In the confines of their meek bungalow house, anticipation hung thick in the air as Ma. Erika Abella, 23, awaited the results of the March 2023 Licensure Examination for Teachers. She is the daughter and third child, among the four children, of Edna, 54, a single parent from Lanna, Solana, Cagayan. It was a sunny day of May 19, 2023 when she longed in warring hope and desperation for her name to be in the list of the passers among 60,000 examinees.

As Erika waited distressingly, she recounted the times that brought her to that nerve-wrecking event. The thought of her waiting for the results of the board examination was far from her imagination as her hope of continuing her education dwindled with a heart-wrenching loss years ago.


Meager and Meaner Experiences

She was in Grade 4 when her father, whom she drew strength and inspiration from, succumbed to an untimely demise due to cardiac arrest. The unfortunate death of her father forever changed the course of her life and of her family. It was as if overnight, she and her family were thrust into a world that seemed daunting and overwhelming, a world where the future is unknown with the absence of their sole provider.

Her mother, Edna, had to carry all the weight of the responsibilities on her shoulder. Alone and grappling with the challenge of making ends meet, she took different jobs to provide food on their table. On days with copious harvests, she toiled as a tenant farmer, laboring under the scorching sun to ensure an ample yield. Afternoons became a battle against the merciless heat as she sold corn along the streets of Solana. On Saturdays when flesh yearns for rest, she embraced the role of a laundress. Still, despite restless and relentless efforts, they found themselves still mired in extreme poverty.

At a very young age, Erika realized the implications that came along with their financial constraints.

Sa murang edad naranasan ko ang mapait na pagtrato ng mundo, lalo na kung wala ka ni piso. (At a young age, I experienced the bitter treatment of the world towards you, especially when you don’t have anything.)”

She once dreamt of becoming a doctor but soon realizing how meager their means were, the cruel reality dawned upon her – the inequality of opportunities brought about by their circumstance set a limit to her dream of becoming a doctor. Fortunately, she did not let this circumstance crush her dreams. Just as she thought of acceding to the thought, a help came their way.


Embraced by 4Ps

It was in 2010 when the family became beneficiaries of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps). The program aimed to alleviate poverty by providing conditional cash transfers to vulnerable families. Erika’s family found themselves embraced by the program’s safety net, offering much-needed financial assistance.

While the financial aid of the program eased up the burden of her mother to provide for their needs, the true transformative power of 4Ps came to realization in Erika’s education. With the program’s conditionality on education, this inspired Erika to further push her studies.

Excelling academically, she also earned recognition and scholarships. Aside from 4Ps, Erika gained support through the Nestor Noel Quilang Dayag Foundation Inc. (NNQDFI). The foundation is a licensed and compliant Social Welfare and Development Agency (SWDA) of the Department of Social Welfare and Development. In her college years, she also became a scholar of the Commission on Higher Education and received separate aid from the DSWD through the Assistance to Individuals in Crisis Situation. Her being a 4Ps beneficiary also helped her be prioritized in other assistance provided by their Local Government Unit and other national government agencies.

Fueled by the support she received, she was motivated to improve her studies even more. She took to heart the realization that while poverty is never a hindrance to success, she must embrace the value of education the way it was inculcated to her through 4Ps. Her efforts paid off as she graduated Cum Laude from the Cagayan State University with a degree on Bachelor of Elementary Education.

“This program (4Ps) helped me go through the days I think we couldn’t. Hindi namin sinayang ang pribilehiyong binigay sa amin. Batid ko na ang bawat sentimo na aming natatanggap ay mula sa pagod at pawis ng mamamayang Pilipino. At ito ay tulong upang kahit papaano ay magkaroon ng magandang kinabukasan ang mga kabataan na mula sa pamilya na nasa laylayan ng lipunan. (We did not waste the privilege given to us. I know that every peso we receive comes from the hard work and sweat of the Filipino people. This assistance is a helping hand so that, somehow, the youth from marginalized families can have a better future).


Final Judgement

Erika realized how she have come so far. From someone with glimmering hope of finishing her studies due to an unfortunate circumstance to someone oozing with anticipation as she waited for the result of her examination. On that day, March 19, 2023, the judgement has been called.

Her heart skipped a beat. Her palms grew clammy. Her breaths were shallow and quick. Minutes of waiting felt like hours, and hours like days. As soon as the results were officially posted, time stood still for an instant. Her hands trembled slightly as she swiped the screen of her phone. Patiently scrolling through the pages, there, she saw her name – not on the long list of passers but on the list of topnotchers.

Her eyes widened in disbelief as her name appeared as Top 2 for the Elementary Level. Her heart felt as though it might burst from her chest. The trembling of her hands was non-stop, as tears welled up her eyes. In an instant, she hugged her mother in extreme bliss. A hug so tight as if it was reckoning her victory. Her victory was also her mother’s, for all that hard work and sacrifices to overcome the meager and meaner experiences.

Erika is a living a testament to the profound impact of 4Ps in the lives of thousands of marginalized households. “Hindi ang pagta-top [ng board exam] ang nagpasaya sa aking puso kundi ang ideyang kahit mahirap kami ay hindi ko kainlanman sinukan ang aking pangarap. Ang 4Ps ay naging daan upang malaya kaming mangarap. Tinulungan niyo [DSWD] ako at ang daang libo pang kabataan upang makalaya kami mula sa hirap ng buhay. (It is not topping the board exam that made me happy but the thought that even though we are poor, I never gave up on my dreams. 4Ps has become a way for us to dream freely. You have helped me and the tens of thousands of youth like me break free from the chains of poverty.)”

Her journey came full circle, as she breathed a deep sigh and a whisper of gratitude to the One above.