“Kayo na po ang bahala sa mga anak ko.”

These desperate words came from a mother trying to enrol her three sons in Alternative Learning System (ALS). None of them was able to in spite of the cry and petition.

Dreams are like stars in the day, unseen and unnoticed. Stars are waiting to twinkle, to shine in the darkness, and to give beauty in the dim. But just like stars in the sky, dreams seem unreachable.

We started the school year on a high note. We managed to have high attendance for six consecutive months, the most in recent years. We have high hopes that the attendance would translate to the success we all aspire for.

ALS did not merely revolve in the classroom. It involves an acquaintance party, Buwan ng Wika celebration, Palarong Pinoy, Christmas party, regular care groups, and leadership trainings, too.

During a care group session, a story of a group of friends named “Sindikato” caught my attention. Sindikato is composed of seven boys; Rhoy, Ryan, Dave, Jerico, Rafael, John Rio and John Rie.

John Rie was a scholar at Pulilan, Bulacan. Two years ago, his family tried their luck and chose to live in Manila North Cemetery. Rhoy, Ryan, Dave and Jerico are cousins and have lived in MNC for more than 10 years.

Ryan came from a broken family and he has two siblings – an older brother and a younger sister. His father died while his mother left them when they were still young.

They are now living at his father’s tomb. He is extremely mad at his mother for abandoning them. He is convinced that she is already dead. He had to quit school in order to work so that he can send their youngest sister to school.

Rhoy was a transferee in Isabela. During flag ceremony, he wore skinny pants which were prohibited. The teacher saw him and embarrassed him on the stage and in front of his peers, who laughed at him.

The teacher cut his pants. It was traumatic to him, needless to say.

Rhoy pleaded for another chance, saying he did not known since he had just transferred. His pleas led to nothing. It was his last day in school.

He went home with his pants all cut up and his underwear for all to see. He went back to Manila North Cemetery where he settled for a life as an out-of-school youth.

At Manila North Cemetery, Sindikato’s friendship blossomed. They play basketball, make fun of things, and work together as real-life brothers.

One night, they chose to rest on the roof. They saw a group of students in uniform walking home. This led the group to reflect: “Anong mangyayari sa atin? Lagi na lang ba tayong ganito? Tambay?”

Like a star, something deep in their collective being twinkled. They decided to enrol in ALS. Rhoy and Ryan passed the exam together with their four other friends.

KKFI’s Alternative learning system for school year 2018-2019 is comprised of 129 learners; 79 from Tondo, 44 from Manila North Cemetery and six from Navotas. Only 57 learners took the exam; out of this number, 26 passed.

Alternative Learning System became a speck of light in a vast darkness. It is a beacon of hope they tried to cling to, aware of acts judgement and discrimination they had faced before and they will face in the future.

However, ALS, they soon realized, was not a walk in the park.

We had six enrolees in Navotas; none of them finished the race, however, because of one reason or another—family problems, conflicts with work, and struggle in learning. Their lights shut off and dim it stayed.

In Tondo, we had more than 70 enrolees. They were eager to finish what they started. Along the way, some chose to quit, some chose to stay.

Tondo is a well-known slum that has a violent reputation. Prostitution, child labor, teenage pregnancy, gang wars, drugs, broken family and illiteracy hunt the whole community—all effects of poverty.

Manila North Cemetery ALS is known for being inconsistent. MNC always produced the least number of passers in KKFI throughout the years.

The aftermath of ALS examinations is like a repeat of every year’s results. Few celebrate, while many threaten to commit suicide.

Those who failed to pass the ALS exam shut down from life for a moment. They became stars scattered all throughout the night waiting for their shining moment. The world has once again told them that they failed and that they have not accomplished anything in their lives yet.

As we celebrate victories of 26 ALS passers, we remain steadfast in praying and working with hundreds of other learners waiting to unleash their potential someday.

The challenge for us to end poverty, uplift education system and eliminate discrimination and all forms of abuses never becomes easier, yet we choose to go to the dark and give hope, light and love to the dimmed and the forgotten.

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