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In a nation tied to economic difficulty, education is still seen as prevailing answer to address poverty.

February 07, 2019 | Eloisa Laquian

Zoilo Cerdeña during his humanity class reflects on the things he is grateful for in life 【Photo by Aleina Espineli】

Story Highlights

  • Tzu Chi Foundation’s Livelihood Training Program promised a better life to young distressed individuals by providing them with free vocational training skills while nurturing their values formation to become a successful person with a compassionate heart.


It was five in the morning. I was sitting at the sidewalk waiting patiently for Zoilo. He said he was sleeping in one of the parked public utility vehicles on the street. But there was none when I arrived; only a hammock suspended on both trees with what seems to be a person covered in a blanket.

Twenty-nine-year-old Zoilo Annie Cerdeña is 2nd of the eight siblings. All of them with both their parents live on the side of the street. About five years ago, they used to have a home with the rest of the relatives. The house was later sold and the profit were divided amounting to P20,000 each family. Zoilo’s father decided to use the money and bought two sidecar bikes as source of income which would eventually pay for house rent. One of the bikes was stolen a few months later.

After some years, the other siblings moved away from the family. Faced with growing domestic needs, Zoilo could only dream of finishing his studies someday. He dropped out of school when he was in First-Year High School and at an early age started various works thereafter.

Zoilo’s parents expressed their regrets in tears that they couldn’t even provide safety and shelter, reminding them not to follow their footsteps and to thrive for a better future. They believe that a fulfilled education is the only way to succeed in life.

“I am just a sidecar driver; my wife is a volunteer at a government agency. We rely on our joint effort that could barely support our family,” said Zoilo’s father

Devoted to pursue a degree, he was able to pass the Alternative Learning System (ALS) and took a free 3-month welding class under a public institution. From doing random jobs: vendor, sidecar driver, porter and helper, he saved part of his earnings and enrolled in a 7-month Shielded Metal Arc Welding (SMAW) certification course costing about P10,000.

“I always wanted to get a machinist training. I heard that the salary rate is higher,” Zoilo narrated. “But the fee is too much; I can’t afford it.” He added.

Zoilo is short of almost everything. He can only pray hard at night that tomorrow would be a different day.


Lack of education

The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) recently releases the multidimensional poverty index (MPI) that determines the income-based measure of poverty citing indicators where Filipinos are mostly deprived of. Education shares the largest scale followed by hunger, housing, and employment having the least percentage. 

Filipinos are seen consistently denied of educational attainment leading to unemployment, causing tremendous domino effect on poverty measures.

It is safe to say that hunger is not the first public concern nowadays, but parents with kids that never stepped foot on a barangay nursery learning center.  

A Filipino who falls to at least four (4) of the 13 poverty indicators is considered multidimensionally deprived; Zoilo almost hit a Bingo Blackout. 


Strive for hope

On his way to work, Zoilo approached a neighbor wearing a Tzu Chi livelihood uniform. Equipped with the information, he immediately visited the campus and submitted all necessary documents.

The Tzu Chi Foundation Philippines has a long running vocational training program for the less fortunate. It covers free tuition fee with meal and transportation allowance so that the students could promptly report for school. One of the courses offered is Machine Operations Course (MOC); Zoilo was granted a slot.

“This is a big help for me and my family. After this, hopefully, I can secure a career, earn well and look after my siblings.” He stated.

“I am really very thankful to the foundation. Here, they don’t just teach you skills, they also instill the importance of having the right values and manners…” “Before, I thought it is okay to only think of yourself first. It feels good, yes. But if you don’t consider the welfare of others, even if it is just a small thing, I learned that it is wrong and it is selfish. I hope they continue cultivating not just our abilities but also our attitude.”

The foundation is currently sponsoring 90 students to date, with a total of 639 graduates from the beginning of its operation in 2010, majority are now working successfully in different local and international fields.

  • What seems to be a makeshift parking serves as a home to a family of 10 in Tondo, Manila. 【Photo by Eloisa Laquian】

  • A hammock, a sidecar-bike and an old wooden chair situated on a sidewalk where the Cerdeña family live for five years. 【Photo by Eloisa Laquian】

  • Only a blanket and a hammock serves comfort every night to a homeless Tzu Chi livelihood student Zoilo Cerdeña. 【Photo by Aleina Espineli】

  • MOC students listen attentively to Instructor Loven Delfin as he discussed safety operation procedures in the workplace. 【Photo by Aleina Espineli】

  • The new batch of Tzu Chi Livelihood Training Program with 46 aspiring students. 【Photo by Eloisa Laquian】