Reaching the fringes of the Philippines

The story of Basilan scholars

basilan-2019-1The island province of Basilan is located just off the southern coast of the Zamboanga Peninsula. It is the largest island of the Sulu Archipelago. Basilan is a third-class province in terms of gross provincial income. And, ranked 20 among the Philippines’ 80 provinces in terms of incidences of poverty.

True to its word to “serve the fringes of society”, the Office of the Vice President (OVP) visited Basilan to campaign for students for scholarship and presented Dualtech as an option. It was quite easy to convince young men to enrol at Dualtech; to escape from poverty. Financial problems being the cause for dropping out of school is repeated often in Basilan.

There were a few holders of a college diploma or tech-voc certificate but they still feel they lack training and competency. Imagine a student holding a certificate in computer technology yet only touched a computer once in his 6 months of training.

Having selected a set of candidates, the OVP granted scholarships and sent them off to Dualtech, Calamba, Laguna.

Challenges

As the scholars set foot in Dualtech, their mettle was tested. One scholar summarizes the challenges ”Yung pag-gising sa umaga, mga rules and regulations sa Duatlech at yung malayo sa pamilya…” The discipline instilled, from day one, on the scholars daunted them. Waking up early to be in school by 6 am. Individual job assignments in the boarding house to have order, live teamwork and family life was stressed.

Motivation to stay

The scholars are here to stay. For the next 2 years at least. They have found ways to cope with the challenges.

Sheer determination doesn’t work. Will power can only do so much. They made friends, lots of friends. Scholars were taught to live family life. So they would not be going to a boarding house but a home. Frequent phone calls to their family eased the homesickness.

It was heart-warming to see how the Basilan boys were treated. They were regarded as equals and respected. The scholars were not given special treatment but treated as equal. The boys did not mind being from anywhere or a Muslim. They are Filipinos.

For Jestoni Villagrasya, the simple advice of his father: “Do not give up”, made him stay.

Heart-rending was the reality of returning to the hardship experienced in Basilan. As Jon Carlo Abasto puts it: “Hindi ko inaasahan na magigigng tambay ako sa loob ng dalawang taon. Mahirap maging tambay lalo na kung mayroon tayong pangarap.”  They would rather face the difficulty brought by employment rather than the difficulty of idleness (tambay). Sacrifices in earning a living is nothing compared to the unnecessary sacrifices endured by unemployment.

These scholars are about to go to the next phase of their training in one of Dualtech’s industry partners. With the love and care given to them by the OVP, the foster parents, and Dualtech, they are bent to finish. The boys from Basilan have all the love. Now they are given hope.

 

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