Divine Intervention

“Her father will not recognize her as his daughter,” the distraught woman lamented. “He threw us out of his life like used rags. We haven’t received any remittances from him for years.”

Mother Superior sat there motionless. She listened, occasionally nodding her head in sympathy. She’s heard it all before. “Go on,” she would say. “How can we help you this time?”


Now middle-aged Remedios

The middle-aged woman, we will call her Remedios (not her real name), was close to tears as she spilled her guts out to the Mother Superior of the school her daughter attended. She was there to plead her case of dire poverty, requesting that her daughter be allowed to take the finals even though she can’t come up with the tuition balance.

This wasn’t the first time Remedios had to grovel before the school administrator pleading for mercy and understanding. She did it when her daughter was a freshman in high school. Now, her daughter – who is a gifted child – is halfway thru her junior year.

As a young woman fresh out of high school, Remedios worked in Singapore as an OFW. She


A Young Remedios

was young, highly energetic, and engaging with unbounded curiosity. She loved to dance and socialize. She loved to meet new people and make new friends. Wide-eyed and eager to see the world she gladly took on domestic employment overseas. New to a universe bustling with highly driven people, young and impressionable, she soon found herself entangled in a doomed, superficial relationship with a married man.


Filising – a gifted child – in grade school

She bore him a child out-of-wedlock, a daughter, whom they named Filising (a combination of Filipiniana-Singaporianense). That was years ago.

Returning to the Philippines upon the non-renewal of her domestic contract, Remedios and Filising went to live with her eldest son, Sotero, in their small home with his family of four. As her son’s family grew bigger with the addition of a new baby, Remedios felt like she had to go to the big city to try her luck once again for overseas employment. Of course, Sotero and Filising protested. Sotero respectfully reminded his mother, “Besides, you can help us out by babysitting the new baby. We need you Mom. Don’t go. Stay.”

One day, without so much as a goodbye, Remedios left. Just like that. She left no address, no word as to where she was going. She just took off.


Filising (left) with a friend

Filising felt the sting of complete abandonment in her heart. Not only did her biological father disown her, now her mother has left her. She felt utter worthlessness. Her grades began to slip. She lost her appetite. Her beautiful, flowing, black tresses began to fall off. She was withering away in broad daylight.

Sotero was at a loss; he didn’t know what to do. He had no resources to take Filising to see a doctor. Why, Sotero was so penniless he couldn’t even summon the local quack-doctor-herbolario for some superstitious quackery; this local shaman charged too much for his services.

At school, Filising’s teachers noticed the change in their star pupil. Alarmed, they informed Mother Superior of what was going on. It was out of pure concern for her welfare that Mother Superior had Filising brought in to the office one afternoon for an informal chat. Divine intervention was at work. Mother Superior took it upon herself to use her own personal money to help Filising finish her junior year. Additionally, she gave Filising a job at the convent, helping in the library and in the sacerdotal vestments upkeep, and giving her board and lodging.

Filising graduated high school class valedictorian. She never reconnected with her mother Remedios, who walked out on her… long ago.



A Living Legacy

St Augustine School Girls Department Circa 1958

St Augustine School Girls Department Circa 1958

Founded in 1910, St Augustine School (SAS) started out as a mission school erected and run by the Belgian nuns and priests (CICM) who came to Tagudin, Ilocos Sur, Philippines to help spread the Good News. A short history of the school may be found at the SAS Ai WIKI. The last 103 years has seen the steady ascent of SAS as the premier private school of Ilocos Sur province. SAS Alumni work, live, set up private practice as doctors, engineers, certified public accountants, registered nurses, and do entrepreneurial commerce internationally.

Today’s global economy makes the job market keen and competitive. We have bright, promising and highly motivated kids in the community who come from very disadvantaged families and thus are financially unable to attend SAS high school.

It is so that these kids may get an opportunity to finish high school at SAS that our non-profit organization SAS Ai dedicates and commits its efforts. We solely rely on public financial support. To this end we humbly ask you to please generously donate to the scholarship fund. This is the only way we can fund these kids’ high school education.

We believe Education is Freedom. These children have known nothing but poverty, hunger, and even hopelessness throughout their lives. But they are the future. Investing in their high school education makes possible the ushering in of a living legacy – the next generation of teachers, scientists, doctors, engineers, civic leaders, clerics, fathers and mothers raising healthy families, and highly competitive overseas workers.

