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Big Dreams Start Within

Among the crowd, one may barely notice a small, petite girl from a small town of Calintaan, Occidental Mindoro.

But when she opens her mouth and starts sharing her ideas and dreams with her radiating, bright eyes, hearts of many people are captivated.

Having experienced poverty at a young age, Jecille Arah M. Costales is aware of the difficulties in life which have led her to become emphatic towards other people and to dream not only for herself but also for her community.

For a small girl with big dreams, this 13-year-old believes that being equipped with knowledge and learnings can help her achieve her goals not only for herself, but for her whole community as well.

This motivates her to study harder.

Right after getting home, Jecille Arah M. Costales once again opens her textbook to review another topic yet to be discussed for tomorrow’s lecture.

Even if she had already spent almost 12 hours at school, it does not stop her in quenching her thirst for learning. She goes to school at 6 in the morning so she cannot be late in their 7am schedule. Since she is in the Science class, she takes advance classes which ends past 6 in the evening. Going to school early in the morning and going home late, Arah continues to study at home.

Little did she know that with her determination and willpower, she is becoming an inspiration to many from her little barangay.

 

A Product of Love and Hard Work

Arah comes from humble roots. Both of her parents were only able to finish 2nd year high school due to poverty. This sad reality has motivated them to work hard and be able to provide the needs of their children and help them finish their studies.

“Bilang hindi po kami nakapagtapos ng asawa ko, nagpupursige talaga kami na mapag-aral sila kahit salat kami sa buhay. Kung ano man ang hindi namin natapos, gusto sana namin na sila na lang ang magpatuloy,” said Nanay Jonjiema, Arah’s mother.

Arah is the sixth child of Nanay Jonjiema and Tatay Leonardo, both 45 years old, who started their family at a young age.

 

The eldest child, Geraldine Joy, is now a mother of two at 27 years old. Her ability to serve their community helped her to obtain a position in the Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) in their barangay. Through the help of the scholarship she received during her term, she was able to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in Management Accounting at Occidental Mindoro State College. Before being pregnant to her 2nd child, Arah works and lives in Batangas with her husband. In order to focus more with her children, she gets back to Mindoro to her parents and siblings while her husband stayed in Batangas for work.

“Isa po talaga sa mga inspirasyon ko ay ang ate ko. Gusto ko rin po na makatulong ako sa komunidad ko habang nag-aaral po nang mabuti,” shared Arah. Like her sister, Arah has a strong determination to finish her studies to be able to help their family and their community.

But among the three children of Nanay Jonjiema and Tatay Leonardo who studied in college, only Geraldine Joy was able to graduate. During her undergraduate years, Jerwin and Leojay, the 2nd and 3rd child respectively, were already studying in college as well. Jerwin was taking up his bachelor’s degree in Criminology, while Leojay was studying Information Technology. Meanwhile, Mark Jayson and Von Janrrell, the 4th and 5th child, were already in elementary, while Arah was starting school in a Day Care Center in their barangay.

That time, it was hard for Tatay Leonardo, who works as a jeepney driver to support all his children who were going to school all at the same time. In order to at least help with their family’s expenses, Jerwin and Leojay works in the farm during harvest and planting season. They save what they earn through planting and drying of rice for their allowance.

Jerwin and Leojay knew that their father’s income will not be enough for his growing family’s needs. Hence, at 17 years old, Jerwin grabbed the opportunity to go to Manila to work for his aunt to be able to help his family, while Leojay stopped schooling to look for work in Batangas.

“Masakit po para sa amin noon na lumayo pa ang mga anak ko para lang magtrabaho para makatulong sa amin. Kahit gusting-gusto namin na makapagtapos silang lahat sa pag-aaral, nakakalungkot na dahil sa hirap ng buhay, hindi namin magawa iyon,” narrated Nanay Jonjiema. Currently, Jerwin has his own family in Manila, while Leojay is working as a factory worker in Batangas.

At this point, Arah at her young age understands their family’s plight.

“Nag-aaral po talaga ako nang mabuti para sa pamilya ko dahil gusto ko pong umahon kami sa kahirapan. Dahil nasa high school na po sila kuya Jayson at Janrell at nasa elementary po kami ni Aleah, pangarap po naming lahat na pare-pareho kaming makapagtapos ng pag-aaral kaya pare-pareho rin po kaming nagtutulungan,” she said.

