Ang pinakapaborito naming toyo, mantika, at asin ang siyang katambal ng kanin para maibsan ang nararamdaman naming gutom.”

These were the words of 16-year old Julieto Espinola Jr. as he narrated the kind of life that he grew up with. Their living condition was difficult especially that they have six mouths to feed every day. His parents, Julieto and Gina, has no regular work, thus he considers their household as one of the poorest family in Barangay Bunga, Lanuza, Surigao del Sur.

In the past, his father used to fish in the suba (river) for them to have viand on the table. They can only taste chicken whenever a member of the family celebrated a birthday. Every time he goes to school, Julieto budgeted the P3.00 baon (allowance) for lunch, opting to buy ketchup as partner for rice. But even with this situation, he grew up to be healthy and smart, along with his siblings. They were raised as disciplined and respectful children. Their parents wanted them to finish their schooling, always reminding them to focus on studies and to never get married on an early age and be hampered from succeeding in life.

 

Started with a knock

It was 2015, when an unexpected guest knocked at their door. It was one of the Listahanan enumerators conducting the 2nd round household assessment, and surveying potential poor households that may benefit from the programs and services of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).

By chance, Julieto’s family qualified to be a beneficiary of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) – the Philippine’s conditional cash transfer program and an answer of the national government to the never-ending and inter-generational poverty cycle in the country.

Julieto excels both in academic and extra-curricular activities at Madrid National High School.

Sa kauna-unahang ayudang pinansyal na natanggap namin sa 4Ps, agad itong ipinambili ni Mama ng mga pangangailangan namin sa eskwela at pagkain sa araw-araw. Isa sa nagbigay ng ngiti sa aming magkakapatid ay ang pandesal, dahil noon ay bihira lamang kaming makakain nito (My mother bought our school needs and food when we had our first financial aid/grant from the 4Ps. A simple pandesal brought a big smile to our faces, since it was the only time we could afford to buy such – we could not buy it before),” Julieto shared.

But his smile was turned into sadness when he remembered a certain storm that passed after that. A tension between his parents and grandparents caused his mother and sister Carmerose to leave their family. When they left, all Julieto could hear were the cries of his siblings pleading, “Inay! ‘Wag mo kaming iwan, (Mother, don’t leave us)” but to no avail, their mother still left them.

Months passed, his father was able to buy a lot. With the help of the Program’s cash grants and some savings he got taking on jobs, the family was able to build a small house. And with the newly built house, they were also able to build back their family – his mother came back with their other sibling.

 

Molded to become better citizens

Julieto delivers the opening prayer during their schools Career Day.

Aside from the financial aid they were receiving, Julieto acknowledged the greater purpose of the Program to mold the beneficiaries to become better citizens. First, by encouraging them to put up a garden and maintain cleanliness in their surroundings. Second, by letting them attend the monthly Family Development Sessions (FDS) with various modules such as Responsible Parenting, Violence against Women and their Children (VAWC), and Women’s Rights, the same goes with Youth Development Sessions (YDS) tackling on Teenage Pregnancy, Drug Abuse, and Children’s Rights. Lastly, by instilling to them the importance of education.

Pinagtibay ng Programa ang aking mga pangarap, na kahit ano mang dagok ang dumating at darating pa sa aming pamilya kaya namin itong lampasan sa pamamagitan ng matibay na pananalig sa Diyos, madalas na pakikipag-usap sa bawat isa o komunikasyon, at ang mataimtim na pag-aaral para sa kinabukasan (The program concretized my dreams – amidst the hardship that came to our lives, and will still come in the future, we will be able to overcome them through our trust in God, proper communication, and focus on our studies),” he shared.

Little by little, their family was able to improve their living conditions. His father bought a tricycle to use for his business. His elder brother Paul John finished with a degree in Bachelor of Science in Information Technology major in Electronic Technology at Surigao del Sur State University and is now working in Cagayan de Oro City before the pandemic hit. His sister Carmerose is now in her sophomore year in college. His younger brother Yancy Mar is now in 2nd year high school. Julieto, on the other hand, is an incoming Grade 11 student this year.

 

Filled with hopes and aspirations

Over the years, Julieto did his very best in school as he graduated as 1st honorable mention during his elementary days. He received awards and recognitions as the top placer and with highest honors in high school. He won various press conferences such as 1st place in Radio Broadcasting in the municipal level and Best in Talent in the district level.

Julieto excels both in academic and extra-curricular activities at Madrid National High School.

Moreover, he was in-charge of their school’s Project SCION (Students’ Concern and Initiative on Nature), wherein they focused on the school’s cleanliness. He became the President of the Barkada Kontra Droga (BKD) initiative, which focuses on how to veer students away from illegal drug use. Every school year, they conduct a symposium and recreational activities such as poster-making, spoken poetry, and jingle composition. He is often tasked to take part during programs and events of their school.

Para sa akin mahalaga ang makapagtapos upang makamit ko ang aking pangarap para sa sarili, pamilya, at sa komunidad. Iyong nakikita ko silang nakangiti at may maayos na kondisyon sa pamumuhay (It is very important for me to finish my studies and reach my personal dream, my families dream, and my community’s dreams. I want to see them all happy of my achievements),” he exclaimed.

Julieto aspires to be a lawyer like his idol, the late Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago. He wants to serve the Filipinos with all honesty and efficiency by giving them equal access to justice and fight for their rights. Through the help of his family and his perseverance in studying, he is positive that he can be successful in achieving this dream.

The Espinola family on the graduation of their youngest child Yancy Mar.

“Masasabi kong nabago ang buhay namin ng kami ay naging benepisyaryo ng 4Ps. Tinulungan kaming makaahon sa kahirapan at sa makamit ng aming mga mithiin sa buhay. Kaya sa mga kapwa ko kabataan na nalulugmok sa kahirapan, ang tanging masasabi ko ay ‘wag kayong sumuko kahit anong hamon man ng buhay ang kailangan suungin. Dahil ang dating toyo, mantika, at asin… sa kalaunan ay magiging adobo rin (I can say that our lives changed because of 4Ps. The program helped us reach for our dreams and achieve our goals in life. So for all of my fellow youth who are facing the different challenges in life and are facing hardship, do not be disheartened, and continue to face life’s challenges. The soy sauce, cooking oil and salt we used to consume, will definitely be adobo in the future).” ###(Social Marketing Section/DSWD Field Office Caraga)