Mindanao has long been hailed as the “Land of Promise” owing to its vast natural resources and rich biodiversity. In recent years, it was also proven to be an encouraging environment for homegrown world-class talents such as boxer Manny Pacquiao from General Santos, Miss Universe 2015 Pia Wurtzbach from Cagayan De Oro, and 2016 Olympics silver medalist Hidilyn Diaz from Zamboanga City.
Despite the sweeping headlines on peace and order that mar Mindanao’s potentials, the region’s beauty and contribution to the Philippines cannot be underestimated.
Several young women are intent on changing public perception on how Mindanao is and tell the world that there is so much more to their region than what the people read in headlines which, more often than not, do not necessarily define their land.
These young women bent on representing Mindanao in another, more favorable light are Angel Sabellano, 17; Cindy Ela Felix, 20; Joysee Threeneedad Longakit, 22; and Irene Luntayao, 20. They are suffused with passion to battle negative impressions by arming themselves with high hopes and education, thanks in large part to a scholarship from a homegrown private company, the Alsons Power Group, which is the first independent power producer in Mindanao.
Alsons Power has provided scholarships to students from the areas that it operates in that include Zamboanga City, Iligan, General Santos, and Sarangani Province.
The scholarship program is supported by Alson’s subsidiaries, and the company has empowered over 4,000 scholars like these young women who have the passion and determination to rise above poverty, eventually transforming the tales of tension that have been associated with Mindanao into stories of hope, success, and a sense of accomplishment.
Angel Sabellano, 17
Angel is currently a junior high school student at Green Valley College Foundation in Koronadal, South Cotabato. She was granted a scholarship by SEC. Owing to her outstanding academic performance at Mangelen Integrated School in Maasim, Sarangani Province and in her current school, Angel’s scholarship grant has been running for almost six years now.
“I am so thankful for the SEC scholarship because not every student is given this opportunity. It’s a privilege. Though being a scholar is not easy, I understand that for me to be able to achieve my goals, I have to strive harder,” Angel said. “Education is valuable to me because it is the only treasure that can’t be stolen from me. It is the key for me to succeed and to give my family a decent life.”
Education is also the key to unlock Mindanao’s potentials. Angel also dreams of becoming a teacher in order to serve the children in the region.
Having grown up in Mindanao, Angel displays optimism about the state of affairs in her land of heritage. “I still believe that despite dealing with crisis, Mindanao is still doing a good job in attracting tourists because of its natural and fascinating beauty. I am hoping and dreaming for the best for Mindanao. I do really hope that people will stop with the bloodshed so we can live safely as Mindanaoans,” she remarked.
Young as she is, Angel already has plans to contribute to Mindanao’s growth.
“By being a law-abiding citizen and by rendering services to Mindanao, I think I will be able to contribute to Mindanao’s advancement. I hope to become a professional who would follow ethical standards and make a change, especially in peace and order even in the simplest ways,” she says.
Cindy Ela Felix, 20
Cindy, the so-called “bunso” (youngest child) of the family, isn’t spoiled but a hard worker. She has been a consistent honor student from elementary to high school, and remained a WMPC scholar throughout college when she took up B.S. in General Nursing at Ateneo de Zamboanga University.
Born to a father whom she describes as a “laborer from time to time” and a mother who’s a school teacher, Cindy knows the value of her scholarship grant.
“I don’t exactly remember how I got the scholarship but as far as I can recall, I was deemed qualified for the scholarship when I graduated in elementary. Apparently, WMPC went to nearby schools and brought the good news to the top five graduating students. The students who exhibited exemplary academic performance were automatically given scholarship grants for meeting the qualifications set by the institution,” Cindy narrates.
Cindy earned her WMPC scholarship during high school and college—a total of eight years that saw her excellent academic performance rewarded. “I felt truly blessed to receive free education and not a single centavo was spent on school fees. I vowed to always do good in my studies and never let the opportunity go to waste,” she says. “Our lives have become easier because the money my parents earned that was supposed to be spent on my education was allotted to other important things like food, savings and house bills.”
By completing her education, she now has an opportunity to give back not just to the company that sent her to school but also to Mindanao itself.
