Garage dweller now cum laude; he didn’t waste kindness of strangers
Five years after his story was published on the front page of the Inquirer, Charls Bryan Katipunan, now 21, described how life had changed since he graduated valedictorian at Batasan Hills National High School and delivered a speech that made the whole class cry.
In his graduation address, this son of a taxi driver talked matter-of-factly about his struggles through high school. He spoke of how he spent the little pocket money he had on class projects instead of lunch. He described how hard it was to read textbooks in the cramped garage where he and his family of 10—now 12—used to live.
“He made us all cry,” school principal Diego Amid said of Katipunan at the time. “We never thought that the money he was spending on printouts was supposed to be his money for food.”
But times have definitely changed for the better for Katipunan, whose inspiring story elicited an outpouring of support and pledges of assistance from Inquirer readers—some of whom actually made good on their offer.
Katipunan is the third of 10 children born to cab driver Charlie Katipunan, and full-time homemaker Cecile.
The family flitted from one rented apartment to another in one of the poorer sections of Batasan Hills in Quezon City.
But the kindness and generosity of strangers helped the younger Katipunan survive college and graduate in April this year with an accounting degree, cum laude, from the University of the East (UE).
“I felt so happy when I graduated. The Latin honor was a bonus,” Katipunan said. “For the first time, I feel like an adult,” he added.
This was a far cry from the uncertainty and self-doubt the boy had grappled with five years ago.
“After graduating high school, I was unsure of many things. I didn’t even know if I could go to college. But after the Inquirer story was shared, my burden lightened quite a bit,” he said.
Katipunan had chosen a premed course instead of his preferred accountancy or engineering course, because that was a requirement under the terms of a scholarship grant from the Philippine Pediatric Society.
But as it turned out, he did not have to give up his dream. A call from a company offered him another scholarship with no preconditions.
“I went with accountancy at UE because I was told there would be a lot of math and I was a perfect fit for it,” he said.
Help from other sources came pouring in soon after.
Broadcast journalist Kara David, who featured him on a GMA 7 show, provided him with financial assistance under her foundation, “Project Malasakit.”
The foundation shouldered his tuition and other school fees, and covered his rent at the dorm from his third year onward at UE.
An anonymous donor based in the United States, who was touched after reading Katipunan’s story in the Inquirer, began donating a monthly allowance for the boy, which he coursed through his friend, then Inquirer news editor Artemio “Jun” Engracia Jr.
When the donor, who had wanted to keep his name private, died two years ago, Engracia, having developed a rapport with Katipunan, continued the stipend for the rest of the boy’s college years.
To show his gratitude, he tutored Engracia’s granddaughter in math and science.
Katipunan said other good Samaritans would call and give him cash gifts, ranging from P2,000 to P5,000.
But growing up poor had made him self-conscious when he was with his more affluent classmates, Katipunan said. “I was very timid and didn’t talk to anyone because I was so introverted,” he said.
Tall and slightly built, he also recalled being bullied by some upperclassmen.
But after a few months of experimental socializing, he began opening up to his peers.
“I started to make friends,” Katipunan said. “Little by little, I erased the stereotype in my mind that rich people are snobs.”
Two good friends, Bernadette Flores and Elaine Villas, “adopted” him during a particularly rough patch when he was forced to leave his home after a fight with his father. He now considers their mothers, Belen Villas and Miriam Flores, surrogate parents who treat him like their own son.
He also bonded with a big group of friends from different classes.
“Until now, I look at them as family,” Katipunan said. He requested the Inquirer to list down their names “to show how much I appreciate their friendship.” They are Neil, Nicole, Pauline, Karen, Bea, Juzette, Jeania, Razhell, Jelhene, Patrick, Allan, Felly, Ivan, Katrina and Shekina.
“They come from all sorts of backgrounds, but they really helped me out,” he said, recalling many instances when his friends would chip in to bail him out whenever he didn’t have enough money for books or photocopied materials.
Katipunan’s family did not have to spend a single centavo for his college education, he said. “I am so thankful to everyone who helped me … I will make it up to all of them. And I am sure the Lord will find a way to return their kindness.”
Confidence and clarity
In 2013, when the Inquirer asked him about his plans, he was very tentative, saying that all he was sure of was that he wanted to finish his studies and help his family, maybe save up for a house so they don’t have to keep moving.
This time, there was more clarity and confidence in his answer: “I want to take up my master’s so I can teach at my college … I want to set up a foundation to help people like me—those who are less fortunate but have a desire to study and pursue a career.”
Though a few job offers have come his way, Katipunan is biding his time before plunging into full-time employment. In October, he will be taking the board exam for certified public accountants, hoping to land a job at a prestigious Makati firm.
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