ZAMBOANGA CITY—For 69-year-old Lola Lita, it is never too late to be educated and even experience high school life.
Mustering her strength, Estelita Alvarez, or Lola Lita, went to the school nearest to the house she is staying in Barangay Lumiyap in Zamboanga City, and enrolled herself.
“One of the teachers asked me if I brought someone to enroll. I said no. I said I was enrolling myself,” she told the Inquirer in an interview.
Alvarez has five sons, one daughter and 17 grandchildren.
Maria Theresa Borgonia, principal of Maria Clara Lobregat National High School in Barangay Divisoria, said Alvarez passed the school’s entrance examinations and was accepted as a new Grade 7 student. “I was so happy,” Alvarez said.
Lola Lita completed her elementary education at Amlan Elementary School in Negros Oriental in 1956. Poverty forced her to give up school and work as a house helper.
“We could hardly send a brother or a sister to high school then. After elementary education, most of my siblings worked as farm laborers. I chose to work as a helper for relatives,” she said.
From Negros Oriental, Lola Lita moved to Davao City, also to work as a helper. From there, she and a friend went to Zamboanga City to serve in a coffee shop at the public market.
She met Jaime Paloma Alvarez, a teletype machine operator, at the shop and married him. They have six children—Jaime Jr. (now 47), Jomar, Jean, Jake, Jeremia and Jared.
“My dream to go to school became impossible as my kids were growing up then. I need to work harder, peddling chorizo (sausage) and other items to raise our income,” Lola Lita said.
None among her six children finished college. Jomar and Jeremia completed two-year vocational courses.
A widow since 2009, Lola Lita has lived with her son, Jared, and her four grandchildren.
“Whenever everyone is in school or work, I feel so alone in the house,” she said.
“I really want to improve myself. I want to achieve something, that’s why I decided to enroll in high school and I know it’s not late for me.”
On Monday, Alvarez officially reported to school.
As she was looking for her name on the list posted on the classroom door, Pilar Ahadi, teacher-adviser of Grade 7 Lakandula section, approached her.
“I asked her what’s her grandchild’s name. She told me she was looking for her name and that she was the one enrolled. At first, I was surprised because she is already very old, but I am happy that at her age, she values education,” Ahadi said.
Lakandula has 58 pupils.
According to her seatmate, 13-year-old Mylene Genibo, Lola Lita “serves as our inspiration.”
“She reminds me of my grandmother. She’s so motherly and very protective to us,” Genibo said. “Every time our male classmates tease some of the girls, she stands up for us, protecting us, and our classmates listen to her.”
Lola Lita speaks good English, which she said she learned from being a member of the Latter Day Saints. “We go from one village to another to spread the word of God, and that’s where I learned my limited English vocabulary,” she said.
On July 20, Lola Lita will turn 70. “I am still strong and I hope I remain strong until I graduate from high school,” she said.
Her daily concern, however, is where to get P30 for her transportation fare and school allowance.
Pedro Melchor Natividad, the schools’ superintendent, said Alvarez could avail herself of the Alternative Learning System’s accreditation and equivalency test.
“Her commitment to education really inspires us. She speaks good English and I know she can pass the test. Her dedication and interest surely inspire others to strive harder,” Natividad said.
He said he would look into her performance as a Grade 7 student. If she passes the test, he said, “we can issue her a high school diploma so she can go straight to college.”