Ate Vilma as a proud mother, embodying the unbroken spirit of palay

In the picturesque island barangay of Balading, Cuyo, Palawan, Vilma R. Palay, fondly known as Ate Vilma, embodies resilience and hope. Despite facing the vulnerabilities of a home made from light materials, and lacking basic utilities, her spirit remained unbroken, much like rice grains or palay enduring adverse weather conditions.

Ate Vilma’s journey begins with hardships akin to planting seeds in difficult soil — a simple life. She and her husband faced the daunting task of providing for their four children—Mark Alvin, Marjorie, Maribel, and Jhiema Mae—on the meager income from seasonal vegetable farming. 

“Sa kabila ng kakulangan namin sa pinansyal, pilit naming itinataguyod ang aming pangangailangan. Kahit papaano, malaking tulong ang kinikita kong P800.00 kada tatlong buwan bilang isang Daycare worker (Despite our financial shortcomings, we strive to meet our needs. Somehow, the P800.00 I earn every three months as a Daycare worker helps a lot),” she recalled.

In 2009, a ray of hope shone on Ate Vilma’s household when they were identified as potential beneficiaries of the Pantawid Pamilya Pilipino Program or 4Ps. By 2011, they started receiving cash grants, providing much-needed relief. With renewed hope, Ate Vilma embraced her role as a Parent Leader in their community. She actively participated in various barangay and school activities. Her faith, exemplified through her involvement in the Catholic Lector/Commentator Association, kept her grounded, “Kung lagi nating kasama ang Panginoon sa araw-araw, tayo ay pagpapalain (If we always have God with us every day, we will be blessed),” she shared.

Ate Vilma with her children and grandchildren, showcasing her unwavering spirit that has built a legacy of hope and unity for her family.

Tragedy struck when her husband passed away, but Ate Vilma found strength in her children and in her faith. “Sa pagpanaw ng asawa ko, naging determinado akong tustusan ang aming pangangailangan. Kaya’t lakas-loob akong nanghiram ng puhunan mula sa isang private microfinance para makapagsimula ng isang maliit na sari-sari store (When my husband passed away, I became determined to provide for our needs. So, I boldly borrowed capital from a private microfinance to start a small sari-sari store),” she recounted. Over time, this small venture grew with her skills and dedication, allowing her to support her family better.

In 2015, a new chapter began when Ate Vilma met a retired seaman who brought love and stability into her life. Together, they supported her children’s education. Although three of her children faced early pregnancies and could not complete college, Ate Vilma’s unwavering support helped them build their own homes and lives.

Ate Vilma’s dedication to her community didn’t go unnoticed. In 2023, she was elected as a Barangay Kagawad, a role that allowed her to serve her constituents with the same passion she had shown as a parent leader. “Maliban sa tulong pinansyal ng 4Ps, nagbukas rin ito sa akin ng mga oportunidad na makapaglingkod para higit na maibahagi ko at maisabuhay ang mga natutunan ko tungkol sa kahalagahan ng edukasyon, tamang pangangalaga ng kalusugan at pagbibigay prioridad sa pamilya (Aside from the financial help from 4Ps, it also opened opportunities for me to serve so I can share and live out what I learned about the importance of education, proper health care, and prioritizing family),” she noted.

Ate Vilma’s newly built home, a symbol of her resilience and perseverance.

By 2024, her perseverance bore fruit. Her partner’s SSS pension enabled them to rebuild their home into a sturdy, concrete structure, and her thriving sari-sari store now earns P3,000 daily. Despite past setbacks, Ate Vilma continues to champion education for her children, believing it to be the key to a brighter future.

Ate Vilma Palay’s story is one of triumph over adversity, community spirit, and unwavering faith. Her journey from hardship to hope mirrors the metaphorical strength of palay she tends, embodying resilience and perseverance, from a fragile shelter to a resilient home.  ###

Story By: Whitney Selah A. Gabayan, Municipal Link