By: Jenefer Cervantes, Columban Scholar thru Fr. Jim Sheehy, SSC
It is often said that poverty hinders individuals and families from living a decent life. I would like to prove that this is only an opinion; true for some, but not for others.
I am Jenefer Dawatin Cervantes, born on June 8, 1990 at Magsaysay, Labrador, Pangasinan. My brother, Julius, and I come from a poor family. My father, Johnny, collects junks and sells them to the junkshop, while my mother, Zenaida, works as a housemaid for one of our relatives’ family. Unfortunately, we did not have our own house. We lived beneath the same roof as another family, who are also our relatives, relying on the shelter provided by their house. While the other family stays on the upper part of the house, we stayed on the lower part. For me, this was home because I was with my family, sharing simple meal, jokes and anecdotes. I did not even think that we were poor especially when I was in grade school. Despite our status in life, I enjoyed my elementary days even without any allowance for my snacks. I walk to and from school because our home was just a walking distance away.
When I entered high school, that’s when my worries began. I needed a daily allowance to cover my fares, and other school fees, including purchasing a school uniform, footwear, and notepads. I endured a lot of sacrifices, like having no meriendas (snacks) and sometimes skipping even lunch. For four years, my family and I went through these hardships, but we persevered. In 2006, I finally finished my high school at Labrador National High School (LNHS).
Pushing through college was unimaginable due to its high cost. So I decided to work as a nanny/maid in Mapandan, Pangasinan in order to save even just a little for my college expenses. It was a difficult time for me because it was my first time to be away from my parents, but I was determined to earn for my college studies.
After nine months of being a nanny, I went home. I joined the Basic Ecclessial Communities (BEC) in our town where I met Sr. Anselm Alunkal, the directress of St. Columban’s School, Inc. (SCSI) in 2007. She invited me to get some training and work in the Sewing Center of the school. While I was at the sewing center, I had several questions at the back of my head. ‘What will I do after this?’ ‘Will I be hired after I got the training?’ These were some of the questions I keep on asking myself. I know there were Scholarship Programs being offered by the government and some other companies to help indigent students, but I needed someone to help me find my way to these programs. Sr. Anselm did.
In 2008, Sr. Anselm helped me get a scholarship in Dressmaking at TESDA. I finished this in 2009 with an outstanding award. During this time, one of my teachers at TESDA asked me if I was willing to be a working student so that I can enroll in college. I immediately accepted his offer and enrolled at Pangasinan State University (PSU) for School Year 2009-2010.
My first semester in college was challenging because I had to juggle my time between my work and school. I had to clean the pig pens, bathe the pigs and feed them, and feed the chickens as well. Sometimes I pity myself for doing this. Though we are poor, I have not done anything like this before. I had to wake up at 4:00 in the morning and do this routine before going to school. When I reach the house in the afternoon, the same work awaits me. Sometimes, I doze off while studying at night due to fatigue; “the spirit is willing but the body is weak.” There had been times when I was late at school, but my professors understood my situation. They were always kind and considerate of me especially during examinations. This routine went on for the whole semester.
As the enrolment for the second semester was about to begin, Sr. Anselm informed me that I had been awarded a scholarship from the church by Rev. Fr. Jim Sheehy, a Columban Missionary priest assigned to our parish. “This is it,” “Thank you Lord,” “I was blessed,” were the only words I could utter. I was so happy. Now, I believe in the saying, “If there’s a will, there’s a way!”
Immediately after hearing the good news, I went home. I talked with Fr. Sheehy about the scholarship and I learned that there were several of us who were given scholarship grant. We were given responsibilities in the church during Saturdays and Sundays like assisting in the collection during masses, serving as lector/commentator at mass, assisting the priest during baptism, marriages and funeral masses. Aside from these, together with my companions, we also had to clean the whole vicinity of the church, the rectory, and the parish office. I was happy and I enjoyed my work during weekends. I also became involved in other ministries such as the Parish Youth Ministry (PYM), and Social Action Ministry, which have now become central of my life’s activities within the church. Despite my active participation in the church, I still manage to find sufficient time for my studies.
When Fr. Jim went home to his country, I was assured of my scholarship to continue until I finish my four-year course at PSU. However, on my fourth year of college, my family could hardly make both ends meet due to the increasing price of commodities. In order to help them with our finances, I decided once again to take on extra work during the last semester. I was a practice teacher then, so I had some time for extra work. I talked to my professor and offered to do some of their family’s household chores like washing, cleaning the house and cooking, in exchange for some cash so that I will have something to pay for my graduation fee, buy myself a new dress and a pair of shoes, without putting the burden on my parents.
The day I had been waiting for came. April 1, 2013. I was so excited. This is my graduation day. This is the fruit of all my labors and sacrifices. This is the day that I can truly say that I was able to conquer all the trials, challenges, and difficulties in my life.
I am currently employed as a teacher at the St. Columban School, Inc. I successfully completed and passed the Licensure Examination for Teachers (LET), earning my certification as a licensed teacher. The phrase “I can” holds tremendous power. Therefore, I proudly say, “I AM STRONG” and “I CAN”.
Behind the words, “I can,” are unexpressed words of gratitude to Fr. Jim Sheehy and the Columban Missionaries for your boundless love and generosity to us. You have gifted my family with a house which we can call our own. I never anticipated Fr. Jim to instruct the Sisters of St. Joseph of Cluny through Sr. Pricy, Sr. Anselm, Sr. Joseline to build a house for my family. Indeed, my family and I are profoundly blessed. The once muddy floor we used to walk on is now a cemented floor. We now have a decent dwelling place and a roof over our heads. This stands as your enduring legacy to our family, Fr. Jim Sheehy. We are deeply grateful.