faces of my family, the disappointment of people around me, the frustration of those who knows my capability and the happiness of those who never trusted in me. I was so down. I doubted myself. Baka ‘di talaga ako magaling. I woke up each day full of negativities. I lost my interest in my studies because I know no matter how hard I try, nothing can erase that grade in my class card. I know I cannot conceal that failure with success.

Thank God! There was an angel sent by God who woke me up from that nightmare. I could still remember his exact words: “May board exam pa.” Those words struck me. I got up, gathered my self-esteem, recovered myself and set a new goal. I will top the board examination. I will prove them that I don’t deserve that grade.  I will show them that I can be better and that I can do better. I studied harder than ever. My grades went higher. My performance got better. The whole time, I was okay. I thought I was okay. Then I realized I was not. I was never okay. I just learned how to keep the pain even if I was really hurting

During our graduation practice, I was crying not because I was happy I finished a degree despite poverty. I was crying because I know I deserve  better than that. I had no choice but to settle for less. Our graduation song was Invisible. But I have my own song: That Should Be Me. There was a line in our graduation song that somehow lifts up my spirit.

“There’s so much  more to life than what you’re feeling now.

 Someday you’ll look back on all these days, and all this pain is gonna be invisible.”

 

It’s as if God was really designing the best story for me, CBRC came at the right moment in my life. We were deciding where to review for the board examination. Like an angel sent from above, Sir Carl came at the perfect time. He introduced CBRC to us. It was an answered prayer for me. Finally, I don’t need to try my fortune in Manila. I was the first one to inquire at CBRC Romblon, the first to enrol, the first to pay in full and the first topnotcher.

 

Right after graduation, my eagerness to top the board exam became stronger. I started reading books at home. Since we have no electricity, it’s a struggle reading at night. Then, Ate Debs, came back to the picture. When she learned that we have no electrical connection, she readily had the papers processed using their family’s connections. I was silently crying at the backseat of their car. I never imagined that the electricity we were dreaming for 21 years would be possible in just one snap. I could still remember the first night we turned on the light switch. As the light scattered in our humble home, my family was beaming with happiness

 

I was reviewing for two months already but the formal review has not started yet. I was a bit anxious so I had my money refunded. I decided that I will look for another review center because I’m really particular with time. I was set to go to Manila that week, but a storm came. I cannot travel so I stayed in Romblon. Then, they announced that the review will start the next week so I enrolled again. I almost lost CBRC but God has His ways to bring me back to where I really belong.

 

When the review formally started, my drive to top the exam was uncontrollable. I was so motivated, but this time, I have a new motivation. I will top the examination because of the cash prize I will receive. (Mapapakain ko na agad sina inay, itay, at ang aking mga kapatid ng masarap na pagkain kapag nakuha ko na ang reward). Pagkain ang mas bumuhay sa aking diwa to strive even harder. I was able to forgive my teacher but I bargained with God. I want the recognition that was stolen from me by Satan restored seven folds. I lost the chance to graduate on top of my class. Topping the board examination will be my sweet revenge.  I even wrote in my notebook the words:

Goal: Top the LET 2015

Deadline: September 25, 2015.

 

Then came the moment when we got to met Sir Carl for a few hours. One of the greatest lessons I learned from him—Opportunity knocks only once. Make sure when that opportunity knocks, you are ready. I told myself, this will be my first and last examination so I have to give my best shot on this. I spent my entire time reading. There was no single day in my life that I didn’t review. I turned nights into days. I read endlessly, as long as my eyes are still functional. Zombie mode on si Inday during that time. Every exams from CBRC, I always see to it that I’ll be on top. I was so competitive back then. My usual sleeping time is around 2 am. At times, I’m still awake at 4 A.M. I have to wake up at 7A.M whether I like it or not. I obliged myself to focus because I have an ambitious goal that makes me jump out of bed every morning. I never had a rest day until the day of the board exam. I was able to read more than ten books from cover to cover. I just need to have plenty of foods beside me and I am good.

 

Board exam came. I was smiling most of the time. All my hardships were all worth it in the end. After the exam, I was confident that I will top the examination. I’m just not sure what rank though. Three days before the result, I was sleepless and restless. I cannot contain my excitement anymore. I am continuously checking my phone for results so I have no sleep at all. Ayoko na! . Kung lalabas yan, lalabas yan. Afterall, Top notcher naman na ako.

