Hardships and challenges—life is full of them. They separate those who will succumb to them from those who will rise above them. Defeated, you will become miserable. Stand your ground, you build character necessary for the next challenge. James Cembrano, a young Iskolar ni Juan, stood his ground.
His father died when James was a first-year high school student. Left to care for his mother and seven siblings, James took responsibility at a young age. To provide for the family, he worked on weekends at construction sites while still in high school. Going to school was tough. He had to walk two kilometers to get to school every day. As every peso counts, James had to make do with charity from classmates and find ways to live on what he had. “Sometimes, all I’d have was a peso for food, so I’d buy chips and eat them with rice,” he said, in Filipino. Through it all, he always put his family’s needs above his own.
James may appear to be brave and strong but there were times when he resigned to his family’s fate, to play the hand they were dealt with. He accepted that his education would end with high school. He had the chance to apply for a sports scholarship for table tennis at a small college in Manila, but having no money to spare, his mother dissuaded him. The scholarship did not cover the other miscellaneous school fees.
Finally, a glimmer of hope. An aunt who lived near the Universal Robina Corporation plant in Dasmariñas, Cavite, asked him if he wanted to apply for the Gokongwei Brothers Foundation’s Iskolar ni Juan program, a scholarship that would not only pay for his technical education but would also cover miscellaneous fees, housing, and expenses.
James knew this was an opportunity he cannot pass up. Wasting no time, he submitted the requirements.
“I didn’t think about whether I would pass or not; I just needed to know that I’d tried,” he said.
The happiest day of his life came when he found out the school accepted his application. A door that had seemed closed had opened.
As a GBF Iskolar ni Juan, James studied technical and theoretical subjects. In the Mechatronics curriculum—electricals, pneumatics, programming, hydraulics—he learned necessary skills to operate machinery. Even more important, he learned values through the program. “The best thing about the Iskolar ni Juan program is that it’s taught me how to be a better person,” he said. “I learned the importance of discipline and how to get along with people,” he added.
Now, on the job, he continues his education through industry immersion. He works as a Production Operator in the Cooking Section at URC Cavite, operating a machine that makes Dynamite and XO candies. “Here, I really learned what the word ‘responsibility’ means,” he said. “I need to be responsible because one mistake could stop the whole production and cost the company money.”
With the keys to his future in his hands, he’s now able to open doors for others like him. His stable income has allowed him to put two siblings through school and to help a cousin graduate. Two other siblings have followed his example and are now in the Iskolar ni Juan program. One sibling lives with him and is studying under the Alternative Learning System.
Two other siblings are working students employed by one of his aunts. James’ story is proof that anything is possible, so one must never stop putting in a good day’s work. “I want to continue improving myself. I might have my own family one day and I want to make sure I’m able to provide for them,” he said.
His father left big shoes to fill when James was a boy, but he’s grown into them and proven himself. He texts his mom every morning and sends her money every payday, as his father would have wanted. “I’m inspired by what my father told me before he passed away—the oldest son should stand as the father to his siblings. I feel that I’ve achieved this.”
*This article originally appeared in GBF’s 2017 Legacy magazine.