At 16, I had already had my moments of self-revelation. Having an English teacher for a mother shaped the dramatist, the writer, the orator, and the debater in me and helped me realize my capacity for communication.
With my sophomore year in high school came biology. I loved biology, and, not to blow one’s horn, I aced it in all quarters of that year. Consequently, another dream and another path were revealed to me—that of becoming a doctor or a microbiologist. Meanwhile, I was also fascinated with my aunt’s passion for her profession as a speech pathologist, and the enthrallment of becoming one never escaped me. One thing was for sure: At that age, I was already charting a career path for myself, which I guess was natural as I was nearing the next phase of my life—college.
In this moment of great anticipation, I was no less than torn—torn because there were so many choices, and torn apart because my mind and heart clashed and collided, not certain what to choose. With all those epiphanies weighing on me, I never thought it was possible to have one more: my first-ever life-changing experience.
Three summers ago, I made the first step toward loving my country. I learned to love my hometown and my people, and it all happened during the campaign for my sister and my uncle who were running for local offices.
A big part of the campaign entailed going from house to house to introduce the candidates and discuss their platform of government. That part of the campaign experience is what I credit the most for this newly fostered love, mainly because it opened my eyes to the condition of my kababayan. Going from barangay to barangay and from barrio to barrio allowed me to see what and who my hometown of Pinamalayan in Oriental Mindoro really is.
I finally grasped Pinamalayan’s vastness and realized how little I’ve seen of it. In the earlier times that I spent there, my movements were mostly confined to our ancestral house in the town’s center and to the plaza during fiestas. That summer, I learned for the first time that we have 37 barangays, nine of them coastal areas, and the rest, rich agricultural lands. I saw the potential for livelihood and the capacity for productivity if the lands were to be cultivated by the right people. I began to view my province and my town in a different light. Pinamalayan ceased to be a mere vacation spot; it became a real community teeming with life and activity. Unlike before, it was not at the beach that I saw beauty and serenity (in fact I only went to the beach once all summer). Instead, beauty took on a different form—either in the barrios packed with families, in the fields of grain where a farmer toils, or in the moonlight that glows above a fisherman’s boat. A sense of pride stirred in me and became a turning point in my relationship with Pinamalayan.
Still the biggest gift I gained was the relationship I made with the people. After the sorties, I met children who played with me and followed me wherever I went because for them I was like an artista (movie star). With mothers I ate the modest merienda we brought from Anyayahan bakery that consisted of packed aglipay or ugoy-ugoy (crisp rectangular biscuits topped with sugar bits). I also met young people like myself who were full of life and vigor, but were instantly tight-lipped at the mention of career plans. Sadly, despite the overture of ear-splitting political jingles inspired by “Doo Bee Doo Bee Doo” or Dawn’s timeless “Tie A Yellow Ribbon,” the rankle of the mothers about the fate of their growing children and how they had no money to send them to school resonated.
On better days, I watched fishermen rejoice over the abundant catch and saw their concern momentarily ease. More often, though, these men, obviously exasperated, came up to me lamenting the hard times, seemingly not wanting to hope any longer. Each encounter left me with a mixture of profound humility and sadness, and a deeper understanding of their condition. Their stories spoke of poverty, a bleak future, despondency, and a desperation mitigated only by a strong resolve to find solace in everything and anything they can. These are the experiences of the people of my hometown—experiences that I was once oblivious to, but are now deeply embedded in my consciousness.
Since then, I have been moved by a compelling dream to help my kababayan someday, if not now. I realized how true was Jose Rizal when he said that a people have the capacity to prosper and be freed from any bind, and that all they need is a leader. Rizal’s words echoed every time I saw my kababayan listening eagerly to my uncle and showing belief and hope that they could go places under his leadership. Someday, at the right time, I want to be that leader. I hope to be the one to ease my people’s desperation. I want to work indefatigably to champion their cause. Needless to say, that sense of loyalty and obligation to my town and my province, rooted in love and care, kept burning in me even after that year’s elections and even when victory eluded us.
All in all, my experience was a story of discovering love and my role in being its messenger. I consider this discovery an achievement that pushed me to become a more caring, more aware, and more involved native of my province and citizen of this nation. I came to realize that in every community or institution, love, leadership, and committed service are necessary for progress and happiness. Thus, my experience served to inspire me enough to want to faithfully love, lead and serve.
The lessons I gained in my small town of Pinamalayan in Oriental Mindoro will surely be with me in all my endeavors in the future. While three summers have gone past quickly like the blink of an eye, my transformation remains a work in progress and my experience continues to define me as the Christian, the Filipino, the individual, and the leader that I hope to be.
Marilag Buenaventura Sadicon, 19, is a university scholar and speech pathology sophomore at the University of the Philippines Manila.