It was not so long ago when tomorrow didn't seem promising. I was not born with privilege, and my life was once a scary journey to nowhere. But if given a chance, I would not hesitate to travel the same road.
The fourth of six siblings, I did not enjoy my childhood as every child is supposed to do. At the early age of six I took on much responsibility, from waking up in the early hours to doing household chores, to taking care of my younger sisters and selling native delicacies to the neighbors to help augment what my parents earned. Plus, preparing for school which was five kilometers away. School was not any better. I had one peso in my pocket, I was frequently late due to whatever difficulty there was along the road - an accident, or just the rainy season sending me back home because I was all wet. And there was a punishment for tardiness: sometimes sitting on air with books placed on my arms.
All this was to change when I learned about the Sisters of Mary and subsequently became one of the "daughters" of Fr. Al, who was my "father" and my hero. The institution completely molded, honed and developed me into a better person. Aside from the excellent education the school provided me, I was given the chance to belong to a so-called "family" away from home. This sense of belonging made me feel loved by the community around me, which I hadn't felt before because in elementary school, children used to tease or mock me for my dark complexion. Enabling me to believe in my own capabilities and restoring my self-esteem were the most extraordinary things the school - Fr. Al and the Sisters of Mary - did for me.
The change that I accomplished, plus the values-laden and service oriented formation the Sisters and my teachers inculcated in me, gave me the necessary strength and courage to face life's adversities. I shall be forever grateful. After high school, I sought employment at once to help my family. I worked for more than a year as production planning assistant at NKC Manufacturing Philippines Corp., a Japanese-run company based in Cebu. However, Fr. Al's reminder to all his children that "you are not created to be fat little ducks waddling in the mud but to be eagles destined to rise above" kept flashing in my mind and this made me decide to pursue a college degree even if it meant stopping work temporarily.
With the strong foundation I had at the Sisters of Mary, hard work and strong faith in God, I graduated from college with honors, giving greater glory to Him. I can hardly believe I had gone this far. Who would have thought that this former ugly duckling could become a beautiful swan at least spiritually and emotionally? This I owe first to God, then to my family, and of course to the Sisters of Mary who guided me all throughout.
After college, God's grace did not stop flowing for me. I first worked as part-time instructor in college mathematics at Mindanao Polytechnic State College, and at the same time as internal auditor at Technomart in Cagayan de Oro City.
At present, I am happy giving back all the graces I received by serving my younger brothers and sisters back "home" in the Silang Campus. I am now secretary of the Sisters of Mary Schools Research and Development Center. Apart from Fr. Al's reminder for us to continue improving our lives, I keep recalling now a quote from the Bible which has become more meaningful for me: "And as I go along life's way, I'm reaping better than I sowed. I'm drinking from my saucer because my cup has overflowed."
Thanks be to God! Thanks to Fr. Al and thanks to the Sisters of Mary for completely transforming my life!
RONA C. MANDAGWAY
The Sisters of Mary Girlstown
Talisay City, Cebu