This holiday season, we ask you to please consider making your charitable contribution count. Invest in these kids. Help make their dreams come true. Give them an opportunity to finish high school. A $50 dollar tax deductible donation can help send a student for one month of schooling with the funding spread to cover tuition, books, school supplies, and school uniforms. You can even open a monthly allotment using your VISA, MASTER CARD, or DISCOVER card. Any amount you want to donate is truly appreciated and will help tremendously.

We wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Going Back to School; I’m Excited – by Fegie Yvette Layco

Fegie Yvette Layco, SAS Ai Scholar Class 2011-12

Fegie Yvette Layco, SAS Ai Scholar Class 2011-12

School’s starting once again. There’s excitement in the air. I never thought I’d feel this way about school. First of all, going back to school and stepping up to the next higher level, or rung means progress, advancement, achievement – one step forward toward the finish line.

At the moment I feel like sprinting, dashing toward that yellow ribbon… both my arms up in the air, palms opened and waving to the crowd, I’m gasping for air with every sinew in my body aching… but the race… it’s won – Yay! That’s all that’s on my mind right at this moment. But wait. First things first. I am getting way ahead of myself.

Field Team Director, Mr Albert Bunoan met with us SAS Ai scholars and our parents today. He welcomed us back to the SAS campus and exuberantly announced before the end of the day we would all be enrolled and registered. The room burst into instant, unrehearsed but organized pandemonium. Shouts, howls, yells, screams, and shrieks of joy and jubilation drowned Mr Bunoan’s voice but only for a few seconds. He restored order quickly and continued, “Today we also get all our school supplies!” The applause was about to erupt once again but Mr Bunoan was quick to add, “Though not until we go over certain points.”

Scholar's school supplies

Scholar’s school supplies


“What could Mr Bunoan mean?” I thought. I felt somewhat uneasy. Mr Bunoan had my undivided attention now and I craned my head to catch every word he had to say.

“Dear scholars and parents,” he began. “Welcome back. Today SAS Ai proudly announces school year 2013 open and you are the reason for the mission.” Mr Bunoan paused for a sip of water. “Let us work together to make 2013 our best year, welcoming those joining our community for the first time.” Mr Bunoan outlined our responsibilities as SAS Ai scholars and the responsibilities of our parents supportive of our schooling. He was most thorough. Critical things like good grades, perfect attendance, personal behavior and development, humility and honesty, and most of all that we enjoy our learning experiences. Yes – that is why I am so excited to go back to school. I enjoy learning.


The mind is like a field. The furrows are straight. Ready for the seeds of Knowledge to be sown.

Each day on my way to school I pass by the open fields. Some parts of the fields lay fallow while some parts look plowed and cleaned, tilled and readied for the planting. My mind goes through images, scenarios and a collage of mental artwork only I can appreciate. I think to myself, “What if my mind is like that field over there,” I look to my right and see the neat and straight furrows.The soil looks fertile, ready for the seeds.

Isn’t that the same as going to school and learning? Our minds are like fertile fields. We prepare the soil in neat furrows, straight and single-minded, focused and ready for the seeds of knowledge to be sown by the teacher. That is why we go to school.

“Hey Fegie,” I heard a voice. It was Mr Bunoan. “Are you ready for 2013? Are you going for the honor roll again this year?”

Feeling a bit embarrassed for my dizzy-fantasyheadedness I blurted out, “Of course Mr B… yes Sir I am going for the ribbon…” is it the yellow ribbon of the race’s end or the red ribbon of the honor roll… gosh, I don’t know, but I am going for it.

Thanks SAS Ai for this opportunity to go back to school. Thanks for all your caring, kindness and generosity.

We are ready and hummin’. Education is freedom! Yay!

Manila, Manila – by Mariella Tacho


Rizal Monument

Rizal Park in Manila

The highlight of my summer vacation stay in Manila was my visit to Rizal Park. I think all Filipinos ought to see this place and spend some time admiring the artwork, examining the structures, and reliving the country’s history presented in the many exhibits. I entered the walled city called Intramuros with awe and great excitement. The towering walls appeared old, dark and looming and in some spots crumbling. There were splotches of green moss thriving in some places. The heat and humidity do a splendid job of eroding even the mightiest brick and mortar structures ever built by man. This fungi-action aging process became very clear as I entered the pavilion. The dank smell of mold and mildew assaulted my nose. I guess that was part of the draw… realism the place provides for the tourist and spectator to enjoy.


