Nanay’s Story | #AkoSiDaniel*
By Anthony Garciano, a Kaya Co. Fellow and an incoming junior studying History and Social Science Education at the University of Southern California. He grew up in the Camotes Islands until he was eight, before moving to the US.
I sat beside my lola in her home in Camotes, Cebu. My eyes followed her lips, as my ears tried hard to digest every letter of each Porohanon word she spoke. She reminisced about the past, about how little we were when we left the country almost thirteen years ago, and pointed towards a set of photographs that my nanay had left behind in our hurry to go to America.
The photographs hung directly in front of us, capturing my little brother, who was about two or three years old then, posing in a white dress shirt, white shorts, and white shoes; another showed me in a patterned shirt and shorts when I was three. The last photograph hanging on the wall was taken on my tatay and nanay’s wedding day.
I stood up to get a closer look. They had faded a bit with age, but the photographs’ images remained intact. I sat back down next to my lola and asked about them. Her words flowed organically, transitioning smoothly from my brother’s photograph, to mine, and finally to my parents’ wedding day. The course of her memories allowed for a pause in the conversation, and I filled it with a question about my nanay.
“What was my nanay like growing up?”
She took a moment to think and said, “She was bright; she was the valedictorian of her elementary school, and she even skipped two grades in high school.”
My tita added to my lola’s words. She said, “But we were poor. Your lola couldn’t send your nanay to college, and that meant that she had to work. She even lived with her teacher in fourth grade and helped her around the house so that she could go work and continue school.”
After my lola and tita talked about my nanay, I thought about what they said. I thought about her challenges of getting an education, as well as my own challenges. I started to imagine how difficult it would be if I didn’t have a chance to continue my studies, which led me to think about why I wanted to pursue education as a career.
I accidentally stumbled into an existential trapdoor, and I had to reflect my way out of there.
I thought about my summer interning for Edukasyon.ph, an organization that aims to increase the accessibility of higher education for youth in the Philippines, and found myself thinking about what this really meant and what my role was in all of this.
To begin navigating through this existential question, I started with who I was: an underprivileged youth who recently managed to live a privileged life — full of lofty language, self-reflection and a position to help. And in my experiences of two different worlds — one of poverty and privilege — I’m able to reflect on my experiences. I am able to empathize with those who need a hand, as well as those who are in a position to lend one.
In my self-reflection, I realized how unique a position this was to be in. It is a position that my nanay’s situation — which overlooked the bright minds of the poor communities and, in turn, perpetuated poverty for the next generation — prevented her from entering.
Earlier this week, I visited five families assisted by Food for Hungry Minds (FHM), an organization with the mission to “[provide] education by creating schools for disadvantaged children in the poorest areas” of the Philippines, with two friends and an FHM staff member.
Before the home visits, we checked out FHM’s school. There, the students freely handed out smiles and hugs and exuded utmost joy to see each other, their teachers and visitors. However, the visits reflected a different reality. The first home we visited belonged to the family of a fourth grade girl, who earlier in the day sang songs of Aegis and Sharon Cuneta, her mother’s favorites, while she finger painted her white T-shirt. But, when we visited her home, she remained quiet and reserved. The contrast in her attitude characterized the different lives these children carry on a daily basis: one life allows them to be carefree and enjoy learning as a child; the other forces them to mature and tackle their realities with a steady and quiet march.
Her mother, who was a pedicab driver, spoke of how FHM has helped them, but most importantly, how the school has given her daughter hope and a place to thrive. Throughout the visits, these families saw education as something to lift their children up from the poverty in which they lived and, in the words of a scholar’s parent, “we just want her to be able to do something that she wants to do.”
Education is not a panacea. When I spent the day with FHM, one of the scholars, who now attends De LaSalle, said with restrained anger, “college does not guarantee a good job. There are many people with college degrees who work as taxi drivers and laborers.” And she’s absolutely right. There are rigid structures in place that keep the Philippines from progressing with its people.
That is why we must understand those structures and account for them. Education can be used to empower, but we must go about it intelligently. Social impact is a collective effort, and we who have the capacity to support— along with organizations like Food for Hungry Minds and Edukasyon.ph — can give underprivileged youth everywhere a choice.
#AkoSiDaniel is a campaign inspired by Daniel Cabrera, a child from Cebu who was recently photographed studying on the sidewalk beneath streetlights.
The campaign, led by The Philippines Foundation, is galvanizing support for global education and collecting signatures to present to a United Nations meeting in the fall. To get involved, sign the petition at akosidaniel.org.