Assumably, the truism that “Poverty is never a stumbling block in pursuing or finishing a college education” has oft been dismissed as hackneyed supposition or simply one for fairy tale narratives.
But not for Danica Sumantin, 21, a 4th year BS Psychology “working scholar” student of San Sebastian College-Recoletos, Manila. What makes Danica’s story awe-inspiring and one for the books is that she lives with her family in a phased-out dilapidated Jeepney along Aguado Street (a stone’s throw away from Malacanang Palace), San Miguel, Manila. Despite of this, Danica is a Dean’s lister in their class.
The only child, Danica reveals that her family – her father repairing household wares or appliances in the urban poor neighborhood, and her mother a manicurist – has made the shabby Jeepney their abode since she was Grade 4, and reasons out that: “Wala po kasing mga kamag-anak sila papa at mama dito sa Manila, at mula noong maoperahan si mama ng kanyang cyst hindi na namin kayang mangupahan, kaya dito na kami tumira.”
Danica reports to school (few blocks away from where she lives) 8:00 am to 5:00 pm every day, where she spends half of the day attending her classes and the other half as a student assistant. Being a “working scholar” student, Danica has yet to complete three more semesters in order to graduate.
Asked how she manages to study or make her assignments at her Jeepney house, Danica discloses: “Katabi po ng Jeepney ay may poste ng ilaw. Yun po, naaaninagan ng ilaw ang loob ng Jeepney, at ako’y nakakapagbasa. Minsan naman po, ako ay papasok sa school ng mas maaga para gumawa ng assignments.”
But how did Danica trek her way to San Sebastian College-Manila?
“Noong 2019, nang mag-graduate po ako ng high school, of course sa public school, may isang empleyado ng Baste (nickname for San Sebastian College) na nakatira malapit sa amin nagsabi sa akin na mag-apply daw ako bilang working scholar,” Danica said.
Thus, Danica submitted her application and requirements to Baste, and then found herself being interviewed by Fr. Tony Limchaypo, OAR, then the school’s Vice President for Student Welfare and Director of the scholarship program, READS or “Recoletos Educational Assistance for Deserving Students.”
The READS program, according to Fr. Tony, provides full-load scholarship (100% on tuition and 90% on miscellaneous fees), as well as a minimal monthly allowance of P600.00. The student is required to render a daily 4-hour service in a particular office in the campus.
With Danica’s application, Fr. Tony disclosed that he was quite shocked to find out that she’s living in a Jeepney and had to visit her place to see it for himself.
Fr. Tony is no rookie in the campus work of student welfare and, as such, has come face-to-face with the wrenching challenges that poor students have to bear. He recalls some poignant observations whilst he was yet with San Sebastian College-Cavite:
“Napansin ko may mga estudyante na natutulog bago mag-lunch time. When I asked them, they told me, ‘Father, wala po kasi kaming baon, kaya inuunahan na lang po namin ang gutom’. That’s why, one time I had to look for ways, plant vegetables in the campus for students to eat. I even once asked some owners of baby buses plying in Cavite if they could provide free rides to our scholar students as long as they present their ‘READS’ ID.”
Similarly so, in the case of Danica, Fr. Tony had to request Ms. Mary Grace Depalobos, the school’s Coordinator for Outreach Program, to solicit for generous sponsors to augment Danica’s monthly allowance for her continued studies. Fr. Tony explains:
“Nasasayangan ako sa bata. Ayaw ko na katulad ng ibang mga working scholars, huminto siya ng pag-aaral dahil walang panggastos araw-araw.” (With Fr. Tony’s appeal, interested individuals who want to help Danica may contact Ms. Mary Grace Depalobos, SSC-R Community Development and Extension Office, at 0918-6739052).
Going back to my interview with Danica, I asked her these parting queries: Do you feel any bitterness in your situation? What are your plans when you graduate?
“Naku, hindi po. In fact, palagay ko mas fulfilling ang pagiging working scholar ko dahil even as of now ay natututo na akong magtrabaho. Plans ko after graduation? Una, of course maghahanap ng trabaho. Pangalawa, tutulungan ko po sila mama at papa na makatira kami sa isang bahay, hindi na Jeep. At pangatlo po, tutulong po ako ng isang estudyante na katulad ko na makapagtapos din,” Danica said.