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Educational support goes beyond providing financial aid

Apart from monetary assistance, San Miguel Foundation holds their annual “Scholars’ Conference” that gathers its beneficiaries for a day of learning and fellowship.

It is no secret that education is an essential key to a brighter future. While earning a degree is by no means an assurance of success, it does give the person a better shot at life. For many poor families, poverty remains a stumbling block.

With the implementation of Republic Act No. 10931 or the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act, students in State Universities and Colleges (SUCs) and Local Universities and Colleges (LUCs) are finally been given a tuition-free college education. However, the problem for these students goes beyond paying for their school fees. Items we take for granted, such as construction paper or ballpens or crayons is a huge burden for families who are struggling to even afford a pair of shoes for their kids.

“Yes, it could be free tuition but mas malaki pa minsan ‘yong pang araw-araw na gastusin [nila],” shares Rosalyn Lorin-Lopez, San Miguel Foundation’s Program Associate for Education. Basic daily necessities such as food, transportation, and accommodation are already a struggle for a lot of these students. “Some of them before nangungutang ng pamasahe, minsan di kumakain, minsan isang beses lang kumakain,” she adds. According to Rosalyn, thesis prototypes can cost as much as almost P100,000 for graduating students, with the cost to be divided among only a small group. It’s not surprising then why many students drop out in their thesis year.

One of the flagship programs of the San Miguel Foundation is its scholarship assistance program. This is given to underprivileged students in different areas in the country where San Miguel businesses operate, or what they refer to as “host community.” Scholarships are given to students taking courses in the agricultural and technical (STEM) field. Some are directly referred by the staff or employees of the businesses if a student is deemed qualified for the program. The foundation also directly coordinates with partner schools to verify their academic standing and other qualifications. Through the program, selected scholars are given funding for tuition fees, daily expenses, and book allowances. Apart from this, San Miguel Foundation also hosts an annual Scholars’ Conference where the student beneficiaries get to share their stories and widen their network.

San Miguel Foundation's annual “Scholars’ Conference" is a way to support beneficiaries beyond just providing monetary assistance and to give a more holistic kind of support. The Pabaon gathers all their scholars for a day of learning and fellowship, tackling topics aimed to improve their soft skills and life skills.

“Hindi po naging madali ‘yong college sa’kin.”

Christopher John Ignacio, graduating Mechanical Engineering student from Bataan Peninsula State University, says he felt the pressure of being a San Miguel scholar since first year. “Kailangan ko po mag-strive more because kailangan ko po ipakita na deserve ko ‘yong pagiging San Miguel Scholar,” he says. The 21-year-old originally wanted to take up Metallurgical Engineering, but that meant studying in Manila where the course was available, something which they could not afford.

More than the pressure of being a worthy scholar was that of maintaining his scholarship. “Nandoon po ‘yong pressure na kailangan ko po maging consistent scholar kasi po pag nawala po ‘yong pagiging scholar ko, hindi na po kaya ng pamilya ko ipagpatuloy ang college,” he shares. His mother, who raised him and his three siblings singlehandedly, did not have a stable income. The family now relied on his two older siblings for financial support; one worked in construction and the other as an assistant accountant. To Christopher, the scholarship was his only chance at pursuing a college education.

“’Yong mga bata deserve nila na mag-aral talaga, hindi ‘yong magwo-work agad sa murang edad.”

A lot of young students these days take on part-time work to support their studies. For Ernie Bucsit, graduating Electrical Engineering Student from Cavite State University, this has been his way of life since childhood. As early as the age of 10, Ernie has already been doing odd jobs. “Nangangalakal sa dagat, nangingisda…kung ano man po ‘yong pwedeng pagkakitaan na legal,” he says. He was part of “Project Angel K”, a program from the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) that helps young children who are working to support their studies and families.

“Sa totoo lang po, ‘di ko talaga na-enjoy ang pagka-bata ko,” admits Ernie. His father, who has a permanently damaged leg from a previous work injury, is a tricycle driver; his mother stayed at home to take care of his siblings. Given their circumstances, he felt the need to work at a very young age to help out his family.

Despite this, Ernie says he never thought of not continuing his education. The eldest of five siblings, one of his biggest motivations in life is his 14-year-old brother who is a special needs child. Ernie hopes to be able to get him treatment while he is still young.

A San Miguel Foundation scholar since his first year, Ernie proudly shares that it has helped him improve his family’s condition in many ways. It has even enabled them to finally accomplish the much needed repairs for their house. His advice to other struggling students like him? “Wag sila mawalan ng pag-asa. Hindi po hadlang talaga ang kahirapan para maabot mo ‘yong pangarap mo, kung ano pangarap mo sa sarili mo, sa pamilya mo, or sa kahit na sino, maging sa society.”

“Hindi ko gusto na maranasan nila ang mga naranasan ko”

For Mary Anjielou “MeAn” Repato, the first few years of college were marked with uncertainty. The 20-year-old Chemistry student of Negros Oriental State University didn’t think she would get through the school’s entrance exam. When she did pass, she had no idea what course to take. When she finally chose Chemistry, she wasn’t sure if she’d be accepted. And when she did get into the program, she wasn’t certain if she would stay in the program.

