Things were going great and then. . .


After her husband died, she suffered a severe stroke

After her husband died, she suffered a severe stroke sending everything into a tailspin

In pursuing our mission to help bright kids from poor families finish high school, we come across many special applications or requests for financial aid. One such request came across our desk for consideration earlier this year. We can relate to this story. All of us are just one paycheck away from being homeless.

Maria, (we changed the names to keep the privacy of the parties involved) and her husband Taliofero operated a small cafe-diner. The place was no bigger than four office cubicles joined together, furnished with four tables with four chairs each. The simple menu included many local dishes affordably priced and targeted toward a clientage composed of the local government workers, school faculty and staff and a few students from wealthier families, who carry sizable lunch money allowance. Bottom line, business was booming. Maria was able to send her daughter Donna to private high school.

Then the unimaginable happened. Taliofero had a massive heart attack while cooking a batch of Dinuguan (a local blood pudding delicacy with pork innards). Their sense of loss and grief exponentially doubled as Maria suffered a stroke soon after they buried Taliofero. Utterly devastated, the family began to sell some of their belongings, jewelry and home furnishings to help run the business and to survive. Although it was touching and inspiring to see Maria and Donna try everything to mitigate the ravages of physical handicap and erosion of morale, the situation was nevertheless a portrait of raw despondency and frustration. Creditors repossessed their home. They moved back to Maria’s mother’s house.

Donna was going into her last year of high school. She had been an honor student all three years earlier and actively involved in the school paper as assistant editor. Donna’s bright and shows tremendous potential. But now, out of money and essentially broke, she faces transferring to the public high school. They applied for financial aid so Donna can graduate at the same high school wherein she started.

Our committee didn’t take long to decide. Donna will graduate this year from St Augustine’s School.

 

Changing Certain Attitudes


Planting rice seedlings

Planting rice seedlings

“Good morning Sir. I am Albert Bunoan from SAS Ai. We are here to visit Rosa your daughter. Rosa said she wanted to attend St Augustine School (SAS).” Albert extended his hand to Rosa’s father hoping for a good handshake.

“Very good Mistro, (mistro means teacher)” the man replied, calling Rosa in the next instant. “Rosa… Rosa…”

Rosa came down. She smiled when she saw Albert. “Good morning Sir,” she greeted Albert waving her hand.

Albert asked Rosa, “Did you tell your parents about your plan to apply for financial aid? And that you want to attend SAS high school?”

“Yes Sir,” replied Rosa. Then looking her father’s way, she continued, “But Sir I think my father is not in favor.”

Taking his cue from Rosa, the father spoke. “Mistro… if it is all the same, we appreciate your gesture but I think Rosa will go to public school because we do not have money to send her to SAS. Also, she will just get married and have children. What good is the money spent? To spend money for women’s education is wasting money.”

Albert somehow knew he had reached an impasse – perhaps a temporary one – but he didn’t have the time nor the inclination to try to change the man’s thinking. What a pity and how sad… he thought inwardly as he left.

Albert walked away heavy-hearted. From his conversations with Rosa, Albert knew she had smarts and potential. Good grades, active in the community and with the little children in Church Sunday school. Rosa wanted success. Her desire showed brightly in her earlier conversations with Albert. She wanted to attend a good school and would work hard to get into a financial aid program.

Fast forward the tape.

Clearly, local folks harbor strange, lingering attitudes and notions about women, girls – specially their young daughters. Outside of having babies and keeping house, to them women have nothing else to give to society. As a result of this ingrained, wrong attitude toward women, these local farm folks will not even entertain other possibilities for their daughters besides working around the farm.

We hope to change these outdated attitudes. We aim to spotlight the performance results of our students for them to see. Perhaps as they observe how well the kids do and how assuredly they finish high school, maybe then they will relent and recognize their daughters.

Education Leads to Good Jobs


EducationJobsA television commercial promoting the merits of finishing high school ran for many years, if I remember correctly. Most famous of all in the series showed a young man shopping for a wallet. He comes to a store supposedly owned and run by a Chinese gentleman and a Chinese woman. The customer asks, “Do you carry wallets?”

The man and the woman make eye contact. Their facial expressions both register a palpable sense of skepticism about the customer, as if to say, “Will he be able to pay for it?” They speak in Chinese; no subtitles. The man goes to the back of the store to retrieve a wallet.

Returning to the waiting customer he hands it over to him. It’s a narrow, teeny-weenie wallet. The Chinese man and woman were both holding back bursts of laughter and guffaws. The customer’s facial expression turns from being nice and polite to incredulity. Checking the wallet the young man says, “Why, this is too small,” squinting his eyes directed at the man.

The film narrator takes over the scene at this point and delivers the punch line even as the Chinese proprietors laugh hilariously. “High school graduates make 22% more in wages than their school dropout counterparts. Get smart. Finish your high school GED today.”

Very powerful commercial promoting high school education. For a great majority of Filipinos today, this ad is not necessary to convince them a good high school education is important. Parents want their children to finish not only high school but college, pawning everything they own to finance their children’s education. Filipino parents know that with education come good jobs.

We feel the same way as parents do about education. We believe that bright young minds ought not go to waste just because their families are too poor to send them to school. This is our mission:  to help these bright kids finish high school with financial aid. Won’t you join us by donating to the high school fund? Thank you.

We Beg You


We are on our knees

We are on our knees

“If you want something bad enough, you can endure rejection; begging is not demeaning.” We are begging for help. For the sake of our kids’ schooling we are down on our knees.

