Friday, August 12, 2011

Being poor in UP

A semester from now and I can finally call myself a UP graduate. I held on to the beautiful promise a UP education could give me; a good job that would allow me to help my parents put my brothers (I have 2) through college, a distinguished name for myself in our barrio (as most of my kababarrio find it hard to go to college because of economic realities), and a chance to learn from the people whose names I only read in textbooks and newspapers or watch on tv. The assurance of a life much better than the one I've always known has pushed me (and is still pushing me) to endure all the challenges that comes alongside choosing to study in an expensive school (in my family's capacity).

After all, what would I, a girl from an unheard of barrio, be had I not taken the risk and defied the laws of gravity by coming to Manila to study? I was even mistaken for a bisaya househelp by an airport security guard who helpfully showed me the way to the queue for a cheap, non-airport taxi. Five years after, I can still recall that incident. A lot has happened since then. I learned how to fix myself in a way that would make me not stand out so much in a crowd. I learned to at least "belong". 

Much of my stay in college is marred by days when I didn't have much money in my pocket except for that candy wrapper. I always had to work. I jokingly tell my friends that I am the founder of private English teaching to Koreans. I was 16 when I braved the yet unknown to me Commonwealth Avenue to look for people who would take a chance on a public-schooled girl who was never able to read any high school classic readings like Beowulf or never had the chance to read Harry Potter in the comfort of her room until the pirated e-book versions came. There were times when getting a reading was hard I always had to borrow photocopies from my friend. There also were countless times when I had to borrow my friend's laptop just so I can type an essay due since going to a computer shop would mean I have to spend more than Php 20 just to type it out. My computer skills then was really bad. With a Bachelor of Arts undergrad, scholarships are hard to come by too. 

I cannot complain because I chose UP. So instead of crying (though I drop a tear or two in the safety of the comfort room as I defecate), I had to put on this "all is well" look. And though I have really understanding friends, it is hard to explain poverty to them who don't find it hard to photocopy a bunch of readings or buy a required book. In my first few years in UP, I sometimes asked why I had to be poor. At times when I am hormonal I even give in to tears. I wondered why did I choose to study in UP Diliman when I can go to an affordable state university in Davao City. The answer to that is still unknown to me and can only be determined by what happens to me in the next few years. 

Hardships here has tempered my otherwise emotional tendencies. Instead of wanting an ear to share my pains with, I kept mum and worked hard for the things that I need in school. When I see another UP student who does not find it hard to get copies of required readings, I learned to shrug it off. If this is a good thing or not, I don't know. But it has kept me sane throughout the years. 

I have no aversion directed to rich people studying in UP. It's just sad that the number of poor students studying here is not proportional to the actual number of poor people in the Philippines. I feel that the poor are outnumbered by the rich here when in reality, the poor outnumbers the rich. This is not to deny those who can afford a quality education; this is to bemoan the unequal access to quality education. 

It's still an honor to graduate in this institution that prioritizes honor and excellence more than anything else. To all those poor kids like me who want to study here (should there be any poor kid left dreaming of a UP education), prepare yourself to four years or more of paid work while in college. At times you would want to surrender but the world still turns and you can't be left behind. 

(note: I'm a bit busy right now so I'll write more about survival tips in a few days)


Yang Shumei said...

And yet, look at you now. You've achieved so much more than those people (myself included) who haven't really felt the pain of worrying (as intensely as you did) about money. :)

It's people like you who kick me out of this middle-class luxury of depression and angstiness. I have always admired your strength and perseverance that just make your intelligence and talent shine brighter.

plaridel said...

it was my dream to study at UP, but our family didn't have the financial means to support such an ambition. i'm not alone. there are others, too, who didn't make it. our dreams live in people like you.