Storm Sendong washed away the simple dreams and hopes of many living in Iligan and Cagayan de Oro (CDO). Television media focused on the suffering and loss and how even the Christmas of our countrymen was carried away by the raging floodwaters.
Filipinos, however, refused to hand over the spirit of Christmas that easily. As soon as our countrymen watched the tragedy that overtook Iligan and CDO, many set aside their Christmas shopping lists and made time to gather old but decent clothes and shop for packed goods. Instead of relishing a short and precious two-week vacation, students trooped back to their respective schools to help in the repacking of goods for donation.
It was these gestures that proved the Scrooges wrong. The Christmas of 2011 may be one of the most meaningful in our country’s history as Filipinos once again shared in the suffering of their brothers and sisters in that part of Mindanao. Paradoxically, sometimes it’s only through suffering when we can live out the love symbolized by God’s birth. Our shared experience of tragedy enabled us to move beyond our Christmas rituals and traditions so that others would continue to feel the love of God in the middle of tragedy. The Dalai Lama says, “To the extent that suffering awakens our empathy and causes us to reach out to others, then it can serve as the basis of compassion and love.”
But why wait for typhoons and natural calamities before we find it in our hearts to help those in need? More than 20 million Filipinos live in desperate and appalling conditions. Everyday, millions of Filipinos wake up in evacuation center-like environments where families are separated only by the plywood walls of their shanty and parents seek out opportunities in the chaos of slum areas just to be able to feed their hungry children. Unlike times of tragedies, poverty and injustice cannot be solved through relief operations, donations of canned goods and used clothes. Poverty is caused by the failure of our social systems and structures.
Structural injustice demands a structural response — a reform of our social systems. Well-meaning Filipinos who sincerely want to help the country must therefore choose in which areas to invest their money so that financial aid will not be for the short-term but rather, for a sustainable intervention.
Last New Year’s Day, many readers of this column were impressed by the achievements of ERDA Tech, a Jesuit-run innovative tech-voc high school in Pandacan that not only offers free education to indigent students but moreover, a rigorous technical training to prepare these students to become skilled professionals. Impressive scores achieved by ERDA Tech students were shared. Statistical data would not suffice however to point out the impact of ERDA Tech to the community. More than figures, it’s the improved lives of the students that serve as best examples of the school’s effectiveness.
Thanks to their Drafting course, Christine Reyuso and Jewel Tiples are now very successful AutoCAD engineers under Nano-Q Philippines. The school’s In-plant Training coordinator reports that Christine and Jewel are now the top engineers in their company.
Another former ERDA Tech Drafting student, Juancho Mallari was absorbed by his practicum company, Dave Vergel Castro & Associates after working there for his In-Plant Training. Juancho now owns a car from the high salary he gets at his company.
There’s also ERDA Tech alumnus Mark Laurence Pasion who became a skilled draftsman at the age of 18, thanks to his training at Forssman Pacific Corporation. Incidentally, his Drafting teacher applied at the same company several years after Mark’s graduation. In a twist of fate, Mark is now the supervisor of his former ERDA Tech teacher.
There’s also the story of Christian de Guzman whose parents were unable to give regular food and transportation allowance. Because of this, he walked to school everyday and survived through the generosity of his teachers who took turns in giving him money. Upon graduation from ERDA Tech, through the boy’s own initiative, he applied for CHED scholarship for an engineering course at Technological University of the Philippines. He passed the test and has maintained his scholarship. He is currently a 4th year student and the gem of the school’s Engineering Department after representing TUP in quiz bees and winning different contests.
Finally, one of ERDA’s proudest alumni, Marlon Rueda would always fondly recall how his family would survive on half a kilo of rice swimming in water so as to become porridge for the ten members of his family. He vividly remembers how sad he was when his mother had to sell their appliances to sustain the medication of his brother who was suffering from stage-4 cancer. Marlon’s family was so poor that his mother could not even send him to a public school. After graduating from a Food Technology course in ERDA Tech, he started out as a kitchen helper in Diamond Hotel eventually working his way to becoming a chef de partie at Magsaysay Maritime Corporation, one of the largest crew providers of maritime industries in the world. Currently, he is working in Europe as a chef at a five star hotel. Marlon has not only been able to lift his family out of poverty, he also visits his alma mater to sponsor the tuition of several students, who, like him, dream of living the good life.
The innate desire to help others is indeed one of the most laudable characteristics of the Filipino. What needs to be done however is to channel this virtue of ours towards systemic investment in structural reforms. To do this, you don’t have to become a politician or support the campaign of one.
Many of these acts of nation building happen in the little-known nooks and crannies of our country. In these corners, schools like ERDA Tech effectively address the country’s Wealth Gap — not by relief operations and dole outs, but through training and harnessing the potential of each student and making a skilled and productive worker out of the poorest of the poor.
* * *
To help ERDA Tech, you may donate to its BPI Account Number BPI PhP Savings Acct No: 0153-2317-61 (for PhP donations), BPI US Dollar Savings Acct No: 0154-0103-35 (for US Dollar donations). SWIFT CODE: BOPI-PHMM. Both accounts are under the name of ERDA Tech Foundation, Inc. You may also want to learn more about ERDA Tech and be updated about current events through its website: w4.xs.edu.ph/erda/
* * *