Mi Ultimo Adios by Doctor Jose Rizal

Termite eaten wood framed the old pictures hanging on the walls. The black and white photographs themselves must have been taken with old daguerreotype. What stories of bygone days they tell. Their voices may be mute but they tell of the days when the Spaniard Conquistadors ruled the islands and demanded blind loyalty and allegiance to the King of Spain. I believe this is what got Dr Jose Rizal, our Philippine National Hero killed – his refusal to personally submit to Spanish subjugation – and his rallying cry to all the Filipino people to revolt. I almost became teary eyed when I saw his famous poem, Mi Ultimo Adios, presented on the wall.

Dr Jose Rizal

Re-enactment of the death of Dr Jose Rizal by Firing Squad

But this last photo reenacting the death of Dr Jose Rizal by firing squad is the most poignant of all the show photographs. I must have spent a couple of hours just reflecting on his personal sacrifice all because he wanted the Philippines to be free. All in all, I will always remember my visit to Rizal Park. What a high point it was to my vacation visit to the great city of Manila. Everybody should go visit Rizal Park. There is so much history, tradition, culture, and heritage to see.

A Success Story

Jonel Leal

Jonel Leal (center) shows his certificate of recognition award, flanked by his Mom Mrs Monica Leal (left) and the Field Team Director, Mr Albert D Bunoan

The Field Team was at the Leal residence back in 2010 talking to Mrs Monica Leal and Jonel Leal about the scholarship program. It’s been a long, hot day and their trek to Ambalayat, where the Leals live, was long and tiring. The pre-qualifying process progressed slowly but they persevered and are they glad they did.

Today, Jonel Leal is an outstanding student at SAS high school going into his fourth and senior year.

During the first interview Jonel appeared too quiet, shy and even timid. The Field Team took a break to compare notes. Of the three Field Team reps, a couple gave Jonel an average rating. One remained high on Jonel. He observed that Mrs Monica Leal leaned heavily on her son, encouraging him to be more animated.

Jonel is a quiet young man who goes into deep thought when asked a question. He is not given to flashy exhibitions of flamboyance and open cockiness. He took his time answering questions. Sometimes going into a trance-like phase Jonel took his time giving cogent and well articulated answers.

When the Field Team politely asked Mrs Leal to leave them alone with her son, Jonel seemed to come alive. He appeared liberated, even emancipated. The Field Team left the Leal home late in the afternoon united in recommending him for the scholarship program. That was three years ago.

SAS Ai is so glad we gave Jonel an opportunity to attend high school with the scholarship program. He shows and typifies a SAS Ai scholar – in intelligence and in persistence.


My Summer Vacation – by Kyle Zyra Lazo


Kyle Zyra Lazo

Kyle Zyra Lazo, SAS Ai Scholar Class 2010-11

Summer is synonymous with adventure. And adventure includes exploring, finding and discovering new places off the beaten track and doing fun things.

I joined my parents and siblings this past summer on vacation in Pugo, La Union. “Heaven on earth” aptly describes Pugo, my favorite place in the world. When I am here I am stress free.

Pugo’s quaint towns and Barangays, all accessible by paved roads, sport huge public market places with its small shops, cantinas and cafes. Small farming enclaves sprout in the middle of vast rice fields and in the thick of limited forests. A beautiful river flows and winds its way to the open sea. To the east stands a line of foothills studded with rocky promontories resembling far pavilions. Beyond the hills, mountains rise so high their peaks disappear into the low-lying clouds.

Vacation wouldn’t be complete without our yearly family reunion with the Salvo Clan in Barangay Labayug, in Sison, Pangasinan. Speaking of reunions, we managed to squeeze into our busy schedule a get-together with the Sigman family last April 22nd. Let me tell you about these family reunions. There were endless trays of food, coconut sweets, mango and pineapple ice cream and party favors. A couple of talented cousins who played guitar and sang entertained us. We attempted to sing along and to be honest, wildly and off-key most of the time, we were politely ordered by the elders to pipe down – which we did, albeit begrudgingly. Oh well, that was all part of the fun.