Registration day 2014 is upon us. The registrar tersely reminds us we can’t enroll our kids without the tuition paid up front. We want nothing more than to enroll our kids for school year 2014.

Please help us with the tuition. You can open a $10 dollar monthly allotment – a sum that won’t break the bank. Go to our DONATE NOW page and transact your $10 dollar monthly allotment.

We are at the 11th hour of our fund-raising drive. Please be generous.

SAS Personnel Day Celebration


SASPersonnelDayWhen I attended St Augustine School back in the ’50s it was a gender segregated school. By this I mean the girls had their buildings and grounds and the boys had the church plaza and their boy’s department building by the belfry. It was a different world. A world without girls is not a natural world. To this day as I reflect on those bygone days of high school, I can conclude that gender segregation deprived us boys of an opportunity to develop social skills specially with the opposite sex.

But hey, that’s neither here nor there, and besides this is not the subject of this piece. The only SAS personnel when I attended SAS were the ladies who helped the Sisters in the convent. I remember one of them and her name was Agatuna. She spoke very little English and some disjointed Ilocano. But she managed to get work done from us kids in the book binding trade. She assisted Mother Urban in managing the book returns, refurbishment and rebinding, and text book re-issuance at the beginning of the school year.

We were just kids, day dreamers and playful boys who knew nothing about life and reality. We traipsed through high school and worked revitalizing those books out of sheer fear of Mother Urban who had a mustache and a goatee. She was tough. One look from her spelled spiritual death you had to go see Father Carlos to get back into the church’s good graces. Agatuna was the “good cop” in that Mother Urban-Agatuna tandem. Agatuna suffered much from our juvenile derision and mild rebellion but she got the work done by threatening to report us to Mother Urban for our sloppy work.

In my memories, Agatuna, SAS Personnel of long ago did a splendid job helping the Nuns run the daily operations at St Augustine School. In many ways she counseled us, she showed us how to refurbish the books properly, showed us true loyalty and respect for authority, exemplified for us the spirit of reverence for the sacred; she showed us self-discipline. I am grateful for the time I worked under Agatuna’s tutelage and although she didn’t have a degree in Psychology she always knew how to give public recognition for a job well done and how to criticize in private. That experience, to me, has proved to be invaluable.

Thank you SAS personnel for continuing with the excellent tradition of service.

Help Wanted


helpwantedSubtleI have seen that “Help Wanted” sign tucked in on window pane corners, behind glass doors, on menu boards and on mall bulletin boards and store fronts. Once I inquired inside a pet store posting a Help Wanted sign. But after I was immediately met, literally face-to-face, by a Gigantor Great Dane, I turned around and walked out.

We have had our Help Wanted sign posted on our Facebook page, BLOG page, on our official websites for all the world and fellow SAS alumni to see. We haven’t had many replies, not even inquiries out of pure curiosity. Our plea for help is largely being ignored.helpwantedCustomers

What could we be doing wrong? How can we improve our signage? Our message?

Could it be that our sign doesn’t communicate exactly what we need? (Photo at right courtesy of The Huffington Post)

We need help in raising awareness of our mission to help bright kids who come from poor families get a high school education through financial aid.

We need help raising donations for and contributions to the scholarship fund. Our only source of help comes from your generosity. Please… we need your help.

The CICM Missionary Nuns


The CICM Missionary Nuns ran a tight ship

The CICM Missionary Nuns ran a tight ship

Above is a photo of members of the first wave of missionary nuns to arrive in Tagudin, Ilocos Sur. Hardy and not afraid to roll up their sleeves, they ran a tight ship St Augustine School (SAS). They were a no-nonsense bunch of very pious, saintly, and hard working sisters of the Immaculati Cordis Mariae – ICM Congregation or Congregation of the Immaculate Conception of Mary (CICM).

A long time ago, SAS ran as a gender-segregated school. The Boys Department buildings were separate and removed from the Girls Department buildings. The only places where the boys could catch a glimpse of the girls were the Church during afternoon prayers and singing, and on the basketball court when a game would be played. SAS had a championship basketball team during those days – but that is another story. Other than these two common areas, the boys had to be satisfied with casting perfunctory glances at the girls as they walked home after school.

We didn’t address the nuns “Sister;” we addressed them “Mother”. Mother Anatole, a tall, willowy, blue-eyed, bespectacled Belgian nun with acne problems took care of leading the church singing during the afternoon prayer service. With her podium positioned in front of the girl’s pews away from the men’s pews, Mother Anatole stood tall as the powerful symbol of discipline, reverence and rules of acceptable behavior. No hanky-panky in church, like, passing little notes on paper to the girls. No side glances at the girls.

I craned my neck just to be able to see her hand movements as she led the singing. In the afternoon heat and humidity the sonorous chanting sounds and sweet church music transported me to a different zone. I remember Mother Anatole’s dainty hands sticking out of her nun’s gartered habit sleeves. From where I sat, her hands looked like the heads of two swans dressed in white and cloaked in black. She moved them in an undulating, oscillating, pecking forward and again pulling backward motions in time with the music. The fluid motions of her hands were hypnotic and rhythmic.

To this day I could never understand why Mother Anatole just didn’t sway her arms with abandon just like other musical, or choir conductors did. I have seen Leonard Bernstein, Andre Previn, and even Henry Mancini conduct their orchestras and man they do move those arms. But not Mother Anatole. Instead, she kept her hands close to her habit sleeves, pulling out from time to time the garter ends of her sleeves to cover her wrists, as if trying to decrease how much of her arm could be overexposed to the public gaze and heaven forbid to the wandering eyes of the men sitting on the other side of the girl’s pews.