Life hasn’t been easy for Kathleen Alforte. Being the first of seven children, the responsibility of helping their large family falls on her shoulders. She is the first among the siblings to graduate from college as a Tzu Chi scholar from the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Marikina with BS Secondary Education, majoring in Filipino.
The road to the halls of higher learning has been nothing but a challenge for her. She has to set an example for her siblings to follow in her footsteps and be a good role model.
“During the time I was in high school (until I graduated), we had little in the way of money. Even if my parents work hard enough to cover our daily expenses, it’s not enough because there are five of us going to school,” Kathleen shares.
There are days when the Alforte children go to school with nothing but fare money making up their allowance. Sometimes, they leave as early as the crack of dawn to make the journey on foot to school. Kathleen’s allowance is enough to get her to school but not to get her back home.
“In the four years I’ve spent as a Tzu Chi scholar while studying in college, I’ve faced a lot of challenges. The one that stands out the most to me is when I only had enough money for me to be able to get to school. I would often ask for spare change from my classmates so I would have enough fare money to get home,” she adds.
Even though she leaves for school without eating breakfast, let alone buying something to eat, Kathleen shows an eagerness to study that has infected her younger siblings. She hopes to set a good example for her younger siblings, as well as help raise her family out of poverty, which became her driving force to finish her studies.
Asked about the valuable lessons she hopes to pass on to her students, Kathleen shares that four years’ worth of Humanity lessons will be the first thing she will share.
“As a future educator, I will bring the Tzu Chi values that I have learned from the Humanity class to my students, as well as co-workers. I want to teach them how to share their blessings, as well as being thankful and respectful to their parents,” she says.
Along with this, she believes that poverty should not be used as an easy way out of a difficult problem.
“Don’t make it a reason just because you’re suffering. It doesn’t mean that you have the worst luck in the world (that there are people who are suffering more than you). I learned from Tzu Chi that when you help people, you should help them with an open heart, this is what we call ‘volunteerism’,” she adds.
Kathleen’s mother, Salve Alforte, shoulders the responsibility of being the lone breadwinner of the family. After Kathleen’s father Rusty was forced to retire from his long-time job as a security guard due to health complications in November 2015, she has taken up the mantle of providing for her family’s needs.
Most of the family’s income comes from her selling corn around the Guadalupe area in Makati City. There are days when she comes home all out of corn, as well as days that she returns with some remaining. In the case of the latter, she will sell the last of her corn door to door in their neighborhood at Barangay Malanday, Marikina City.
“I usually take three plastic sacks full of corn with me to sell for the afternoon. The money I make from selling corn is what I use to cover house expenses like electricity and water, along with the educational needs of my children,” she shares.
Life hasn’t been easy for the Alfortes since the head retired from his job. Salve has to work twice as hard to keep her children in school. Her business of selling corn had been through hard times at one point, forcing her to accept a commission-based job from a friend of hers selling food.
The little money she made from this wasn’t enough to cover the family’s living expenses. In the past, the power company cut off their electricity due to their income going to Rusty’s maintenance medicines. It almost cost Salve her livelihood, as well.
Thanks to a recommendation from a Tzu Chi commissioner living in their neighborhood, Salve shares, Kathleen was accepted into the Tzu Chi Scholarship program. At the same time, Rusty was also admitted into Tzu Chi’s Long-Term Charity Assistance program, which helped ease the family’s expenses on medical and educational needs.
The Alforte family has managed to turn their disadvantage into an opportunity, working hard from the ground up to get going once again. With Salve now selling corn on a regular basis, she also picks up odd jobs to generate additional income for the family.
“I also cook food for people who request for some dishes to serve when there’s a birthday or a special occasion. Sometimes, I pick up papers for people who can’t get them. Whatever sideline job I can find, I take because I need to make money for my family,” Salve narrates.
Now that Kathleen has graduated from college and is helping with living expenses at home, Salve hopes to pay the blessings forward by signing up as a full-time Tzu Chi volunteer. For now, she helps out Tzu Chi’s advocacies by making weekly rounds collecting recyclables around the neighborhood. In the meantime, her daughter adjusts to the life of the working class.
“To everyone who makes up, as well as helps out the Tzu Chi Foundation, thank you very much, and may you continue helping out those who need it,” Salve ends.
While Salve Alforte is busy with preparations to set out to her usual vending spot in Guadalupe, her daughters help out by packing up the steamed corn before placing it in one of three large plastic bags, which Salve then brings along to sell. Kathleen (white shirt) helps with separating the steamed corn into two pieces per plastic bag. 【Photo by Erin Uy】
Once the repacking of the steamed corn is finished, Salve then segregates the corn into one of three large plastic bags. She sells both white and yellow corn to passersby in the Guadalupe area on a daily basis. 【Photo by Erin Uy】
Salve Alforte is hard at work preparing the steamed corn on the cob to sell later in the afternoon. 【Photo by Erin Uy】
Kathleen Alforte poses with a Tzu Chi volunteer during the awarding ceremony for college-level scholars held at the Jing Si (Still Thoughts) Hall on June 3.【Photo by Erin Uy】
Teacher Kathleen explains the topic of sentence structures in Filipino to her students. 【Photo by Erin Uy】