Passion to fight poverty

Poverty surrounds our country. A greater number of our population falls below the poverty line. The solution to this seemingly never ending problem does not lie with our leaders alone.

The advocacy I pursue through Go Negosyo is about helping inspire people to fight poverty. The stories of every entrepreneur who are able to succeed are the ones that bring inspiration.

Our RFM Corporation supports another advocacy — The Outstanding Student of the Philippines. My father started it in 1962. This is an annual recognition of young role models who exemplify academic or professional excellence, leadership and social responsibility.

Last month, we awarded the top 10 among 31 finalists who were chosen from over hundred entries from schools nationwide. Of the 31 essays of the finalists, I read one that best exemplifies how we Filipinos can win the battle against poverty. I would like to share is the journey of Janna Mary Lagare, an Education graduate from the University of Negros Occidental Recoletos in Bacolod City.

I was riding on a dilapidated jeep homebound one night when strains of a song caught me off-guard: “I can almost see it…that dream I’m dreaming…” Resoundingly, these words etched in my being as they seemingly echoed my journey in life. . .

Born on the 19th day of September in 1990 in Quezon City, I was the “deeply prayed for” daughter to a family with a mother whose love eclipsed what was missing to complete a picture-perfect life — a home without a father. Despite that, my mother raised us well, never teaching us to nurse grudges against our father and working hard to give us a stable and comfortable life. Aside from that, I felt more blessed for I had not just one, but two mothers: my natural mother, Nanay Tess, and my mother’s sister, Nanay Mating, who took care of me since I was but an infant.

When I was in grade 1, I thought that our life’s storm finally has ended for Nanay Tess finally landed a lucrative job whirling us away from the house with no electricity. Everything sailed on smoothly from then on and my elementary school life was well as I consistently made it to the roster of Top 10 pupils.

Sadly, during my elementary graduation, I was robbed of my academic honor when my parents discovered an anomaly in the school finances. That was the major blow fueling up my desire to soar high and someday awaken those people to the injustice they did.

But, a bigger storm gathered and poured down — an event that turned my life upside down.

A day shy of two months after my twelfth birthday, the cancer grappling my mother overcame her. I had to make a decision either to stay with my father with his second family or to transfer to Bacolod with Nanay Mating. I chose the latter. Never once did I regret my decision for in Bacolod City did the spotlight-shy and people-shy girl gradually peel off the cocoon that metamorphosed her into a better person.

Impassioned with the goal to improve myself when I transferred as a sophomore high school student, I was zealous in all things I did. In my third year, I reaped the fruit of my hard work as I became the only section C transferee to get elevated to section A. I was ecstatic, excelling in my academics and enthusiastically involved in school activities.

However, the province’s mandatory demolition affected us greatly because we were living in a squatter’s area. We were homeless, seeking shelter from neighboring shops by the roadside and enduring nights of studying by candlelight. Nanay Mating would reminisce then how they too had to endure such; I was moved for even if they were poor, Nanay Tess and her brother, Tatay Boy, still finished college with flying colors. How I dreamt then to be like them!

Unfortunately, due to one grade in one grade period in one of my subjects, I graduated from high school without an academic distinction, but with a Service Award.

Because Nanay Mating and Tatay Boy were not employed, I strove to enter scholarship programs as I knew they were my only ticket to pursue collegiate studies. Through God’s grace, not only did I top UNO-R’s college entrance test garnering me 100% discount on tuition fees, but I also passed the Commission on Higher Education – National Scholarship Program granting me P15,000.00 every semester.

Determinedly, I focused on my academics to maintain my scholarship as I took up Bachelor of Secondary Education major in English. But, what I anticipated as days spent in the library did not transpire. Instead, there came about a transformation of a prudent scholar into a student eager to serve her fellow UNO-Rians.

Having been christened as “Janna Mary Lagare” with my name’s etymology anchored on the “J” of Jesus, “anna” from Mother Mary’s mother and “Mary” from the lady who said “fiat” to God’s call, my zeal to service was not limited for the studentry but also to God as I reserved my Sundays for Church activities through the Association of the Children of Mary.

The death of Tatay Boy who was supporting me was also one of my most trying ordeals. Our economic status, then, reached rock bottom. I was a sophomore college student at that time. It was like El Niño and the dryness extended till my fourth year. We were penniless, yet that did not hinder me from going to school every day. Albeit I walked from the rocky road of our relocation site to the jeep terminal with only a fare of 20 pesos in hand, my persistence to graduate never wavered. Admittedly though, I confess that I was not the perfect scholar who scraped off high grades at all times. There were moments when I prioritized my duties as a student officer over my preparations for exams. What about my lunch and school expenses, you might wonder? Friends, kind teachers and benefactors provided those. They were my backbones when rough seas shook my quest to reach my dreams.

After the storm, truly the dark clouds has been swept away and the proverbial rainbow has appeared.

At 19, having donned my academic gown with the blue vest, I set off my valedictory address with those lines.

At 19, I clutched my diploma — the testament of God’s infinite love and a tribute to my loved ones.

I may not have become the princess I dreamt myself to be, but I am now a teacher bent on inspiring others to be the best that they can be, not for selfish gain but in light of other’s need and to be an example of how one can rise above any adversaries as long as God is in one’s heart.

Now, I can sing fully: “It doesn’t matter how fast I get there. It doesn’t matter what’s waiting on the other side. It’s the climb.”

Congratulations to Janna and to all Finalists for making it to the National Interview. As my sister Marie said, there are 31 winners.

Congratulations to the 10: Camille Remoroza of San Pedro College; Mohammad Ben-Usman of Mindanao State University-Marawi; Jose Ma. Joaquin Bunag of Ateneo De Manila; Jihan Santanina Santiago of Visayas State University; Rankine Ruel Novabos of University of San Jose Recoletos; Marc Louie Yap of University of San Carlos; Raymund Siegfrid Li of UP Diliman; Nadia Bianca Nicolette Ong of De La Salle; Philippe Jan DeLa Cruz of University of St. La Salle Bacolod; and Nestor Necesito of the UP – Visayas.

Congratulations to this year’s TOSP! Thank you to PLDT, RFM Corp. and National Bookstore for the support.