Filipinos put a high premium on education, seeing it as one of the ways for individuals and their families to rise from poverty. Ironically, it is also that same poverty that becomes an obstacle for students in their pursuit for a higher education. As tuition fees and the cost of living grow each year, the dream of getting a college degree moves further and further away for the financially-challenged.
SM Foundation Inc. (SMFI) has been hard at work addressing this issue through the SM Foundation Scholarship Program. It aims to contribute in eradicating the intergenerational cycle of poverty in the country by giving scholarship grants to poor but deserving students. Established in 1993, the initiative has already produced almost 7,600 college and tech-voc scholar-graduates – enabling them to uplift the lives of their families out of poverty.
SM Foundation recently officially recognized the 219 SM scholar-graduates for 2020 and 2021 – 38 of whom graduated with honors/distinction (9 Magna Cum Laude, 25 Cum Laude and 4 with Academic Distinction).
Jim Manilag, an SM Scholar who graduated with a Civil Engineering degree, Magna Cum Laude from Cebu Institute of Technology- University said that he did not originally plan to apply for a scholarship. “I first heard about SM Foundation Scholarship from my aunt in which she described it as a program with a very low possibility of me getting in. With that, I initially dismissed the idea of applying for it. Until one day my friend told me that the Office of Admission and Scholarship was looking for applicants. By that time, there were only few applicants so I decided to give it a try,” he shared.
Manilag said that his experience was an eye-opener. “The notable thing that the foundation made me realize is that not everyone has the privilege to make life choices. Many people were forced to a path they didn’t really want, it’s just that it is the only available path for them based on their resources.”
Because of this, Manilag aims to be able to financially capable of giving back. “I really can’t think of a direct way to repay. Maybe sharing a common goal with the foundation is something I could do to return the favor. In fact, creating opportunities is my greatest dream. That is why I dream of being financially successful, to the point where I can provide opportunities for other people just like what the foundation is doing,” he said.
For Claire Pleños, another SM Scholar who graduated Magna Cum Laude, the dream of getting a college degree was nearly shattered during her high school years. Her father – a taxi driver, was laid off and her mother was barely making ends meet. “I remember thinking that with the future looking so bleak, it would be difficult to pursue further studies without some kind of action on my part. So during my fourth year in high school, I was actively looking for scholarships to apply to. Luckily, my classmate’s mother came across a newspaper ad about SMFI looking for scholars and told me and my classmates about it.”
Aside from enjoying the perks of the scholarship, Pleños also took the opportunity to work as a saleslady during the Christmas break, saying that this helped her hone her interpersonal skills. “The best lesson I gained from SMFI is that you can do anything as long as you put your heart into it. SMFI gave me wings so I could fly,” she shared.
And while the board exam was cancelled last year due to the pandemic, Pleños decided to upskill herself by attending webinars and continuing her review for the board exam. Like Manilag, she also wishes to help other underprivileged students achieve their education goal. “My current goals are to pass the board exams, to practice my profession and to gain additional certifications along the way. My ten-year plan involves helping my father get his own taxi unit, opening a business and donating to organizations that help underprivileged children go to school,” she shared.
SMFI’s scholarship program is anchored on the belief of SM Group late founder, Henry Sy Sr, that education is the greatest equalizer and that if he could help send one child to school, that child can then help his or her siblings finish schooling and together, they can help uplift their family out of poverty.
But for the SM scholar-graduates, the chance that the scholarship program gave to them also instilled in them a sense of responsibility to pay it forward. And while the SM Foundation has already gifted over 7000 students a chance for a better future, the impact does not end with the scholars. On the contrary, these SM scholars also become supporters of underprivileged students down the line, having been in their shoes. Through this, they hope to repay in some form the opportunity that SM Foundation gave to them during their time of need.