Holy Week Reflection 2: The Way Out of Poverty Isn’t Easy

Education is key in breaking inter-generational poverty. However, the process is long, and for many, a relatively expensive one.

I come from a simple family and am able to finished school—from grade school to college—out of the generosity of the universe. Although I was lucky to get a scholarship at every level, still, completing my education was not easy.

In grade and high school, we did not spend much on my transportation, as my school was just across our house. See, I was lucky. That was until our campus transferred elsewhere when I had to take tricycle going to school, but it was just for a couple of years. I wanted to enter science high school, but, because of financial constraints, we decided that I just finish secondary education in our town. I did not mind though (not until 25 years later, ha!). Basically, my mom spent only on my food and school supplies. Sometimes, it was food OR school supplies. I remember the many times I threw tantrums during mealtime because I was already tired of eating banana with rice, a slice of mango—we had to slice the whole fruit into four equal parts to be shared among us, three siblings, and my mom—with rice, or salt and rice (was this the start of my veganism?). Having tuyo or tinapa, supposedly the poor man’s viand, was a treat. We could not afford Cory’s galunggong then. My mom’s constant question to me was, kakain ka ba ng masarap o mag-aaral ka? Food and education are both basic human rights, but in my case, it was a choice between the two.

Times became tougher when I was about to enter college. It was my childhood dream to be a doctor. Although I was granted the National State Scholarship (I was iskolar ng bayan literally), it covered only a college course. My mom explained to me that after my pre-medicine, she could not afford to send me to medical school for proper and internship—so what would I do with my degree in, say, biology? She would often challenge me with this question until finally, I was convinced that it was impractical for me to pursue the degree that I really, really wanted. During my prayer time though, I often cried to God even when I was already working: hindi ako tamad; mas lalong hindi ako tanga; nagkataon lang na mahirap kami, bakit hindi na ako pwede maging doktor?

Never found the answer to my question. My next best option then was to take the course that would sure land me a job. For four consecutive weekends before taking the leap, I tallied the courses required by job postings in the classified ads. Business is it.

My next hurdle was meeting the minimum grade point average (GPA) per semester required by the state scholarship. If I did not meet the GPA of 2.65, I would lose my scholarship…at kapag nawala ang scholarship mo, bahala kang magpa-aral sa sarili mo, my mom always reminded me. Hence, I kept my eyes on my GPA. That was the reason why, when I failed an exam in BA 99.2 (accounting subject), I wailed in the ladies’ room as if it was the end of the world…because it could just be that. I could not afford to lose my only chance to improve my lot, hence I practically lived my college days in constant fear.

I wanted to get out of college and start working as soon as possible, so I could save money to send myself to medical school (why I did not pursue it is another story). Every summer I took two subjects (6 units) in order to finish my course a semester earlier. State scholarship did not cover summer classes, so I applied for UP’s STFAP (Socialized Tuition and Student Assistance Program). Class D at the time meant full tuition subsidy but without an allowance. Classes below D received financial assistance in varying amounts, depending on their classification, but they were required to render free service to the institution in return. Should I go for the D or for lower classes? Deep inside, I felt something was wrong with the system though. What made it easier for me to decide was the state scholarship’s condition: I was not allowed to engage in any kind of work while the scholarship was enforced. So there—I was an STFAP Class D student every summer (the reason why I gave up my periodic employment).

I knew how it was to go to school and be resource-challenged. There was a time I left school at rush hour and the only way for me to get a ride home was to go to the jeepney terminal in Cubao. The thing was, what I had in my pocket was my exact fare from Katipunan to our place (Php2.75). I could not do anything but wait for a ride—that turned out to be three hours of waiting. Lesson: leave the school way before the rush hour. That was the only thing I could control. Somehow.

I also did not have a computer unit at home. I had to do my assignments in our laboratory or in computer shops in our campus. It meant I could only do my assignments during school hours, but my class schedule did not always give me the luxury of studying during daytime. Well, I may have been resource-challenged but I was never lacking in friends. Just how many times did my friends volunteer to computer-type my handwritten research papers and essays? For free! They were not even my classmates and, in fact, were from different colleges. I would not have survived college without them. I was REALLY lucky.

Life was tough but I was blessed. Not everyone is given scholarship, with stipend at that. Good friends are not easy to find. I survived college, despite the angst that comes with adolescence combined with the struggles of living in poverty. Unfortunately, not all (student) stories had the same ending as mine.

*****

This is STFAP today.

STFAP

I think it is not fair to classify students based on family income—otherwise, my yaya’s family, with yaya and her son employed, would fall under Class D. What the system does not take into account is the number of family members. There are eight people living in yaya’s household, therefore using the national data on poverty line set at Php15,001 per year per head, their family should be earning  Php180,000 to be considered non-poor. Based on statistics, they are poor, but under the STFAP system, the children in yaya’s household would still have to pay 30 per cent of the expenses.

The Php12,000 stipend for class E2 translates to roughly Php115 allowance per day. Not bad. But really, how many students qualify for Class E2 bracket?

I would not have survived college if I just relied on STFAP so I am grateful to the national government that provided me with financial assistance…sadly, it is the same government that makes UP education unaffordable to many, whose only ticket out of poverty is education.

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