The following Experiences entry has been reposted with permission from the blog of one of our Fellows, Miggy Zaballero of Sto. Cristo Elementary School.
Look at him and you’ll see a typical third grader – a boy who loves to laugh, plays pranks on people, run, crack jokes, draw, play games, laugh and play even more games.
Look closer and you’ll realize that you have a student who takes his studies seriously – who can easily separate work from play unlike many his age. He quiets down when classes begin, takes out his notebook, recites frequently, and gets freakishly high marks.
Look deeper and you’ll see an intelligent little boy who dreams of playing in a real football field and whose only ticket to a successful future is to perform well academically. (Not to mention that he’s one of the most promising players in the Football club I started in our school.)
Look again and you’ll see a boy who wants to and can really become an engineer in the future.
I met him over the summer, even before school started, when he helped clean our classroom. I distinctly remember how shy he was and how silently yet tirelessly he worked to wash all the windows and mop the floor. I remember thanking him for all the help that day. I remember how he simply nodded his head and gave me a small smile.
He is Ryan, the first student I ever met.
He’s an orphan.
I’ve always known that he was an orphan but I’ve always been afraid to ask; that’s until circumstances compelled me to really find out what his story was. Finally, over two conversations, I uncovered his story.
Scene 1: (I heard some classmates laughing at Ryan for being in a “bahay ampunan” (orphanage) and for “running away from home”.)
In those five seconds, I saw his classmates laughing and I watched as Ryan simply ignored them and just continued drawing in his seat. I asked Ryan to accompany me and help me bring my stuff to the next class and in the brief walk, I asked him how he was.
Me: “Okay ka lang ba?” (Are you okay?)
R: “Okay lang po.” (I’m okay.)
Me: “Totoo ba ‘yung sinasabi ng classmates mo?” (Is what your classmates saying true?)
R: *Silently nods*
Me: “Ilang taon ka nung ginawa mo ‘yun?” (How old were you when you did that?)
R: “Four years old po.”
Me: “Asan nang magulang mo?” (Where are your parents?)
R: “Mommy ko po, patay na. Tatay ko po, nasa probinsya.” (My mother already passed away. My dad is in the province.)
Me: “Gusto mo ikwento sa akin kung bakit ka umalis?” (Do you want to tell me about why you left home?)
R: *Shakes his head in silence*
Me: “Okay, sige. Kwentuhan ulit tayo minsan. Basta sigurado ka okay ka lang ah?” (Okay, sure. Let’s talk again sometime. Are you sure you’ll be alright?)
R: “Okay lang po.” (I’m alright.)
Me: “Salamat. Balik ka na sa classroom.” (Thank you. Go back to the classroom.)
That moment shook me to the core and it was the first time I shed a real tear while in school.
Scene 2: (One time after Football practice, I saw Ryan sitting alone in a waiting shed outside school.)
Me: “Oh, di ka pa uuwi?” (Aren’t you going home yet?)
R: “Inaantay ko pa po sundo ko.” (I’m waiting to be picked up.)
Me: “Sige, samahan kita mag-antay.” (Okay, I’ll wait with you.)
Me: “Oh may utang ka pang kwento kay Teacher. Anong nangyari sa iyo nung bata [ka]? Bakit ka naglayas?” (You still owe Teacher a story. What happened to you when you were little? Why’d you run away from home?)
R: “Kasi po sobrang hirap po namin noon,” (Because we were very poor.)
Me: “Saan ka nakatira dati?” (Where did you use to live?)
R: “Sa Bicol po.” (In Bicol.)
Me: (trying to hide my surprise ) “Paano ka umalis ng bahay?” (How did you leave your home?)
R: “Umalis po ako ng gabi.” (I left in the night.)
Me: “Paano ka nakapunta dito?” (How did you get here?)
R: “Nakisakay po ako sa tren,” (I hitched a ride on a train.)
Me: “Tapos nung nakarating ka sa Manila, anong ginawa mo?” (And when you got to Manila, what did you do?)
R: “Naglakad at naglakad lang po hanggang nahanap ako ng taga-DSWD.” (I just kept walking and walking until someone from the DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development) found me.)
That second conversation had me in a daze as I thought about Ryan and what he had to go through.
Imagine leaving your house as a 4-year old – running away in the middle of the night. Imagine boarding a train without any money, with no idea where you’ll go or where you’ll end up. Imagine getting down from the train and walking for miles, without food nor water, just to get away from the poor life.
Maybe that’s why he’s all business when it comes to his studies. Maybe the experience taught him to be humble, to be thankful and to ignore the rest who ridicule his status as an orphan. Maybe the struggles have kept him grounded and focused on having a better future for himself.
It’s been a tough 11 years for this kid. I just hope that he realizes his dream of becoming an engineer one day.
If ever you get to read this, Ryan, know that you will never be alone. That beyond this school year, you can count on me and I’ll be there. You’re one of the best kids in our school.
I believe in you,
Jose Miguel Francisco Zaballero, or Miggy, 26, graduated from Ateneo de Manila University in 2010 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Social Sciences. After graduating from Ateneo, he became a social entrepreneur and founded a training and development social enterprise, Frontline Social Enterprises Development Corporation. He is one of five Fellows teaching Grade 3 students in Sto. Cristo Elementary School in Quezon City.