Tapuacan River in Pugo, La Union

We enjoyed and had the most fun swimming with my siblings and cousins in the deep pools and swirling waters of the Tapuacan river. Compared to the waters of the huge Amburayan River and the massive Abra River, the flowing waters of the Tapuacan River qualify as the most pristine in all of Northern Luzon. As a side note, the name Tapuacan in Ilocano means “jump off point”. This name appropriately describes the high cliffs that rim the river. Swimmers would literally stand at the edge of the cliff and “jump off” or dive into the deep and crystal clear water pools.

Later we needed to replenish the firewood stack. We walked up to the foothills early in the day to collect and gather firewood. Trekking through narrow gullies and extended ravines – waterways for torrential downpours – our gradual climb was long and our hike arduous. But the scenery… As we stopped to catch our breath we looked back and saw from our high vantage point the lowlands stretched for kilometers, a patchwork quilt covered with moss-like green. I enjoyed the ascent but the walk home proved harder since we each had a cord of firewood to carry. I have developed new respect for the woodcutters and gatherers who sell firewood in the public market.

Like all good things, the summer vacation came to an end. So soon, I thought to myself. But there will be next year. I really love Pugo. When I’m here I feel I’m stress free. Someday soon, I hope to give you a personal tour of “Heaven on Earth” – Pugo, La Union.

Joyful Realization


The Family of one SAS Ai scholar

Three years ago, our field Team spoke with this family about their eldest daughter who was about to finish elementary school and graduate sixth grade class Salutatorian.

Field Team Leader Albert Bunoan began the conversation, “Mr and Mrs Sotero, we are here because your daughter Soledad expressed interest in applying for financial aid to attend SAS high school.”

“Who are you?” Mr Sotero sounded skeptical. “Why would Soledad want to attend SAS high school? All her friends are in public school.” Mr Sotero seemed bothered about something. His wife Calixta was fixing sweet potato stew in the kitchen. She listened intently even as she stirred the pot.

Mr Bunoan smiled and calmly explained to Mr Sotero about the SAS Ai scholarship program. “SAS is the premier private school in the province. It would certainly be to Soledad’s advantage to attend high school there. The faculty is very capable and the facilities are up to date. Soledad can apply her smarts and learn a lot from what SAS has to offer.”

“Isn’t that school only for the rich?” asked Mrs Sotero finally getting into the conversation. “One of my aunts attended that school and graduated in the late forties. Yes it is a great school.”

Mr Sotero chimed in, “So are you going to pay for Soledad’s tuition? How about her books and lab fees?”

Mr Bunoan showed the Sotero’s the SAS Ai program documentation. “Mr and Mrs Sotero, we will take care of Soledad’s registration, books, school uniforms, shoes, socks, school supplies but you will have to take care of her lunches and transportation.”

“How you doing that? You got money or something?” Grandma spoke her broken English. She was rocking the cradle in the other room. “You taking my Soledad and keeping her in dormitory? She needed here helping with the field and pasture.”

“Grandma Sotero, no, we are not taking Soledad and putting her in a dormitory. We are enrolling her to attend high school at SAS,” Albert said with a smile.

That was three years ago. This year Soledad will begin her fourth and senior year of high school. She has done well, staying in the honor roll after each year. She expects to graduate with high honors.

At the annual parent-Field Team meeting, Mr and Mrs Sotero reminisced with Mr Bunoan. “Remember when you first came to see us about Soledad attending SAS high school?” Mrs Sotero said.

“Yes. I thought Mr Sotero was going to do me bodily harm,” Mr Bunoan lightheartedly replied. “SAS Ai is very happy for Soledad and proud of her accomplishments. And so must you be…”

“Mr Bunoan thank you so much for not giving up on us,” Mr Sotero said in a very humble and subdued voice. “We couldn’t have given Soledad this kind of good education.”

“Yes we are most grateful to the donors of SAS Ai. And of course we love SAS Ai and all the volunteers who run the organization,” Mrs Sotero’s eyes misted.

It was such a different meeting than the one that happened three years ago. Such joyful realization…