For one determined to reach her dreams, a place of grief and gloom became a source of hope.
Growing up in the grounds of the Manila North Cemetery served as inspiration for 21-year-old Khay Ann Igle to work hard in the hopes of changing her family's life.
This month, the sampaguita vendor achieved a milestone: Igle has finished college, graduating with a tourism degree.
BEGGAR AT AGE 3
Despite her parents’ efforts to provide for their family, Igle, at the age of 3, was already in the streets of Metro Manila, begging for food and spare change.
She had an early introduction to the workforce at age 5 as a sampaguita vendor, enduring the heat and rains just to peddle flowers in different churches in Cubao, Quezon City, España and the Dangwa Flower Market in Sampaloc, Manila.
“Ang buhay po ng pamilya namin sa sementeryo ay sobrang hirap. Kailangan po araw araw kumayod at magbenta ng sampagita para may makain kahit papaano. Minsan wala talaga. Minsan, yung pagkain po namin ay hihingiin ng iba at ibibigay po namin,” she said in a narration of her life story from Childhope Asia Philippines.
(Life at the cemetery is very difficult. Every day, we need to sell sampaguita so we can buy food. Sometimes, we don’t earn anything so we don’t eat at all. Sometimes, we share the little we have to those who are hungry)
Even when she began school, Igle did not stop selling flowers, juggling her academics and work.
“Nung nag umpisa akong mag aral sa elementarya nagtitinda pa din ako ng sampagita. Tinda sa umaga pasok sa school sa tanghali o kaya naman pasok sa school sa umaga at tinda naman sa tanghali. Ganyan lang kung umikot ang aking buhay,” she said.
(I was still selling sampagita even when I was in elementary school. I juggled selling sampagita in the morning and going to school at noon and vice versa. My life revolved around that routine)
There were times, Igle admitted, when she felt hopeless about her situation. But her love for her parents continued to serve as her inspiration and motivation.
“May mga panahon po kasi na down ako at feeling ko hindi sapat ang ginagawa ko. Pero mahal ko ang nanay at tatay ko, and ginamit ko ang mga salita nila bilang inspirasyon at motibasyon. Ang sabi ko sa .sarili ko balang araw makakapagtapos din ako at matutulungan ko sila,” she said.
(I was down because I felt my efforts and sacrifices were never enough. But I love my parents, and I tried to challenge myself and I used their words as inspiration and motivation. I told myself that someday, I will prove to them that I can help them by finishing school.)
When she was 9, Igle began attending sessions led by street educators of Childhope Asia Philippines, managing to go to school and sell sampaguita flowers at the same time.
Through the organization, she was had the opportunity to join the Junior Health Worker (JHW) program when she was in second year high school. As a junior health worker, she taught street children basic first aid and proper hygiene.
At that point, Igle's life started to change.
While in her junior high, Igle was chosen as a beneficiary of Childhope’s Educational Assistance Program (EAP), where donors supported her through college.
“Ang saya ko po kasi hindi ko po inaasahan na makakapag-aral pa ako lalo na po na makakapagtapos ng college,” she said.
(I was very happy because I thought I would not make it to college.)
Despite schooling assistance, Igle still struggled to afford college education. But the persevering girl said she was proud of her struggles.
“Masaya ako sa ganitong buhay ko kasi dahil sa paghihirap ko nagkaroon ako ng pangarap sa buhay, hindi lang para sa akin kundi para sa pamilya ko at sa mga taong nakapalibot sa akin. Nagawa ko yung misyon ko sa buhay: ang makapagtapos,” she said.
(Because of the hardships I experienced, I learned to dream not only for myself but also for my family and the people around me. I was able to fulfill a mission in life: to finish school.)
Finally, after 16 years of roaming the streets to sell sampaguita flowers, Igle graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Tourism from the Eulogio "Amang" Rodriguez Institute of Science and Technology.
“Huwag kang susuko kahit na mahirap. Mag tiwala ka sa Diyos na walang imposible. Mangarap ka ng mataas at pagsikapan mong makamit ito. Magpursigi ka hanggang makaraos,” she said.
(You should never give up despite the hardships. You should trust that with God, nothing is impossible. You should dream and aim high, but work really hard to reach your goals. Persevere until you succeed.)