Turning poverty into opportunityBy Charisse Ursal
CEBU CITY—It was their final exams. His heart was pounding while his hands were clammy and sweating. He was nervous, not because he did not study but because his teacher might not allow him to take the exams since his mother was not able to pay his tuition again.
Although it was not easy, Paolo Martin Saberon finally graduated last year from the University of Cebu (UC) in Barangay Banilad, Cebu City.
But his struggles to finish his degree in Bachelor of Science in Administration became his inspiration to help the poor but determined students to complete even a secondary education.
On May 4, 2009, Saberon formed the Cebuano Youth Ambassadors (CYA) Inc. composed of 20 to 30 student leaders in Cebu whose primary goal is to help the students finish their elementary and high school education.
Their main project is called “Basuraskwela,” which is coined from the words “basura (garbage)” and “ eskwela (school).” The group collects donated tarpaulins from universities and other private organizations.
These, in turn, will be made into bags by members of Tipolo Creekside Urban Poor Home Owners Association (TCUPHAI) Inc., a women’s group from Barangay Tipolo in Mandaue City.
The CYA also forms a partnership with Tsinelas, a nongovernment organization that helps poor students in Cebu. Tsinelas provides the children books and school supplies.
The Junior Chamber International (JCI)-Cebu, sells the Basuraskwela products in Cebu.
A bag usually costs P300 apiece. Of the amount, P132 goes to the women of TCUPHAI while P168 goes to the education of Basuraskwela’s student-beneficiaries.
On June 20, JCI-Cebu turned over P30,000 to CYA after selling 100 bags.
The women of TCUPHAI are also happy with CYA’s Basuraskwela project. “Basuraskwela is a good project because it also helps us earn a living while it sends our children to school,” Rubi Tayasan, a TCUPHAI member, said.
The CYA has 50 student-beneficiaries from the Tingub Urban Poor Community in Mandaue City this year. These are elementary and high school students whose education will be supported by the organization until they graduate from high school.
“The more tarpaulins we collect, the more bags we make and the more beneficiaries we can support,” Saberon said.
He added that CYA was planning to help 20 more students from Pinamungahan town in southern Cebu after reading a newspaper article that these children walk to school barefoot.
Saberon pointed out that these children would have to endure the pain of walking barefoot to school especially with the K-12 program of the Department of Education that adds two more years in the
10-year basic education program.
“We will help them so they will not have difficulty in going to school,” he said.
Saberon said the plight of these children reminded him of his own struggles in trying to get a college degree. “I don’t want them to suffer like I did,” he said.
Born and raised in Davao, Saberon was only seven when his father, Pablo Saberon, died in 1997.
His mother, Aleli, a government clerk, was left alone to raise seven children on a meager pay.
Saberon was 16 when he started working in fast food chains to be able to graduate from high school. He even tried to be a door-to-door salesman of vacuum cleaners.
Saberon, the fifth child and the only son, felt the need to take over the role of his father. After graduating from high school, he decided to go to Cebu to look for a job.
He worked as a call center agent while studying at the UC and took up BS Administration.
There were times he could pay his tuition. But since he also sent money to his family in Davao, he often had to sign promissory notes because he could not pay his tuition on time.
But his financial woes didn’t stop him from helping others. While in the UC, he was elected president of the UC Supreme Student Council and focused on helping other students who had difficulty finishing a degree because of poverty.
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