Jeanalyn “Jean” Estrellado grew up in a remote, subsistence farming village in the rugged mountains of Negros Oriental, a four-hour hike up a dirt path from the nearest paved road. She and her five siblings worked with their parents on a small piece of land. Removed from electricity and the nearest rice mill, the family, to this day, pounds rice with a mortar and pestle. Jean says, “It is a hard life, but it is our homeland.”
Jean’s great-grandparents moved up to the mountains because corn grew well without fertilizer in the mountain soil. Though her ancestors had no intention of staying long, the family remains there three generations later. Her grandparents had little education and scant interest in it. Jean had other ideas. “I tried to study at the primary school in the mountain, but the teachers were always absent.” So Jean and her older sister went to school in the lowlands, residing in a boarding house during the week. Each Friday afternoon they made the long trek home to the mountains. Night would fall soon into their journey, so they made torches from dried coconut palm fronds to light their way home.
Arriving home late at night, they went straight to bed so they could be up by 4:00 a.m. to begin the day’s labor. “My work was to cook, feed the pigs, wash clothes, grind corn, pound the rice, work in the fields, clean the house, feed the animals, and other household chores,” says Jean. “There was no time for relaxation.”
On Sunday, they rose by 2:00 a.m. to prepare the harvested vegetables and haul them to a distant market. The horse carried the heavy root crops, but Jean and her sister each carried a large bundle on their heads. “If we didn’t have vegetables to sell, we would carry chickens. It’s very hard,” she shared with a laugh, “to carry live chickens while hiking for five hours!”
Late on market day, the girls headed back to their boarding house and another week at school. In exchange for their rent, Jean and her sister “had to wake up at four in the morning to cook and fetch water. We also did all the household chores.”
Attending school in the more urbanized lowlands meant that Jean was subjected to prejudice by her peers. “The students would tease me because I was so dark [from working long hours in the fields]. The kids would shout, taga-bukid! [from the farm]. I cried, but it made me stronger and more focused on my studies.”
Jean’s parents supported her wish for an education as best they could. They borrowed money and sometimes sold parcels of land to cover her expenses. They even sold the family horse!
Always a diligent student, Jean graduated from high school and started her college studies in civil engineering. She supported herself through cleaning her boarding house and working long hours at an internet café. The combination of long working hours and school was exhausting, wearing her down to the point where she had to drop out of school twice.
Turning to the internet, Jean searched for scholarships and found PCAFPD. “That was near the application deadline and there were so many requirements!” Her application arrived in Manila just one day before the deadline. Then, she waited. “I hoped and prayed during the many months of waiting.”
Over the Hurdle
The following March, Jean received a letter from Roland de Jesus of PCAFPD informing her that she would be granted a scholarship. “I cried because I was so happy that there was someone who could financially help with my studies.”
Jean started her third and final push for a diploma. With all school costs and some daily expenses covered through the PCAFPD scholarship, she quit her job at the internet café. “I needed to give priority to my studies and still had lots of farm work to do back home.”
In 2006, Jean graduated with a Diploma of Technology, and a year later she earned a Bachelor of Technological Education with a major in Computer Technology from Negros Oriental State University.
Jean’s first professional job after graduating was at SPI Global Corporation. She worked there for three years until she found a teaching position in her home province. Currently, Jean teaches Information and Communications Technology (ICT) at Basay National High School in Negros Oriental. She loves teaching and helping her students open their eyes to new horizons.
With a steady job, Jean has been able to help her family financially. “The first thing I did,” she shared with tears in her eyes, “was to buy my family another horse.” She also supported the education of her younger brothers, and bought a motorcycle for her aging parents so they can more readily travel into town.
“So many things are happening in my life thanks to PCAFPD. I am now 33 years old and still in the middle of fulfilling my dreams.” Jean is committed to helping the people of the mountains and becomes animated when talking about her vision of creating a learning center in the mountains with a focus on biodiversity preservation.
A few years ago, Jean sought and received an additional PCAFPD scholarship to pursue a Master’s degree in Information Systems. While working full-time as a teacher, she takes classes online at the University of the Philippines Open University, and expects to graduate in July 2015.
Jean’s world has expanded dramatically from her humble start as a poor mountain girl. She says, “If I had not received the scholarship I’d probably still be working at the internet café or would be a domestic worker in Hong Kong.” To show her gratitude, she has become a leader in the PCAPFD Scholars and Alumni Association. She also organized a peer support group for current scholars in Negros to help them surmount the difficulties they encounter in school and to remind them of PCAFPD’s mission to hone future Filipino leaders. There could be no better mentor!