Through the Independent Living and Educational Assistance Program in the Philippines, young adults aging out of institutional care gain the skills to live successfully on their own. Marlon Cruz was once an ILEA scholar. This is the story of his life, as told by Marlon.
I was 5 years old when I got lost in the market of Marikina City and never found my parents again. That was the start of my struggles in life. I did not know where I would stay and how I would eat. I came to the point that I was sleeping anywhere I could. To survive, I started to carry baskets and bags of goods for people in the marketplace so I could get money for food. When authorities learned that I had no parents, they put me in an orphanage and they started to look for my parents.
But nobody was found and nobody came back to claim me.
The barangay authorities sent me to Boys Town Complex in Markina City, an institution for children without parents. I was admitted in Mahay, a section in the institution where children like me are housed. I had mixed feelings, happy but sad. Happy because there were people who would care for me and there was food, so I did not have to wonder how I would find food to eat. Happy that I would not experience again what I had been through, I experienced playing again. I focused my attention on playing to avoid thinking of my lost parents and continuing to wonder why I no longer have parents.
I asked myself, “Did I become a bad child because I felt that nobody liked me?” I experienced a lot of bullying, but I tried to ignore it for my dream was to finish my schooling. When I was in kindergarten, I was excited and dedicated to go to school. When I turned 10 years old, I was transferred to the Boys Home school together with other children, ages 10 to 18 years old. From grade one to grade six, I was always in section one. I was the top student when I was in grade two and grade three, and was always receiving the Best of the Year award for being a good child of Boys Town.
I started to mingle with other children when I was in high school. I became active and learned to enjoy playing basketball. I concentrated on playing and studying instead of thinking about my being parentless. I envied other children in Boys Town who had parents visiting them, bringing them food and having bonding time with them. I was in my third year of high school and one of the Top 10 students when I was granted a scholarship by the organization Kaisahang Buhay Foundation. I became so excited because it was an opportunity for me to pursue my dream of finishing college. I was thankful that I did not neglect my studies. Even if I was not an honor student, at least I would be able to graduate.
I felt happy and sad because I was not aware of my strengths and what course to take that suited me. However, I took the entrance examination at Marikina Polytechnic College that I passed. I was included in the group of students to take mechanical engineering, but after completing my first year, I reflected and decided to change my course because my dream is to take a course that would let me help children who went through the same experiences I went through. I took the entrance examination at the University of Rizal System that I passed. Unfortunately, the social work course was already filled up so I was enrolled in the community development course. I did no regret this, though, because I learned that both social work and community development work have similar missions — to help people in difficulty. So I studied hard to achieve my dream of finishing college.
I was a bit anxious but excited to become one of KBF’s ILEA scholars. I learned to live independently. I learned to wash my clothes, to cook food, to take care of myself and my personal needs that were all new to me as a former Boys Town kid. I also learned from KBF how to budget my school allowance for daily food and transportation to school. I finished my four-year community development course and received my diploma. That made me feel successful so I was very happy. I was wondering where I could apply for work, but then I was hired by KBF as a staff member of the Family and Community Outreach program. Here, I was able to work with Ms. Marinel, one my former college teachers in college who taught some of my major subjects. From her, I learned more about the nature of our work. I became so happy because we are helping many people every day. There were many challenges we encountered that I considered positive because it taught me new lessons. I believe in the saying “Nasa tao ang gawa nasa Diyos ang awa”, which means “In God’s grace, I can do my best.” I am thankful to God and to the people who helped me and became part of my life.
Marlon Cruz | Manila, Philippines