This story is about the life of an ANCOP scholar studying at De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde (DLS-CSB), a prestigious school for influential and rich people. How come this ANswering the Cry of the Poor (ANCOP) scholar was able to study in such an elite school even though they live a hand-to-mouth existence?
Eighteen -year-old Michelle Arcinal is the second child of Isko and Shiella Arcinal. They live in the house of Michelle’s grandparents in San Mateo, Rizal with barely any furnishings. They have a television and a refrigerator, but both are not working.
Isko is a tricycle driver who starts plying his route at six in the morning and only goes home for lunch, then off he goes again, stops to eat dinner at home, then off again until two in the morning.
When Isko goes home, he endorses to Shiella what he earned for the day — an average of 300-400 pesos. Shiella immediately divides this amount for the allowance of their four kids and their daily household expenses. Often, this amount can only afford them to have egg for their meals.
“Ayaw ko pong sayangin ang paghihirap nina mama at papa para sa aming pag-aaral. Si papa po madaling araw na po umuuwi para lamang po may maiuwing pera. Ang hirap pong matulog nang hindi kami kumpleto,” discloses Michelle as tears slowly fall down her cheeks. (I don’t want to waste mom and dad’s efforts for our studies. Dad gets to go home in the wee hours of the morning just so he could bring home some money. It’s difficult to sleep when we are not complete.)
Bare house, colorful life
Whatever the Arcinal family lacked in their house, Michelle made up for it through her numerous medals hanging on one of their walls. She was an honor student at San Mateo National High School, and is a veteran of arts and academic competitions.
Plans for her college education didn’t seem to be very promising given their family’s situation. Until one day, Michelle’s mom told her that she’ll take the entrance exam at DLS-CSB as part of the scholarship partnership with the said school and Couples for Christ (CFC) ANCOP’s Education Program.
It took quite some time before they learned about the result of the scholarship application. Michelle was already prepping herself to go to a public university when they received a letter from DLS-CSB which changed the direction of Michelle’s life.
She clinched a scholarship for the Bachelor of Arts in Digital Filmmaking program!
“Parang ayoko po sana kasi, siyempre, iba ang kultura ng mga tao doon. Pero naisip ko na hindi naman po lahat ng tao nabibigyan ng opportunity na makapag-aral sa Benilde. Hindi ko naman po pinangarap pero ibinigay sa akin,” Michelle recalls. (I was apprehensive in accepting the scholarship because, in a way, the culture is different there. However, I also realized that not everyone is given the chance to study in Benilde. I didn’t even dream of this, but still, it was given to me.)
Fighting her own battles
Although grateful for the unexpected windfall in her life, Michelle still feels the struggle of her parents who are drowning in debt from loan sharks just so Michelle and her siblings could go to school with money in their pockets. Michelle understands the sacrifices that her parents make, thus, she never complains even though she has her own battles to face.
“Kahit madalas wala kaming almusal, pilit pa rin po akong pumapasok. Kahit po madalas akong mawalan ng malay dahil sa gutom at pagod, tatapusin ko po ang aking pag-aaral,” Michelle says with conviction. (Though we often don’t have breakfast, I still make it a point to go to school. Even if I often faint in school due to hunger and fatigue, I’m determined to complete my studies.)
The difference in Michelle’s and her schoolmates’ status in life also gets in the way, but it doesn’t deter her from keeping her focus on the reason why she’s in school.
Resilience, resourcefulness, creativity
Michelle sometimes accepts odd jobs like making projects, assignments, and costumes for her friends and classmates in order to augment her and her siblings’ school allowance and their household expenses.
The Php1,200 monthly allowance she receives from ANCOP is also a big help in defraying her expenses, such as for her transportation, which costs an average of Php150/day.
Being a film major, they are sometimes required to watch films. The cost of a movie ticket these days can take its toll on Michelle’s allowance. ANCOP would give her allowance in advance, such as when she needed to have her own laptop.
For individual projects, Michelle informs her professor that she’ll only use a digital camera borrowed from the school since she does not have her own equipment like her classmates. Michelle’s resourcefulness and creativity get stretched by her situation because using school equipment limits her shoot location inside the school campus. She makes up for it through great editing work.
Almost homeless, but not hopeless
The Arcinal family currently live in fear and dread the day when they could be homeless because their relatives have vested interest in her grandparents’ home where they reside.
“Awang-awa na po ako kay mama, kakabit pa po dun ang alalahing baka isang araw paalisin na kami dito sa aming tinitirhan. Dasal ko na sana bago kami paalisin dito, makatapos na muna ako ng pag-aaral at makahanap na ng trabaho para mapagtapos ko rin ng pag-aaral ang mga nakakabata ko pang kapatid at para po makahanap kami ng maayos na tirahan, ” Michelle says wistfully.
(I truly pity my mom, plus I worry that one day, we might be evicted from this house. I pray that before it happens, I’ve already graduated and have a job so I can also send my siblings to school and so we can also find a decent house for the family.)
Sometimes, it crosses her mind to just stop studying and get a job so she can contribute to the family income, especially on days when she sees her parents having a difficult time earning a living.
Michelle explains: “Si mama po madalas na pong nagkakasakit kasi po siya po lahat ang gumagawa sa bahay, kasi po lahat po kami nagsisipag-aral. Ako po kasi gabi na nakakauwi dahil po sa layo ng biyahe. Ayaw din po kaming pagawain ng gawaing bahay ni mama. Mag-aral lang daw po kami nang mag-aral.“
(Mama always gets sick because she’s the only one who does the household chores since my siblings and I are studying. I get home really late due to the long distance of my home from school. Mama insists that we don’t help her at home anymore so we can focus on our studies.)
Michelle holds on to her dream of becoming a director or videographer of films depicting social problems and human interest stories, and looks up to actor/director Joel Torre to inspire her to overcome her daily battles.
With ANCOP and her sponsors supporting her in her journey, Michelle is thankful and hopeful of a better future: “Sana po patuloy akong suportahan ng ANCOP sa aking pag-aaral kasi po kung hindi baka hindi na makayanan nila papa at mama. Sobrang salamat sa kanila kasi wala naman po ako dito kung wala sila. Siyempre di ko rin naman po makikita ang sarili ko na nakakapag-aral sa magandang school sa course na gusto ko kung wala ang suporta nila.” (I hope ANCOP continues to support my studies because I don’t think my parents would be able to help me. Big thanks to them because I won’t be here without their help. I never imagined myself studying in a good school taking up the course I want without ANCOP’s intervention.)