BAGUIO CITY – Remember that story told by your catechist or parents about a prophet who was swallowed by a huge whale before being spit out after three days and three nights? His name was Jonah.
But here is a modern Jonah who was not literally swallowed by a huge whale but instead, nearly enslaved by poverty. She is a young woman, a wife, and a mother to five children. Hers is a story of how she broke away from the shackles of poverty.
Juna Sanggoy is a Kankana-ey from Kapangan, Benguet. Now at the age of 35, she looks back on her rocky beginnings as a member of this ever-challenged society.
She did not dream of improving her life as she did not even know that she was living a life below poverty line until just a couple of years ago.
“I’m regretful that I didn’t care to learn about a lot of things,” she shared in the vernacular. Admittedly, she was not able to learn skills which could be her passport in raising a family. For years “I was a plain housewife who barely helped my husband Benjamin in our sayote farm,” she continued.
A high school undergraduate and a wife at the age of 15, she now admits to lacking knowledge and skills on child rearing and home management, and much more, skills to help provide for her family.
As her family grew, “financial challenges began to build up one by one as my children started going to school,” she said.
I can not help but notice the frustration in her voice as she talks about getting angry when her children ask for allowance before they go to school. “Most of the time, I just get angry to cover up my embarrassment that I can’t give them enough allowance,” she exclaimed.
As farmers, Juna’s family waits for three months before they could sell their crop and have some cash. Usually, they plant string beans which mature in three months.
Within those months “we have to live day-by-day without giving our children regular “baon” (allowance)” Juna said.
Because of this financial struggle, Juna decided to avail of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority’s (TESDA) skills training program. However, she did not have a high school diploma to qualify her for the training. This did not dampen her spirit to acquire some skills. She enrolled in the Alternative Learning System of the Department of Education (DEPEd).
“I graduated in 2005 even if I had three kids,” she said with pride. She finally earned that precious document certifying that she is a high school graduate.
She persevered and succeeded in juggling her roles between her family and her studies, and eventually her Beauty Care Training with TESDA.
As we continued to share stories, I admired her resilience and made me wonder where mothers like her get all those kind of strength.
The first time I saw her was when she shared a bit of her story during a visit of former DSWD Secretary Corazon Soliman. That time she stood with pride at the small stage at the Kapangan municipal gym. She seemed nervous but confident as she delivered her speech.
I was guessing that most of us who were listening to her did not know that three years ago she had low self-esteem and would never step on stage to speak in front of many people.
But that day, she was a community volunteer, a DSWD partner beneficiary, who was able to hold the audience, including the Secretary and municipal officials, with her speech.
She impressed the audience, including me, so I decided to interview her. After earning a national certificate, she said she was happy having learned skills in beauty care thus she began building her dreams of profiting from it.
But the happiness and those dreams began to crumble as she again did not have the financial capital to start a business. “I don’t have the capital to start with and I lacked marketing skills,” she said.
In 2012, she became a DSWD beneficiary where she learned family-rearing through the family development sessions. “My family’s relationship slowly improved and we can better manage our family now.”
She was also granted a PhP 10, 000 capital from Sustainable Livelihood Program (SLP) of the department to start her beauty care services.
“Although it wasn’t enough, I was able to start a home service beauty care business in my municipality and later to nearby municipalities.
Slowly, she started to feel that she is part of her community so she got herself involved in some activities of her barangay. She became a community volunteer for the Kapit-Bisig Laban sa Kahirapan Comprehensive and Integrated Delivery of Social Services (Kalahi-CIDSS) Project in 2013 and until now remains as one.
“Before I had a very low self-esteem but I found my self-worth and became an active member of my community,” she said.
At present, she is often invited as a resource speaker during Family Development sessions with other families in her municipality. “She is very active in community activities as a member or leader of committees,” Kalahi-CIDSS Area Coordinator Fidela Gawidan confirmed.
During Juna’s home services to her clients, she takes the time to tell and invite them to participate in the activities for community projects.
“While being a volunteer, I heard about a cooking training from other villagers during a barangay assembly and I readily joined, she continued.
Because of that, she can now prepare and package candies, mallows, pulvoron and other processed food which she sells around her municipality while on her way to her beauty care clients.
“Now, I can provide at least for our kitchen and a little allowance for my children,” she said with a shy smile.
Juna is just one of many Filipinos who lacked opportunities but after being provided with one, they a ripple effect on their families and communities. From being a timid and typical housewife, Juna proved that with pure effort anyone can turn into a versatile and resilient person ready to change her life and to her community.
Her story may not be the typical rags to riches but she represents those people who are just waiting for the right support before they can unfold their potential.
By Jasmin P. Kiaso