“It’s kind of disappointing how Mindanao is seen these days,” Cindy notes. “As a Mindanaoan, I can use my voice to tell and show people that there is more to Mindanao than what is shown in the media—that Mindanao has a lot more to offer despite the terrorism and that Mindanao is a land rich in culture and talented people. As a registered nurse, I would gladly offer my services to those who are in need especially the poor who are deprived of proper health benefits. Extending help through my field is the most I can do to be of use to everyone,” she passionately states.
Like any other local, Cindy has big dreams for Mindanao.
“I am hopeful for a peaceful Mindanao—where all tribes and followers of different religions live in harmony. A less corrupt Mindanao, where officials chosen to lead spend the allotted budget to where they are intended. A clean Mindanao—where natural habitats are protected from human civilization as much as possible,” she concludes with optimism.
Joysee Threeneedad Longakit, 22
A WMPC scholar for eight years, Joysee was granted the scholarship for her impressive academic performance from high school to college. She successfully obtained a degree in Accounting Technology at Ateneo de Zamboanga University.
“The scholarship made a lot of positive difference in our lives. It was really a financial blessing for us. It also made me realize the importance of helping others. My scholarship did not just play its role for financial purposes but also in terms of moral and ethical values,” Joysee begins.
“Education is very important. It is the permanent success of every individual that nothing could ever replace. It is our greatest power and tool to combat ignorance. Being fully educated is an intangible legacy and triumph,” she says.
She views the negative perception of Mindanao as one of the challenges that the students and young people of the region are facing.
“The negative perception towards Mindanao is very frustrating. It gives us the feeling of separation from the rest of the Philippines. The big challenge now for students and for the young people here is to stay firm as the voice of the Mindanao community. Like any other community, Mindanao is also a place where people can live normally and peacefully. We never hoped nor invited groups of people to destroy our homes. My only hope and dream for Mindanao is to return to its peaceful and harmonious life,” she expresses.
Joysee is also convinced that she isn’t just a spectator, but one who can also play a part in making positive changes for the region.
“In the best way that I can, I know, and I am confident that I can help Mindanao to rise again. As a member of this community, my experiences taught me that Mindanao should not be negatively viewed. If given the chance, I can use my voice to be part of any organization supporting Mindanao and I would gladly help,” she vows.
Irene Luntayao, 20
The eldest of five siblings in a family where fishing is the primary source of livelihood, Irene couldn’t help but feel extremely blessed for getting a WMPC scholarship that enabled her to complete B.S. Secondary Education at Western Mindanao State University in Zamboanga City.
“I really studied well for me to be able to get the scholarship which WMPC offered, knowing that I belong to a less fortunate family. It made a difference in my life. My parents were able to send me to college with the help of WMPC,” Irene says, the gratitude evident in her voice. “Education is very important. For me, it is one of the greatest treasures that can be achieved. As they say, this is a gift of knowledge that cannot be stolen and can bring you closer to your dreams.”
For Irene, completing her education is a goal that goes beyond personal benefit—it’s a means to help others.
“My dream is simple—to find a good job and to help send my siblings to school so they can also reach their dreams. My dream is also to help other people in my own little way, especially those who are less fortunate,” she shares.
Her dream also extends to her beloved Mindanao. Like her fellow scholars, Irene is unsettled by how Mindanao is perceived.
“I feel sad because other people think that it is not a safe place, although we cannot blame them because of what’s happening in Marawi. I just hope that people will not judge everything about Mindanao (just for that). I am proudly born and raised here,” she states.
Like the other young Mindanaoans, Irene feels the need to step in and contribute to Mindanao’s progress as a region. “I hope and pray that Mindanao will rise again and to soon attain peace. Peace, through education, is what I can contribute. As a teacher, I can be a powerful catalyst for change. I will share my knowledge to students and help them learn how to respect themselves and other people to reduce bullying and discrimination,” Irene thoughtfully remarks.
These young women are clear examples that show there is no better weapon than education to combat prejudices and poverty. By giving voice to these young women who are empowered by education and driven by their passionate hope and dreams, the future looks encouraging, making one believe that indeed, Mindanao can live up to being the “Land of Promise.”
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