 

November 30 came. I was not expecting for the result anymore. I became busy with our church activity “Jesus Reigns”. I even participated in the choral singing. While we were rendering the song, Best Time of My Life, I cannot explain my happiness. I had no idea that the results are out during that moment. When I came down from the stage, I checked my phone and there were 6 missed calls. Upon answering, Sir Carl was on the phone. That was the moment that changed my life. That was truly the best time of my life. Everything feels perfect that moment. Messages poured in. Greetings flooded. Emotions rushed in. It feels like that I cannot contain the situation any longer. All I want is to thank God for that wonderful blessing.  One thing I am sure of–I am and will be forever in love with God’s grand design. Truly, He knows how to work mysteriously and I love it wholeheartedly.

 

The thought of me of being number 2 was hard to believe. I only asked God to include me on the list. I won’t mind if I would be number 10. But he was very generous to me. Little did I know, my mother was praying for me to be number three.  My pastor was praying for me to be number one. God answered both their prayers so I ranked 2. I was so amazed with the significance of the number 2 in my life.

My dream to top the examination started with the grade of 2.0.

During CBRC’s pre board, I was number 2.

During the actual boards, I ranked 2.

And the lead of the top 1 from me? 0.2.

The major twist? The dream I conceived in tears of grief is now the reality that gives me tears of joy.

 

I asked God for a 15-minute speech during my graduation. He gave me unlimited speech during my testimonial dinner.

I finally understand why I did not graduate as magna cum laude because in that case, I will deliver my speech in just 15-minutes. He wants me to conquer the whole stage and the whole event. It happened when I was given a parade and a testimonial dinner. I cannot explain the feeling when all eyes are on me and my family is gaining so much attention. After all, that’s all I ever wanted for them—recognition.

 

I asked God for national recognition. He gave me international recognition.

I was expecting that I will take my oath taking in Manila. I dreamt of giving my parents the red carpet moment. When I’m about to go to Manila, PRC phoned me and told me that I will have my oath taking in Romblon. I cried. I can’t understand why it has to happen. All I ever wanted was to give my parents national recognition. Few days after the oath taking, I understand why. God prepared international recognition for me. That’s the start of the virality. Ate Debs posted a picture of our house with my congratulatory tarpaulin. It was the picture that flooded online with the message: “This house was able to produce a LET top notcher”. The next day, I was featured by TV5’s AKSYON news program. Upon my arrival on Manila, I made my first live television appearance at DZMM teleradyo’s Todo-todo, Walang Preno by Ariel Ureta and Winnie Cordero. It was immediately followed by my appearance on Panalo ’To segment of ABS-CBN’s TV Patrol anchored by Mrs. Bernadette Sembrano- Aguinaldo. My  life was also documented by Tapatan Ni Tunying and made a comeback special on TNT Christmas Special.  I was also featured by Rated K on their summer episode. My story was also shown on CNN’s segment Inspiring Filipino Teachers. Aside from my ABS-CBN engagements; I was interviewed by Papa Marky of GMA’s Talk back radio program. I was also interviewed at SBS Filipino, a radio program in Australia and was ambush interviewed by ABS-CBN Ilocos chapter on one of my lectures. My latest television appearance was a segment on Bandila and an advertisement for ABS-CBN’s News and Current affairs anniversary special. My life story is now included in an independent film entitled MAESTRA produced by Dr. Carl Balita which made advanced screenings all-over the Philippines and an entry to an international film festival. My story was also published in different publications and school newsletters of other universities.

 

I asked God for Baguio. He gave me the whole Philippines.

Baguio is my dream place. Upon topping the exam, I started my lectures and I was given a schedule in Baguio. I was assigned several times in Luzon area so I requested for schedules in Visayas and Mindanao. In a span of seven months, I was able to travel almost the whole country. He even gave me a chance to travel Hongkong ,  Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand and United Arab Emirates (Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Ajman). Those were the things I never asked God for but He unselfishly gave me.

 

I asked God for a good job. He gave me a good boss.

My dream before was to give my family a lifestyle one step higher than the usual lifestyle we had before. Yung kung dati, nag-uulam sila ng isang kutsarang asin, ngayon dalawa na kasi may pambili na ako. (Just kidding.) I am just aiming for a salary before that can provide the basic needs of my family and can finance the needs of my siblings. But God did not give me just a good job. God gave me a good boss—a boss who gives me opportunity to grow professionally. Sir Carl was able to unleash the eagle in me. He pushed me beyond my limits. I am doing my dream job and living my dream life.

I told God my dreams. He turned it into reality.

In my journey, I have this favorite verse from the Bible.

Yes, says the Lord. I will do mighty miracles for you. All the nations of the world will stand amazed at what the Lord will do for you. This verse has been my driving force in life. I have a lot of dreams before. God has given me a reality beyond what my mind was able to conceive.

Need I say more?  YES! Dream big. WORK hard for it and PRAY. Then, SMILE.

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