“Bakit ganito, ba’t ang hirap, ba’t ito pinili ko!” exclaims MeAn, as she recalls how difficult it had been in the early days. She had thoughts of giving up many times, but got over it when she remembers her family. “‘Yong mga magulang ko nagpapadala sila sakin, halos di na sila kumakain,” says Anjielou. Her father was a farmer and did a bit of welding on the side, while her mom was a social worker who earned only P3,000 per month. Being the eldest of four, her family was really putting everything on the line for her education. Her siblings had to make do with a P5 daily allowance; lunch would consist of a P2-vegetable dish, and what’s left would go to other daily needs. She candidly shares that she only had one pair of pants her entire time in college. There were times she couldn’t eat because she had no more money.

It was a low point though when the money from a communal savings among her classmates went missing. She was hurt when she found out that they were blaming her because she was ‘poor’. “Kahit mahirap kami, hindi ko ‘yon gagawin,” she tearfully says.

Her constant worry about her family’s hardships, as well as her own difficulties with school and making ends meet while far from home, became her source of struggle as well as motivation. Having been chosen as a San Miguel Scholar in her 4th year, she is grateful for being given the opportunity out of the numerous applicants out there.

“Ginawa ko po ang makakaya ko na maipaasa lahat sa hirap ng buhay.”

John Mark Villadores, 20-year-old, tried his luck with many scholarship programs early in college, but to no avail. The Mechanical Engineering student of Cebu Technological University (CTU) was already looking for part-time jobs when his teacher called to tell him he was selected for the scholarship. “As bread winner of the family, naisip ko na talaga baka di ako mag-aral, tapos hanap ako trabaho dahil sa hirap ng buhay,” he shares.

His father’s source of income was selling peanuts before he got the scholarship. Now, both parents are selling "masi" – a  rice cake with peanut butter filling. His parents, who only finished high school, were overjoyed to learn he got the scholarship.

Being a San Miguel Foundation scholar has been nothing short of life-changing for him. “Dati, sabi ko hindi ko na gusto magaral, kasi nagtrabaho na ako. Dahil dito nabago buhay ko.” The opportunity helped Mark renew his drive to finish college.

One of four children raised by his mother single-handedly, Christopher John Ignacio, felt the pressure of maintaining his scholarship to finish college and provide a better and more stable life for his family.

Since the age of 10, Ernie Bucsit had been doing several odd jobs to help his family. But despite the load, he never gave up on his education. The electrical engineering student knows how much his scholarship has already helped his family and he hopes to do the same after graduating, most especially for his younger sibling with special needs.

John Mark Villadores was already looking for a part-time job when his teacher told him he had been granted a scholarship. He says that the scholarship has been nothing short of life-changing and sees his education as a way to really help his family as their breadwinner.

Mary Anjielou “MeAn” Repato faced so much uncertainty at the start of her scholarship. From taking school entrance exam to choosing her course to being accepted, she felt the pressure put upon her. With her family putting so much on the line for her to succed, MeAn used her struggle as motivation to graduate and not waste the opportunity given her.

Annual Scholars’ Conference

Beyond providing monetary assistance, San Miguel Foundation sees the need for a more holistic kind of support for their beneficiaries who face multi-faceted struggles. They organize an annual “Scholars’ Conference”, which gathers all their scholars for a day of learning and fellowship, tackling topics aimed to improve their soft skills and life skills.

“We have conferences like this kasi some of them given nga na ganoon ‘yong situation nila sa family, makikita mo talaga na ibang-iba sila sa mga estudyante dito sa ka-Maynilaan; yung self-esteem nila, self-confidence nila, it’s totally different,” Ms. Rosalyn observes. The conference provides workshops on personality development as well as talks on goal setting, preparing for life after college, and mental health wellness.

“Isa akong mahiyaing tao. Dati, di ako nakikipagusap sa ibang tao,” says John, one of the scholars. Because of the trainings on confidence and self-esteem, he learned how to be more sociable and present a better self-image to the world.

Ms. Rosalyn has been handling the program for over two years, and has heard numerous stories of struggle from their beneficiaries. “Sometimes you are in need financially tapos broken home ka pa and makikita mo talaga na may effect talaga siya sa academic performance ng estudyante.” She notes how important these interventions are in keeping their emotional and psychological state in check, and helping them cope with their circumstances in a rational and matured way.

Apart from the self-development aspect, the conference also tackles relevant social issues. “They are also required to be involved in community activities so that they can also be aware of the social problems we have and not just [that] they’re aware [but] at the same time maging part sila ng solution in their own way.”

Lately, the program has been focusing on the gaps where the young scholars need support the most. “It’s not just because they are poor, they are in need, kaya nandun ang support namin. But ‘yong samin as a foundation, [we ask] how can we still support them on other aspects? Kasi anyone can give that, yung financial support,” she says.

San Miguel Foundation’s scholarship assistance program is on its last run. They are now moving towards community development activities, such as social enterprises and technical-vocational courses, with the help of some external partners. The focus for the coming year is on social enterprise education. Although they may still accept a few scholars depending on the situation, it will now be a case to case basis as it is no longer their central program for now.

With the right partners and projects, hopefully they can expand their scholarship vehicle into a larger-scale learning and development platform that will benefit the entire community.

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