Former ALS graduate becomes an Ambassador for Philippine Digital Literacy
-- Merly Lleva Tatad, as narrated to Rosa Alma V. Olitoquit, District ALS Coordinator for the San Fernando District.
As the quotation goes “striving and struggle comes before success, even in the dictionary.” Passing the Alternative Learning System (ALS) Accreditation and Equivalency (A&E) Test was the pivotal point in my life’s journey, as it is the key that opened the door of opportunities for myself and my family.
During my elementary days, I was one of the promising students in our rural community, where farming is the main occupation. My parents are poor laborers on the farm so, just like them, I help in planting and harvesting of palay to augment their meager seasonal income. I became the pride of my family when I graduated Salutatorian and, with high hopes, my parents enrolled me in a nearby high school adjacent to our barangay. I was doing fine in my secondary studies but something unexpected happened in my junior years. I fell in love and got hitched to another fellow Rizalista much older than I am. When I got pregnant with my only child, I was forced to stop schooling at a very young age.
I was on the brink of losing hope, with the thought that I would no longer have the chance to improve my life. I also have a great fear my only daughter will have the same fate as her mother, due to the vicious cycle of poverty.
But somehow, there is still a “silver lining behind the clouds”. An opportunity to redeem myself came when I met Mrs. Rosa Alma Ämet” V. Olitoquit, a former faculty member of my alma mater, Sta. Cruz Elementary School. By then, she already transferred to ALS. She encouraged me to attend learning sessions so that I can pass the A & E Test and obtain a high school diploma. Not knowing much about the program, I was reluctant at first. Aside from that, my neighbors kept cajoling me my efforts would not amount to anything. My cynical community claimed it is impossible to get the diploma out of this program and, even if I graduate from ALS, I could not continue my studies in college nor find work to put food on the table.
However, I decided otherwise and just continued attending learning sessions with ALS. In 2006, I became one of the first ALS passers in our municipality of San Fernando. Although attending the sessions and obtaining the A&E diploma did not put food on my family’s table, I gained something more. With the diploma in my hand, I developed the confidence and courage to get a job in a bakery based in Naga City. I once again learned the meaning and essence of the word HOPE.
This ushered the beginning of my successful feats. In 2008, World Tech Resources, Inc. (WRI), a TESDA accredited school offered scholarships for students who wish to work as Medical Transcriptionist. Together with my fellow ALS passers, I took and passed the entrance test. The WRI School Director excitedly called to inform me that I topped the entrance examination. Through the five-month course, I never lagged behind my classmates, who were graduates of formal schools. I am truly thankful to Mr. Joaquin A. Olitoquit, the husband of Maám Amet and an ALS volunteer who worked as Network Administrator of eSkwela Project. He patiently tutored me on the rudiments of the computer. I was given an extra keyboard, which I diligently memorized every QWERTY key by heart.
Through Mr. and Mrs. Olitoquit’s guidance, I continuously improved myself further. Fortunately, I obtained two more scholarships, one was the Gov. LRay English Proficiency Program and another Medical Transcriptionist training from the Bicol Business Center, all for free and with daily allowances. In my free time, I would often come to Sir Jack and Ma’am Amet's for advice and solace as I continued my quest for a better tomorrow for my family.
The dream to study at a prestigious university came knocking on my door. An opportunity for a skills and educational scholarship in Ateneo de Naga University was offered to me through the recommendations of Sir Jack and Ma’am Amet. I did not want to disappoint the two persons who believed in me. I did my best working in the Café Europe, one of the university’s restaurants, as a cook, service crew and then cashier, for these were the grounds to acquire the scholarship. My efforts came into fruition when I was awarded the BS Entrepreneurship scholarship for a full tuition, covering miscellaneous fees and free board and lodging in the premier Jesuit university in the Bicol Region. I could not have attained this without the university life and training preparations I got from Dep Ed ALS San Fernando eSkwela, the 1st Philipine Mobile eSkwela in the country. In March 2015, I finally graduated with flying colors as one of the Cum Laude in my batch.
My luck did not end there. With the help of Hon. Fermin M. Mabulo, the Father of eSkwela and municipal mayor of San Fernando, I joined the San Fernando group in eSkwela Training in UP Diliman, Quezon City. It was sponsored by the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) under Ma’am Mel Tan and Sir Ave Mejia, now with UNESCO, Bangkok, Thailand. After the training, I volunteered to tutor the out-of-school-youth (OSYs) in our community using eSkwela digitized and printed modules. Through my help and their own perseverance, they also became ALS passers like me. Furthermore, I helped my fellow ALS passers and scholars enroll in the Ateneo de Naga University by presenting report and project proposals using ICT. As a result, I was chosen as the Ambassador for Philippine Digital Literacy for Women (PDLW) by Telecentre.org, an internationally recognized organization with San Fernando Mobile eSkwela as one of the members.
After graduation, I continued my job with Kolping Philippines for about two years. I am currently back working in Ateneo de Naga University as one of the staff in the Campus Ministry. There is still another door waiting for me to be opened. I am praying that my application with STEP UP will be approved and I will become a Jesuit trained teacher in the future, just like my mentor.
At present, when you see me beaming fully with self-confidence, one can say that ALS and eSkwela is indeed an important tool in transforming the lives of the poor. Now, the former cynics in my community hail me as a good role model to the youth, rather than just an unwed teenage mother. They were surprised I was chosen as commencement speaker in the 2015 Mass Graduation of ALS Passers in the Division of Camarines Sur. Only recently, I also gave a testimony during the ALS Advocacy Forum and Launching of the Tech4ED Project for the Seond Congressional District.
Instead of just becoming a transient laborer in the vast tacks of farmlands in my barangay as I used to do in the past, I vow to provide a good education not only to my daughter, but also guide and provide hope to my future students. I will also continue my advocacy for ALS as a way of paying back all the blessings I received in my life.
Merly’s story is just unfolding. Like a beautiful tree, she is spreading her branches, burying her roots deep into the ground, her leaves providing shade to everyone who seems lost and without hope, bearing fruits that now benefits a lot of people in her work in the AdeNU Campus Ministry and Alternative Learning System. Merly’s story would not be complete without the support of her parents, her loving husband and her daughter, who made a lot of sacrifices while she was studying at the Ateneo de Naga University. Every Filipino family places a very high value on education. Today, we can say ALS is just a key that unlocks the potentials and generosity of what every Filipino family dreams and aspires for a better future for their children.
The children of the poor deserve the best kind of education they can get. They deserve quality education out of whatever limited capacity and resources we can give at the Department of Education. Only our department has a far-reaching grasp to deliver quality education that the poor deserves. Other than us, they do not have any resources, not even from the church.
Merly, centre, sits with the entire Lleva family during her graduation at the Ateneo de Naga University.