“It took me 6 years to finish high school. But with DOLE’s Special Program for the Employment of Students, I graduated in college on time.” – Ruel Melan, Office Clerk of Municipal Budget Office, Hinatuan, Surigao Del Sur.

Success through hard work is an encouragement to other people who experience the same difficulties in life. 32-year-old Ruel Melan is one of the personifications of hard work. “with DOLE’s Special Program for the Employment of Students, I graduated in college on time.” Ruel shared how it felt gloomy when at the middle of the school year, he had no choice but to stop because he needed to work as fisherman so he could save up, support his needs and finish schooling. Even if he was two years behind in school, he still pursued college education.

He was blessed because he came to know the Special Program for the Employment of Students, which is co-implemented by DOLE and LGU. He started working under the program in summer of 2009, until he graduated in college in 2012. He was conferred graduate of BSBA Major in Business Economics at the Holy Child Colleges of Butuan. At present, he works as an office clerk in the Municipal Budget Office of Hinatuan, Surigao del Sur for 3 years already. “I am thankful also to our PESO Manager, Sir James Soria because he introduced SPES to me,” he said. “I was 29 when I finished college; I was then employed in a private credit company before I got hired here in LGU. Today, I still go fishing if I have the luxury of time; but my situation today is a lot different 10 years ago.”

If food is considered as the very basic need of humans to continue existing, education is essential to make one’s existence a meaningful one. But for some children who didn’t taste the privilege of having free education before they’re too old to go back to school, making the most of what they were able to have is the least they can do to make up for the unchangeable past.

“Prevention is better than cure”. Indeed, preventive approach is always better than curative. Thus, students are now the center of every assistance the government can possibly provide. During a series of conduct of Career Coaching, Labor Market Information (LMI), Labor Education for Graduating Students (LEGS) and Anti-Illegal Recruitment and Trafficking in Persons (AIR-TIP) in senior and junior high schools in the municipality of Hinatuan, young professionals were identified to be beneficiaries (before) of the Special Program for the Employment of Students (SPES) of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE). They were just some of those whose invisible threads were expurgated, freeing them from the unforgiving hold of poverty. Their testimonies on how education defeated the chain of poverty where they first thought was their destiny, are proof that the decades of fight against that Goliath also known as poverty, is finally paying off.

Siblings Janeth and Reymar Aclon, both licensed professional teachers and now secondary and elementary teachers respectively, are beneficiaries of the Program back in their college years. Today, Janeth is teaching at Tagasaka National High School, handling Filipino and Edukasyon sa Pagpapakatao (ESP) subject. She is also the Guidance Advocate Designate in the said school. Meanwhile, her brother Reymar is teaching at Tagasaka Central Elementary School as an adviser in Grade 2.

Janeth and Reymar shared how the program had helped them continue their studies with the support from their mother alone. Aside from the salary they received from the program, the experience molded their characters to become mature and service-oriented employees today. It also contributed to their self-reliance and self-fulfillment as they continually fought for the realization of their dreams.

“SPES is really a big opportunity for those students who want to finish their studies but are struggling financially. The experience is a good training ground for us to understand the reality of work compared to what is taught in school. Also, we share this experience with our students. We always told them poverty cannot hinder our dreams if we won’t let it.” Janeth was a SPES beneficiary in 2007-2009; while Reymar was beneficiary of the program in 2008-2010 under the supervision of Hinatuan Public Employment Service Office and PESO Manager James Soria.

For students whose parents do not have the capacity to send their children to college, SPES is heaven sent. Rose Ann Tadle and Roxanne Pandili’s success stories can attest to this. Rose Ann was employed under SPES for 4 cycles, from the year 2011 until she graduated in 2014 with the course of BS in Business Administration at Hinatuan Southern College. She passed the Civil Service examination after graduating and is now currently employed in Hinatuan Government Employees Multi-Purpose Cooperative as Bookkeeper for four years already. Rose Ann shared that the salary she was getting during her SPES years is a very big help as 60% of it goes immediately to the school to pay for her tuition fee. “We Sometimes received a refund from school. The remaining 40% of my salary was for my personal needs. I was happy I didn’t need to ask money from my parents for my personal use,” Rose Ann happily shared.

Roxanne’s story also speaks of struggle and hope as she survived college with the help of her salary from SPES. She was able to buy instructional materials for her practicum without asking for money from her parents. “I even bought something for my family from the salary that I got,” she gladly recalled. At present, Roxanne is employed as a clerk in the Public Employment Service Office of Hinatuan, Surigao del Sur for 9 months already. She took the latest Licensure Examination for Teachers and is patiently waiting for result.

The Special Program for Employment of Students (SPES) is DOLE’s youth employment-bridging program which aims to provide temporary employment to poor but deserving students, out-of-school youth, and dependents of displaced or would-be displaced workers during summer and/or Christmas vacation or any time of the year to augment the family’s income to help ensure that beneficiaries are able to pursue their education.

SPES was first implemented under Republic Act 7323 in 1992 and was amended and strengthened under the Republic Act 95471 in 2009. As part of the employers’ responsibility, it is ensured that students are not subjected to hazardous working conditions and child labor. SPES beneficiaries who were employed for more than 1 cycle are called SPES Babies by the Department.

Janeth, Reymar, Ruel, Rose Ann, and Roxanne’s stories are just some of the numerous fruitful tales that need to be shared because someone somewhere might need it to continue striving and live up the best in life.

Josel-An E. Dua