The suicide of 16-year-old freshman Kristel Tejada puts into focus once again the miserable situation of many poor Filipino couples whose children have a lot of potential but could not get any education because of dire financial difficulties. Today, almost 30 percent of the population are so hard-up parents could not even raise the lowest college tuition available no matter how much they try to save up. It has always been a hand-to-mouth existence.
One heartbreaking story told to me a year ago involves a poor bus driver with his wife taking in laundry to help him feed their four young children. The couple — honest, simple and hard working — were especially proud of their eldest son who graduated with honors in a public elementary school. They sacrificed and worked even harder to make sure their promising boy would finish high school. But like most poor families — putting children through college becomes an altogether different story. The poor couple could not raise enough money for the tuition, the books and the daily fare their boy needed to continue on to college.
Undaunted, the young man opted to take in a night job as a waiter in a nightclub to pay for his tuition, simultaneously taking in a few units of college during the day. One night on his way back home from work — tragedy struck. Two drug addicts accosted the young man asking for money and his cellphone. He resisted and was stabbed several times, left to die in an alley.
The couple — who had poured all their hopes and dreams on their son and their way out of poverty — was totally shattered and devastated. To this day, the mother never stops lamenting the death of her boy, feeling that with his death, all their aspirations for a better future for the whole family also died, and that they would never get out of their “isang kahig, isang tuka” (hand-to-mouth) existence.
On the other side of the coin is a wonderful story of good karma. A family driver was able to put his son through college with financial help from his businessman employer. The boy did very well in school, obtained a degree in Management Accounting and became a successful financial analyst. Due to bad decisions coupled with hard economic times, the businessman’s company almost turned bankrupt. His generosity came back — the young man whom he helped put through college was the very person who helped put his company back into shape. Today, that young man is now running the company as president and CEO. This is obviously a clear case of good karma coming back directly to the businessman — sharing his blessings that returned to him tenfold.
Other horror stories are “Talibanic” situations today especially in some provinces where the education of females in the family is not given as much priority as the males due to the belief that men are more important because they are the family breadwinner, plus the perception that women will just waste their education when they marry and become mothers. This was confirmed by some female caddies at a golf club where one of them narrated that she and three other sisters are working as caddies so they could put their younger brother through school — and that this was decided by their parents who said the family’s ticket out of their financial predicament lies with their brother having a good education. Maybe true, but pathetic nevertheless.
Many of us are blessed and have our own stories to tell about our parents’ many sacrifices just for us to be able to get a good education. A wealthy father told his son that “inherited wealth you can lose or can be stolen — but a good education can never be taken away from you.” Absolutely true — more than anything, education is the most precious gift we receive from our parents.
Unfortunately, we still continue to hear about many bright children who sadly could not hone their innate talent and natural intelligence due to poverty. No wonder the school drop out rate continues to be disturbing, with 60 out of 100 students finishing grade six. For those who move on to high school, only 43 out of a hundred will most likely graduate and out of this number, only 14 will probably complete a college education. It’s not also improbable that for a son or daughter to finish college, the parents would have resorted to borrowing at usurious rates (20 percent interest or “5-6” as they call it) or mortgaged the nipa hut and the land it’s built on with the cow or carabao thrown in.
The fact of the matter is — government does not have enough resources to cope with the yearly increasing number of public school students. While the administration has allocated P232.6 billion (the biggest chunk) from the P2 trillion 2013 budget and the subsidy for state colleges and universities has been increased to P37 billion, not everything can be utilized for tuition and miscellaneous school expenses.
In a previous column, I wrote about the suggestion of a low-key wealthy businessman to put up an educational foundation specifically focused on providing financial assistance to poor but deserving students. This is absolutely the best way to share one’s blessings. The businessman was so moved by the student suicide, he told us he is preparing to raise more funds and increase the number of beneficiaries from his educational foundation.
The senseless death of this young lady is a grim reminder that for many Filipinos — education is truly their only way out of poverty.
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