MANILA, Philippines - Raissa Laurel is a picture of optimism.
Just a little over a month since a blast marred celebrations following the last day of Bar exams in Manila, she is a picture of confidence, smiling cheerfully in her wheelchair, seemingly unaffected by the tragedy that has claimed both her legs.
On September 26, Raissa was among those hurt as an explosion marred celebrations following the last day of the Bar exams in Manila.
Speaking in her first live interview on ANC's "The Rundown" Monday night, Raissa says it was faith that saw her through that fateful day.
"God helped me get through everything. At first, it was hard. Right after the blast, I saw my feet. I knew I couldn't walk anymore. It was that bad. My feet were mangled. But God made it easier for me to accept it," Raissa recalls.
|Bar exams blast survivor Raissa Laurel getting ready 2 guest on ANC THE RUNDOWN
In those crucial hours, Raissa, a choir member at the Victory Ortigas Youth Service, says she turned to song-- the highest form of prayer.
"On my way to the hospital, I was singing praise songs in my mind. But I was in pain. In the emergency room, there was a point there was a light, parang malapit na (I thought I was at death's door). I just prayed and I told God, God save my life," Raissa says.
"I know it sounds weird but I know God has a purpose why this happened. He won't give a trial if one can't overcome it. My faith was tested, God helped me get through everything."
On hindsight, Raissa says, she had some regrets about that day.
"I thought maybe I shouldn't have gone there or should've left earlier. But now, I think I still have a purpose in life, that's why I'm still alive. I know God chose me."
"We have to be positive in life. When you're facing trials, don't take it negatively. Just accept it and have faith in God that everything will be okay, life has lots to offer."
Today, more than ever, Raissa is determined to pursue her dream of becoming a lawyer.
"I plan to go back to school in November, second semester. I'll take three to four subjects, have a light load meantime. We have an elevator. For two months, I'll go to school using a wheelchair," Raissa says. Although she plans to take her time for now, she says she will decide on her area of preference on her fourth year of law school.
For Raissa, law school had always been a personal choice. She was the first in the family to take up law studies. But at one point in her third year in college, Raissa says she nearly gave up on her plans, but the dream prevailed .
"After college, there was something missing," Raissa recalls, saying as an average student, she just gave it her best.
"Law is a passion for me. You have to have the heart. My professors told us it's like a jealous mistress," she says with a laugh. "But you have to focus. You can't have other activities. You devote time to reading. If you're passionate, you pursue law but if you're having doubts, maybe think about it first. It's really a commitment. Parang engaged, seryoso talaga."
Raissa says he holds no rancor for the perpetrator of the Bar exams blast.
"We don't want to have heavy heart. I don't know what his motive is, why he did that. If god can forgive, why shouldn't I? I'm not mad at all. If you're angry, you cannot go on with your life."
Raissa even turns to humor, when asked what she would say if she ever came face to face with the person responsible for the blast.
"Kuya, bakit naman dun sa side namin?" she says with a laugh.
|Bar exams blast survivor Raissa Laurel with her ANC jacket after guesting on "The Rundown"
Raissa is grateful for the support of her family and friends, as well as her sorority sisters who've paid her visits and supported her emotionally and financially, and her boyfriend who has remained by her side despite the incident.
If anything has changed for the 23-year-old law student, it would be the fact that she has become an instant celebrity, an object of public adulation. But, she admits, she is overwhelmed by the admiration.
"I'm overwhelmed by the support of family, friends even of people I don't know. I went to the mall last week, people started approaching me. I'm not used to it but I guess, that's part of my life now, I will have to adjust," Raissa says with amusement.
Twitter users have praised her fighting spirit and called her an inspiration.
Today, she says she has 3,000 followers on social networking site Twitter, and strangers are asking her to add them up as Facebook friends.
"It's a big a responsibility that people look up to me. People say I'm an example to the youth. I have to live up to their expectations. I have to set an example."
To those like her who have gone through a test of faith or seemingly insurmountable challenges, she offers words of encouragement.
"When you're facing trial, ask help from God. Just keep you faith strong."
Today, while Raissa has lost her legs, she has her effervescent spirit in full store, inspiring others to live with faith in the promise of a better life.