Even though Arah is second to the youngest in the family, she sometimes helps her brothers and sister with their lessons since she had already advance knowledge with some of her subjects. Arah knows from their past that it was hard for their parents to finance their schooling especially when they reach college, that is why she study hard so that she can apply for a scholarship after high school.

Nanay Jonjiema and Tatay Leonardo are both proud of their daughter’s commitment to work for the achievement of her dreams. Her dream that she shares with her family is what keeps her going despite all the challenges they face.

“Hindi niya ikinakahiya ang aming kalagayan sa buhay sa halip po ay gingawa niya itong inspirasyon na magpursige upang makatulong at mapabuti ang aming pamilya,” she added while trying to keep her voice still to refrain herself from crying.

Aside from being a responsible student, Nanay Jonjiema said that Arah is also a responsible daughter at home.

 

“Mapalad po ako sa pagkakaroon ng anak na katulad ni Arah sapagkat responsable po talaga siyang anak,” said Nanay Jonjiema when asked about her daughter. After studying, Arah helps her mother prepare for their dinner or clean the house.

“Mahilig po akong magluto din. Ang favorite ko pong lutuin ay chopsuey at ginisang ampalaya,” Arah said. She also takes care with her nephews when her Ate Geraldine Joy is not around.

Despite all of their hardships in life, Arah never forgets to be a child. She also loves to play games.

“Minsan po, hindi lang naman po ako laging nag-aaral. Naglalaro rin po ako kasama ng mga kapatid at kaklase ko. Pero mga board games po madalas nilalaro naming kagaya ng scrabble at chess,” Arah shared. Given a second-hand phone by her aunt, she also loves to play phone games such as Candy Crush, Hotel Story, and High School Story.

Even though she likes studying, Arah also finds happiness when she gets to play with her siblings, classmates, and friends.

 

A Ray of Hope

It was in 2013 that her family became one of the beneficiaries of Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). Arah, Janrell, and Jayson became student grantees of the program which greatly helped them in financing their

school needs.

“Ayaw naman po naming na maulit pa yung nangyari sa dalawa naming anak na hindi nakapagtapos kaya talagang kumakayod ako sa pagtatrabaho para sa pag-aaral ng anak naming pero minsan talagang kulang,” said Tatay Leonardo. “Kaya nung dumating po talaga ang Pantawid, para bang nabuhayan kami lalo at napaisip na kakayanin na namin na mapagtapos ng pag-aaral ang mga anak namin,” continued Nanay Jonjiema. According to Nanay Jonjiema, before being a beneficiary of the program they lend money to their neighbors and friends just to be able to put up with their financial shortage.

“Malaki po talaga ang pasasalamat ko sa Pantawid kasi po hindi na po kami masyadong namomroblema lalo na po sa pinansyal na pangangailangan namin sa araw araw at sa pag aaral naming magkakapatid,” Arah explained. The cash grant that they are receiving helps Arah in her expenses whenever she participates in different regional or provincial competitions.

“Hindi lamang po sa pag aaral at ang pinansyal na pangangailangan ang naitutulong sa amin ng Pantawid Pamilya dahil po marami din po kaming natututunan na nagagamit din po namin sa pagpapaunlad ng buhay tulad po ng mga kaalamang natututunan sa FDS ng aking magulang, sa YDS naming magkakapatid at iba pa pong mga Gawagn ng Pantawid Pamilya,” she shared with a smile.

According to Arah, even though they are being helped by the program to fight poverty, she strongly believes that hard work is still essential in order for them to succeed in life. “Dahil nga po natutulungan na kami ng programa sa pag-aaral namin, ayaw ko naman po itong samantalahin kaya gusto ko rin pong makapagtapos ng pag-aaral para maibalik ko rin po o maibahagi sa iba at sa komunidad ko kung anong tulong ang naibigay sa akin,” she said.

 

An Inspiration to Others

At her young age, Arah is known by her teachers and neighbors as a model of good character.

“Isang huwarang bata si Arah. Siya ay palakaibigan at aktibo sa mga activity ng simbahan. Sa katunayan, nagsilbi syang “altar server” dito sa simbahan at nanguna sa paglilinis at paggawa ng dekorasyon sa tuwing may okasyon. Siya rin ang naghihikayat sa mga kapwa kabataan na maging aktibo sa mga gawaing pansimbahan,” shared Nelia D. Isidro, a neighbor who has known Arah since she’s a newborn. Arah believes that she should always have a trust in God and always be thankful for Him for all the blessing she receives.

