How hunger can be filling and fulfilling, too

NEW BEGINNINGS - Büm D. Tenorio Jr. - The Philippine Star
How hunger can be filling and fulfilling, too
Illustration by Hersam Sato.

For the final exam of my students in Philippine Pop Culture at St. Vincent College of Cabuyao, I asked them to come to school for an interview. One by one. Five minutes each.

I had a simple question: What did you learn about yourself in the course of studying pop culture?

“The Self” was the final discussion because, as I told them, there would be no pop culture if the self was not involved.

The question had most of the students reflect on their life. There were tears shed as many of them narrated how they had to labor hard to send themselves to school. They didn’t want to obligate their parents for their tuition fee because, to begin with, their parents were also hard up.

One thing was clear: they didn’t blame their parents if their needs could not be met. Instead, they would find ways to eke out a living. One beautiful girl just finished her contract with a convenience store where she worked on a graveyard shift as a cashier. At 7:30 a.m., she was fresh as a daisy in my online class, her face vibrant, her mind alert. She got a 1.25 in her final grade.

One lady works in a factory at night and manages to be in my early morning class with the desire to learn. One time, she took the quiz while riding the tricycle going home from the factory. She aced the quiz.

A young man serves as a helper in a small eatery and was brave enough to send me a message on our second meeting in February: “Sir, if you’re going to give a quiz, please make it before 9 a.m.” I probed. “By 9 a.m., I will be in the kitchen already washing the dishes. Also, Sir, please allow me to finish the class before 10:30 a.m., I’m heavy with work around that time. I need to work so I can send myself to school.”

When one time this young man was absent in my class, I got a message from him before the day ended. “My phone crashed, Sir. Sorry. Hihingi na lamang po ako ng notes sa classmate ko. Makikihiram na rin po muna ako ng phone. (I will ask for the notes on the discussion from my classmate. I will also borrow a phone).”

When I offered to buy him a phone he could use in my class and in his other classes, he replied: “Salamat po. Pero gusto ko pong ako ang bumili ng phone ko. Mapag-iipunan ko po ‘yon (Thank you. But I would like to be the one to buy my phone. I will save up for it). Don’t worry about me, Sir. Promise, gagalingan ko sa klase (I will make it good in class).” He kept his promise.

That day on their final exam, there was drama in my little classroom. Beautiful girls and young men cried. I cried with them. I never realized that a final exam could be therapeutic and liberating.

“Hold on to your tears. No, remember your tears today. Give them dignity. You will celebrate them one day. Soon,” I told them as they left the interview exam.

“Believe in your dreams,” I said. It was my usual parting words with my class in the duration of the sem.

I was once like them. And I thought they needed to hear my story, too.


Life was hard for me when I was in college. While my classmates had P350 as minimum allowance to survive the week at UP Los Baños, I was making sure the P150 allowance my family gave me would last me for six days (including Citizens Military Training on Saturdays for four semesters). Many times my allowance would only be up to Thursday. And in the remaining days, I would have to choose which one to skip: lunch or dinner. But I was fine. I never complained. I was focused on my studies. So focused that I wanted to graduate ahead of time. Instead of finishing my course (AB Communication Arts) in four years, I finished it in three and a half years with a few more extra units — all because I wanted to work and help in putting food on our table.

Long before I got acquainted with the word “brunch,” I was already combining breakfast and lunch on those days. And to eat at fancy Tops restaurant, I had friends who would take the tab. My grateful heart will always remember. We are still friends to this day.

In my free time, I would be at the library of a college arranging books, computing penalties for those who returned the books late, or simply dusting off the counters. I was a working student. If I wanted to make sure I would eat three times a day in college, I might as well be a working student. There was no fast-food restaurant at that time in Los Baños. I wouldn’t mind working there as a crew member if there was one.

I got booted out from a dormitory because my landlord padlocked my room for unpaid three-months back rent. I “squatted” in a friend’s room but I needed to leave his quarters before 6 a.m. and came home again after 8 p.m. because those were the specific hours the landlord was present in the premises. To this day, I wonder what happened to my two green pillows and blue floral blanket that were collateral damages of my delinquency in paying the dorm fee. The pillows and the blanket were important to me because they were the only possessions I could call my own — from the time I was seven. The rest — my pants and my shirts in college — belonged to my brother Gaddie.

They say one needs to be hungry to be able to be full. I subscribe to that. Literally. Figuratively.

Hunger made me a fighter — strong, spirited, sprightly.

Hunger made me generous — in spirit, in deeds, in believing in other people’s dreams.

Hunger defined me — it defined my reed frame and edgy jawline as well as my unflinching dreams. When you are poor, you hold on to your dreams like they are your security blanket. You fasten yourself with it as you sleep at night. You even dream of your dreams on nights when your stomach growls — like a restless wolf. Only to be sobered by the meekness of the night.

Hunger made me reach for my dreams. I held on to the churning inside me because I knew it would be my driving force to claim my own spot under the sun one day, someday.

Hunger was my moral compass. Hunger possessed its own dignity. Hunger was an assemblage of pursuits of my critical mind. Hunger was the house of my creativity.

Hunger made me realize early on that intellect was just part of carving my future; beyond it, emotional quotient was as relevant if not more so.

Hunger was my strength until it made me full in more ways than one. Hunger can be filling; fulfilling, too.


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