For the young Nicole Maga, going to college seemed like an impossible dream.
The 16-year-old grew up in the slums of Malabon, where she scavenged for anything she could sell to the junk shop so she can help feed her family.
“Life was really tough there – my family ate dried fish for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Sometimes, we had no option but to be content with rice with soy sauce or the one-peso chichirya (junk food) you buy in the sari-sari store,” shared Maga.
“In the slums, the rule is if you won’t do anything, you’ll starve.”
The income of Maga’s father, a construction worker, is not enough to meet the daily needs of their family. In order to feed Maga and her 3 siblings, their mother would borrow money from lending groups.
The family sank deeper in debt. According to Maga, she saw people taking out things from their home one afternoon as collateral for her mother’s unsettled debts.
She shared that the experience made her feel small and helpless.
“But instead of letting myself down with the situation, I used it as a motivation to strive harder and hope that someday, our lives would be better,” said Maga.
And strive she did – from running a small business selling knick knacks and snacks to her friends, to performing excellently in her elementary and high school years.
Now, Maga’s hard work has paid off, as she is an incoming University of the Philippines Manila freshman and scholar of the SCG Sharing the Dream program of the SCG Foundation.
According to the Philippine Business for Social Progress, the scholarship program provides educational assistance in all of SCG’s areas of operations.
Meal and transportation allowances, provision for school project and miscellaneous expenses, as well as financial assistance for school fees, supplies, books, and uniform are given to students who have adequate academic performance, good behavior, and the motivation to pursue high education.
One of such students is Maga.
Making ends meet
To support her schooling, Maga started selling pens, bracelets, and snacks like pastillas and polvoron to her classmates when she was in elementary.
“Because I grew up poor, I told myself that I will really study hard because I want our lives to be better,” Maga said.
“I still remember my first day of school when my mother told me, ‘Anak, mag-aral kang mabuti kasi ‘yan lang ang mapapamana namin sa ‘yo (Child, study hard because education is the only thing that we can give you’),” she added, saying that her mother’s words motivated her to do well in school.
Eventually, Maga started selling other items like peanuts, turon, lumpia, and peanut butter that her mother prepares.
“Most of my schoolmates thought that I am a very, very hard working student because of the bulk in my bag that they mistake for books, but in fact, those are the merchandise I bring every day,” she added.
Maga did not let her business get in the way of her education, however. She was a consistent first honor student in elementary. She graduated valedictorian.
This earned her the SCG Sharing the Dream scholarship for the Upper Bicutan National High School. The program, apart from providing financial assistance to beneficiaries, also gives academic consultations and workshops as well as values enhancement and social responsibility activities for the beneficiaries.
The educational assistance helped Maga to continue excelling in high school, where she once again graduated as batch valedictorian.
On August of this year, the young girl from the slums will now be pursuing Behavioral Science at UP Manila, her dream school.
“I am taking this course because I want to understand people more. Meeting people from all walks of life is what I like and I want to empower people because I have a compassionate heart,” Maga said.
For all the assistance she received throughout the year, Maga plans to give back someday.
“I was once one of those dirty children roaming the streets to find a living. I am a product of feeding programs, always in the line when people give out relief goods. One time when I was waiting for a pack of groceries, wearing rags, I found myself wanting to be the one to give things away. I want to have scholars of my own because I grew up being a scholar,” she said.
“My scholars will be those children from the streets – because I know what it’s like, I experienced it myself. My dream is to put up a foundation someday.” – Rappler.com
- This article originally appeared at Rappler.com. Photo from the Philippine Business for Social Progress.