Her current class adviser, Ms. Luzaida Monteallegre testified that Arah is more than just a bright girl.

“Bilang kanyang adviser, nakikita kong malayo ang mararating ng batang ito dahil sa sipag at tiyaga na ipinipamalas niya. Isa siyang magandang halimbawa sa mga mag aaral lalo’t higit sa katulad niyang kapus,” Ms. Monteallegre said.

Arah also gains the admiration of her classmates with her determination and perseverance to finish her studies despite their financial condition.

“Nakakatuwa nga na yung mga kaklase nya, nakikinig talaga sa kaniya kasi madalas nagpapaturo sa kaniya yung mga kaklase nya,” Ms. Monteallegre added. Since Arah has advanced knowledge with their lessons, she is sometimes asked to teach whenever their teacher is in a meeting. Because of this, she is called “little teacher” in school.

Arah is seen to be a good influence to her classmates, especially in her circle of friends. Ms. Monteallegre also shared that more than being a diligent student, Arah is also active in different school activities which has encouraged her friends to also join in them.

“President po ako sa klase namin sa Grade 8, tapos po SSG Officer din po ako bilang Grade 8 representative. Vice President din po ako ng Science Club namin at Peace Officer naman po sa English Club. Bukod po dun, active member din po ako ng Girl Scout,” Arah said. She is also their class’ top student and champion in different school competitions such as Essay Literacy Revo and Math Quiz Bee.

Aside from different school activities, Arah is also active in community activities such as coastal clean-up, tree planting, and different relief good operation drive in their barangay.

Further, Arah is also becoming an inspiration to her fellow Pantawid Pamilya grantees.

“Bilang isang miyembro ng programa ng Pantawid, lubos akong humahanga kay ate Arah dahil sa kahusayan niya at talino. Dahil sa kanya, naisip kong hindi hadlang ang kahirapan para maging magaling at manguna sa klase. Nais ko ring maging katulad ni ate Arah na kung saan kinikilala ang kanyang galing,” said Nicol Kate Rubite, 11, one of Arah’s friends.

For Arah, being a good daughter, sibling and student makes her less of a burden to her parents as well as the rest of the community.

 

Small girl’s dream

Dreaming big is always Arah’s way. She dreams for herself, for her family, and for her community.

“Hindi naman po masama ang mangarap nang malaki. Itong mga pangarap ko pong ito sa buhay ang nagbibigay sa aking ng motivation para po lagi lang magpatuloy kahit po mahirap talaga ang buhay,” Arah explained.

Even with her youth, Arah has concrete ways to achieve her dreams for herself and for her family.

“Sampung taon po mula ngayon, naiimagine ko po ang sarili ko na nakasuot na nung parang fit na palda tapos coat. Nagtatrabaho po ako sa Maynila sa isang malaking accounting firm bilang isang mahusay na accountant na isa nang CPA. Tsaka po bukod doon, may sarili na po kaming bahay sa Camella Homes,” said Arah giddily with her eyes sparkling.

According to her, once she graduates, she will not stop there. She wants to help other poor people like her in pursuing their dreams.

“Gusto ko pong makatulong sa mga kapwa ko mahihirap. Gusto ko pong mainsipire sila sa journey ko sa buhay para hindi po sila tumigil sa paglaban sa hirap ng buhay,” Arah said.

For her community, she dreams of a peaceful and fully-developed country. “Gusto ko rin po na magkaroon ng isang bansa na walang gulo, organisado, at may maayos na sistema ng pamumuhay ang mga tao,” she explained.

“Bukod pa po doon, hindi lang po sana yung mga kagaya nating nasa Kapatagan ang natutulungan kundi pati na rin po ang mga kapatid nating mga katutubo,” Arah added. She has a desire to help those members of the Indigenous Peoples who are being deprived of access to good quality of education. Arah uses her talents and abilities in acting and writing to speak up for the underprivileged sector of the society through different competitions she participates. But when she grows up, she wanted to help them more.

Arah knows that she has a long way to go in reaching all of her dreams.

She believes that education is her key towards achieving them. The 77 medals and certificates she already obtained today are just mere metals and papers reminding her that this is only the start of her journey in life.

For a child with big dreams, Arah vows to do everything to make it big one day. ###

Jecille Arah M. Costales is the winner of the Regional Exemplary Pantawid Pamilya Children 2017 MIMAROPA, conducted on October 13, 2017 at Best Western Hotel. She will represent the region in the National Search to commence on November 13-17, 2017 in Manila.

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