Between studying and taking several odd jobs, former Tzu Chi scholar Haseena Mahilom faced long odds and emerged triumphant. Her cum laude honors is proof that poverty isn’t a hindrance in chasing after dreams.
Juggling her studies and several odd jobs has never been easy for Tzu Chi scholar and recent cum laude graduate Haseena Mahilom. While students are normally focused on their studies, in Haseena’s case she has to balance both work and studying since she is supporting her own education.
She was forced to move to Marikina City from Olongapo City, Zambales to be able to continue her studies.
“I used to live in Subic before a relative of mine brought me here to Manila so that I would be able to study. However, my papers were incomplete, that’s why I was unable to study so I became a housemaid instead at my relative’s home,” she narrates.
Undeterred, she strived to complete her studies, drifting from one relative’s home to another in search of the chance to continue her education. Upon arriving at her aunt’s home in Barangay Tumana, Marikina City, she found her chance.
Although she was 15 years old when she began Grade 1 at Concepcion Integrated School, she didn’t let her age hinder with her education. Choosing to ignore what other people say, as well as the fact that she was the oldest student in class, made her a topic of interest among her classmates’ parents.
“When it’s dismissal time, I usually wait until everyone has left the school. I do this because whenever I go home, I would hear mothers talking about me, saying: ‘That’s my child’s classmate, look at how old she is.’ It’s very embarrassing, but I took it in stride. I even told myself that they’re not the ones paying for my education, I’m the one putting myself through school,” she shares.
Arranging her paperwork proved to be a challenge prior to her admission at the nearby school. Without a birth certificate or a copy of her former school records, she had to turn to a local parish in the area for assistance. With the parish’s help, she was able to secure her papers and begin her long road through the halls of learning.
“You need to work hard so that you can change your way of living, so that you don’t get stuck in poverty,” she adds.
She became a Tzu Chi scholar upon reaching Grade 6 and maintained her status until graduating from the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Marikina with a degree in Early Childhood Education. Between her studies and moving from one part-time job to another, she found such a life stressful but continued to do so.
“There was one time when I was in second year high school. One of my relatives helped me secure a job as a housemaid so that I would be able to earn money in order to be able to buy what I needed for school. Every summer, I would always worry about where I would look for a job so that I would have enough money to cover my school expenses as opposed to doing nothing,” Haseena narrates.
To name a few odd jobs, she found herself repacking salt, doing laundry, and doing housework. Most of her experience comes with taking care of children.
Marianne Pekas, a social studies teacher at Concepcion Integrated School, vouches for Haseena’s skills with taking care of young children. She shares that a fellow teacher had referred Haseena to her when the former was looking for a caretaker for her two children.
“She knows how to take care of children, since she has experience with taking care of her younger cousins,” shares Pekas, who has kept Haseena in her employ over the summer for two years to enable her to earn for her education.
Fellow teacher Minaflor Ilagan has nothing but praise for her former student. She is among Haseena’s many teachers who were not only surprised but excited to learn that she graduated cum laude.
“I was one of her mentors. Everyone here is happy because we have witnessed her story—the difficulties she’s experienced back then, and now she’s a Cum Laude graduate. We know that she will go far in life. She is a very good example to the students here,” Ilagan shares.
“She is a very determined individual. I understand her struggles, she was able to study despite life being very difficult. The desire to finish her studies is strong,” she adds.
Concesa Datul, who accepted Haseena into her Grade 1 class despite already full at the time, doesn’t regret her decision to this day.
“I can see Haseena has leadership skills. She helped make my work easier because when I’m not around in the classroom. She keeps the younger children in charge. She helps me take care of the younger students, who are also her classmates. She is a very reliable person,” Datul remarks.
After graduating from Concepcion Integrated School, she continued her education at Marikina High School and her odd jobs. She admits to having reservations when it came to her studies, but the desire to complete her education outweighed such doubts.
“Sometimes, I get nervous. But then I tell myself that I need to study, I want to finish my education. Now, I’m surprised to see that they’re amazed at what I was able to accomplish (by graduating from college),” Haseena shares.
She shared her tale before the new batch of college scholars during the Educational Assistance Awarding and Recognition Ceremony on June 3 at the Jing Si Hall. It serves as an inspiration for the scholars to never give up on their aspirations.
“I’m not just a simple student, I worked very hard so that I can finish my studies to give myself a better life,” she says during her inspirational talk.
“Of course, I did my best so I never had to reach that situation. I worked hard, and I didn’t want to embarrass Tzu Chi. I didn’t want to lose my scholarship because I’m the one supporting my own studies,” she adds.
Now that she has graduated from college, she wishes to be able to travel to Taiwan to be able to thank Master Cheng Yen in person.
“I want to extend my gratitude to the Tzu Chi Foundation, because they are one of the reasons I was able to achieve my goal. Even if it was difficult, I persisted,” she ends.