Graduation ceremonies bring eerie memories to 20-year-old Jose Gabriel.

In 2010, upon graduating from elementary, he found himself with his mother and four siblings running away at midnight from his drunkard father. At that time, he lost all hopes and dreams.

They went to Dolores town in Quezon Province to try to have a more peaceful life.

Four years later, a day before his high school graduation, he was asked to submit documents for a possible college grant. Feeling happy and blessed, Jose Gabriel felt a little bit strange that somehow, his dreams may even be attainable.

Today, only a couple of months away from his college graduation, he cannot believe that life can be very beautiful. He is nervous, however, especially that he is the first college graduate in their family.

Jose Gabriel Simogan, a resident of Brgy. Sta. Lucia in Dolores, Quezon, is a grantee of the Expanded Student Grants-in-Aid Program for Poverty Alleviation (ESGPPA) of the Commission on Higher Education (CHED). His family is a beneficiary of the DSWD’s Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program since 2012.


The first college graduate in the family

Growing up with four other siblings under the care of only their mother, Jose Gabriel never thought that life will turn out beautifully for him. Since being parted with his father, his mother became the sole provider of the family.

“Lahat ng sideline ginawa na ni Mama. Naglalabandera, namamalantsa at namamasukan. Minsan, dalawang beses lang kami kumain,” he shared.

Despite this, he is fortunate that his mother believed in educating them. Jose Gabriel studied hard so as not to let her mother down. Thankfully, his hard work paid off as he is always included in the honor roll.

“Tumutulong din kami kay Mama dahil alam naming kapos na kapos pa rin. Nagtatrabaho kami sa karinderya ng kaibigan ni Mama para kahit papaano, hindi na n’ya iisipin ‘yung pangbaon namin. Minsan, pati school supplies nasasagot na rin,” said Jose Gabriel.

Their becoming a beneficiary of the Pantawid Pamilya, according to him, opened a lot of opportunities for the family. As a monitored child, he gets P500 per month for his educational needs.

“Bawat sentimo sa pag-aaral ko ay mahalaga para sa akin. Nakaramdam ako ng gutom, napagod ako at nainitan sa paglalakad, minsan nauulanan pa para makatipid,” he shared.

He added that at times, he would choose not spending the money for his fare or his food because he knows he needs the money for his projects.

“Nakaranas din po ako ng pagmamaliit sa mga kaklase ko dahil kasama kami sa programa. Sabi nila, mahirap kami,” he recalled.

But this only challenged him to do better. He graduated in high school with honors—proving to his classmates that he can be “someone from nothing” who will turn out to be “someone special.”

As early as this time of his life, Jose Gabriel already feels very special. As the first college graduate in the family, he is confident that he is given so much opportunities to help his family, especially his two younger siblings.

“Yung dalawa kong nakatatandang kapatid, parehong hindi nakatapos at nagtatrabaho sa factory. Si Mama, hindi na makapagtrabaho dahil madalas na kung magkasakit. Pero ako, nabigyan ako ng opportunity na makapagkolehiyo. Gagamitin ko ito para maiangat ang pamilya namin,” he shared.


The challenge after graduation

Already picturing his college graduation, he cannot still believe that he has come to his dream. He’ll be graduating with a degree in Accountancy this June 2018 from Laguna State Polytechnic University.

“Kung tutuusin, hindi ko naisip dati na makakapagkolehiyo ako. Gustong-gusto kong magcollege dati kaya talagang naghahanap ako ng scholarship noon,” said Jose Gabriel, knowing that his mother surely cannot afford his higher education. His two elder siblings were not able to get a college education because of their financial problems.

Gratefully, he qualified for the ESGPPA, a college education grant for members of Pantawid Pamilya households. With the goal of improving the lives of poor families towards self-sufficiency, the DSWD has converged with other agencies to help achieve this.

The ESGPPA is a response to provide an opportunity for at least one member of a Pantawid Pamilya household to graduate from college. This provides higher chances for the family to improve their lives through a member’s employment in better-paying jobs.

After graduation, Jose Gabriel plans to take the licensure examination right away. He knows that this is another ticket for better opportunities for him. When he gets a job, his priorities include helping his two younger siblings to go to college, too.

“Gusto ko makapagtapos din sila kagaya ko. Mas marami ang magiging oportunidad kapag may sapat kang kakayahan na makukuha mo lang sa pagkokolehiyo,” he shared.

His two younger siblings have graduated from senior high school this year, and he hopes to help them enroll in college. With their senior high school graduation, their family will be graduating from the Pantawid Pamilya program as well.

As part of the policy of the Pantawid Pamilya program, a household-beneficiary will only be supported by the government until such time that the monitored children reach 18 years old or graduate from high school, whichever comes first.

This ‘graduation’ from the program also gives him doubts; however, he remains positive.

“Mas magiging mahirap po kasi malaking tulong po yung natatanggap namin mula sa programa. Pero kakayanin na po namin lalo na at magtatapos na ako ng kolehiyo,” a proud and happy Jose Gabriel shared.

The thought that the government has helped support their education, plus his college education, Jose Gabriel cannot be anymore grateful. He vows to succeed in life to make the investment of the government worth every centavo.# with reports from MCWatti