Death brings everything to a halt. A parent is never fully prepared for it, nor is a sibling.

This was true for eight-year old Athena.

Napakahirap po na bumangon. We experienced a storm in our life when my sister died in a bomb incident. At a young age, I saw how my parents suffered a lot, sinisisi pa rin nila ang kanilang sarili kasi wala sila noong nangyari ‘yon. I saw them cried many times,” she tearfully said.

On that fateful day, her elder sister was left to take care of them as her parents had to work to do at the poblacion. She was supposed to go with her sister to wash some clothes, but for some reason, Athena decided to stay home. This made her believe that God still had plans for her as she was spared from the incident.

When love becomes a memory

Seven years had passed since then but the memory of her precious sister still remains in their hearts. It created a great impact on their lives and made them stronger. As for her, she tried her best to excel at school to lessen her parents’ hardships and make them feel better. As a young age, she already understood the responsibilities and goals she needed to focus on; but being in a large household, it was hard to have a break – an opportunity for them to take on the challenges of life.

Her father, Rodelio, makes ends meet by farming and poultry raising. Her mother, Vilma, is a housewife. It was in 2008 when their household was included in the list of poor families and started to receive a cash grant through the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps).

The panel of the board interview Athena on her life story, school accomplishments, and aspirations in life. It was conducted at the Regional Learning Commons, DSWD Field Office Caraga, Butuan City.

The 4Ps is a human development program of the national government that provides conditional cash grants to extremely poor households to improve their health, nutrition and education particularly of children aged 0-18.

Ang cash grants nga among madawat kay ginasigurado gayud nako nga maadto sa panginahanglanon sa eskwelahan sa akong mga anak. Naningkamot kami nga musunod sa mga kondisyon sa programa aron ang akong mga anak naay makab-ot nga maayuhon sa ilang kinabuhi (I ensure that the cash grants that we are receiving go to the needs of my children at school. We work hard to comply with the program’s conditions so that my children can achieve good things in life),” her mother shared.

When memory becomes a treasure

Despite being underprivileged, their family never forgets to uphold positive values, practice healthy living, and promote environmental friendly initiatives. These inspire Athena to have her own advocacy. When she was in the seventh grade, her “Be a buddy, not a bully!” campaign was recognized as the most favorited theme in one of her school’s advocacy campaigns. In her school, Lingig National High School, she is recognized as one of its brilliant students.

Si Athena usa ka responsable, utokan, ug buotan nga estudyante, usa ka-mamumuno nga buhaton ang tanan para maabot ang gihatag nga tahas sa grupo, ug usa ka-sinaligan namo hilabi na sa mga school contests (Athena is a responsible, smart, and kind student, a leader who would do anything to accomplish the tasks given to the group, and one of our trusted representatives during school contests),” Vincent Lagat, her school adviser, said.

Her academic excellence brought her to neighboring cities and municipalities of Surigao del Sur. Although she is well-aware of her capabilities, she still continues to challenge herself. She only does not excel academically but also on extra-curricular activities. Quiz bowls, balagtasan, and school journalism contests are her forte. She is also an active representative of the ninth grade to the Supreme Student Government (SSG), a member of the Girls Scouts of the Philippines (GSP), and a participant to the Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction (MDRR) initiatives in their community.

In Sitio Hinipaan where their house is situated, she is a lovable sister to her younger brother. She helps her mother in doing the household chores without hesitation. She knows her priority and that of her siblings – education. For her, education is valuable and should not be put to waste. One of her visions is to see all the children, especially young girls, finish their studies amidst poverty.

Sa mga nakikita ko na problema sa komunidad, isa dito ang maagang pagbubuntis. Para sa akin, ang mga batang kababaihan ay kailangan talaga ng kaukulang tulong ng gobyerno lalo na kung wala nang sumusuporta sa kanila. (I observed that one of the problems in our community is teenage pregnancy. For me, these young girls should be properly assisted by the government especially if nobody is already supporting them),” she suggested.

Athena presents her originally composed spoken poetry during the talent portion of the regional search for Exemplary Pantawid Pamilya Child 2019.

In her originally composed spoken poetry piece, she exposed the reality of today’s youth:

Ang sabi nila kaming kabataan ang pag-asa ng bayan,

Pero paano kung iilan sa amin hindi nabigyan ng kaginhawaan?

Simpleng bata, ‘yan ako,

Malaki ang pangarap sa buhay na katulad ninyo;

Palaging ginagawa ang kakayahan at palaging lumalaban

Pero minsan ‘di parin sapat,

Mga gastos ay ‘di matustosan, mapaglaanan

Her knowledge on existing social issues has also deepened as she grew older. When 4Ps came to the scene, she was grateful as she witnessed how it aims to break the inter-generational cycle of poverty through proper education. This pushed her hopes up to pursue her desired profession – to be a medical practitioner.

When treasure becomes a beacon

For now, she serves as an inspiration to all other children by winning the title of Caraga’s Exemplary Pantawid Pamilya Child 2019.

During the recently concluded regional search for the Exemplary Child, Athena bested four other contenders from different provinces. She left the judges in awe with her polite personality and alluring composure.

“Ang exemplary child ay may kakayahan. Isang batang matapang na hindi natatakot na tumulong sa iba at hindi inuuna ang sarili niya. Isang batang may takot sa Diyos, masunurin sa magulang, at isang tunay na kaibigan. Maituturing ko po na isa akong exemplary child dahil sa pamamagitan po ng aking talento (pagsusulat at pagtula) ay pwede akong maghatid ng inspirasyon sa mga kapwa ko kabataan na ‘wag sumuko sa hamon ng buhay (An exemplary child has skills, a child who is brave enough to help others before his/herself. A child who fears God, obeys his/her parents, and stays true as a friend. I consider myself as an exemplary child because through my talent (writing and poetry) I can inspire my fellow children to never give up amidst life’s difficulties.” ###(Social Marketing Section/DSWD Field Office Caraga)

The congratulatory banner of Athena displays her advocacy on quality education amidst poverty.