OLIVER Lemuel Villegas, 21, knows what he wants to do when he becomes successful.
?I like the thought of helping find jobs for lepers or people socially outcast by disability, sickness, age or even race,? said Villegas, grand prize winner in the college level of the 5th Ramon Magsaysay Student Essay competition.
His future work, he said, would not be purely charitable but would also involve empowering marginalized people to become productive citizens with a sense of purpose and self-respect.
The computer science student of the University of the Philippines in Mindanao was inspired by the philanthropic work of social activist Murlidhar Devides Amte of India, a follower of the revered Mahatma Gandhi.
Amte, who received the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service in 1985, passed away in February but left an inspiring legacy.
Villegas first joined the Magsaysay essay writing competition when he was in high school. His fourth attempt when already in college finally got him the top prize.
His winning piece was ?Autobiography of a Leper: Healing a Heart.?
Villegas said Amte?s name was listed first among more than a hundred awardees. When he began to read the laureate?s story, Villegas decided he had found the subject for his essay.
Villegas said Amte belonged to a prominent family but decided to abdicate his social status in pursuit of helping the poor. Amte is said to be an avid follower of the great teachings of the revered Mahatma Gandhi.
Villegas, the only child of Alfred and Cecil Villegas, lived in Iligan City until the family moved to Davao when he was in grade school.
He got a college scholarship from the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) but lost it when he worked as a ?blogger? for a web site to augment the family income.
He later started a business with some friends but the stress of working and studying made him sick. He stopped schooling last year.
Now, with a new job as Search Engine Optimization (SEO) specialist, he is determined to finish college and will continue next school year.
?It was a wake-up call for me to strive hard,? he said. Once he finishes college, Villegas plans to go into business. ?Probably in computer service or music,? he said.
He said Amte?s wisdom and knowledge would be his guidepost in achieving his dream.
As Villegas said in his winning piece: ?I am grateful for this opportunity of knowing a man who has lived a truly meaningful life, and who has led me to embrace a new path. I am faced with tilling my own future. Though it may seem barren, I know I can cultivate it with persistence and hard work. I know that in my own unique way, I, too, can make a difference in the lives of other people and make this world a better, caring place to live in. Thank you, Murlidhar Devides Amte, for healing my leprosy-afflicted heart.?