Grace, Vienna and Joan are poor, hardworking and imbued with the desire for knowledge and a comfortable life. For the moment, however, all they can do is dream about the possibilities.

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By Jeffrey B. Javier

Poverty prevented Joan from entering college. ( photo by Barry Ohaylan)DAVAO CITY This is the story of three young women and their dream of a college education.

Grace Cloribel, 21, was born in a family of 10 children. Being the eighth, she was lucky enough to graduate from high school and had the chance to enter college. On her freshman year, she enrolled at the University of Mindanao, taking up commerce. She wanted to be a corporate woman.

One year later, she was forced to stop schooling because she had to help provide for her poor familys needs. Her rather large family depends on the salary of their mother, who works as a clerk at City Hall. The father, a tailor, contributes to the households meager income. Graces older siblings are busy raising their own families; some dont have stable jobs, some just bum around.

Grace wants to finish college, if she could. ( photo by Barry Ohaylan)Vienna, 17, is Graces sister and the youngest in the family. She has just graduated from high school, at what is called a Sunday school. Even though she studied in a private institution, the education she received was not enough, she says.

With classes starting from six in the morning up to five in the afternoon, sometimes reaching eight in the evening, the time she spent every Sunday at school was insufficient to match the proper education one earns in a five-day class.

Sometimes, the teachers were too indolent to show up. The students, not surprisingly, also were apathetic. Having an empty chair for a seatmate was common, Vienna says. Everybody cut classes. Nobody seemed to care, specially the teachers because they also cut classes.

Joan Felicio, 21, graduated, like her friend Grace, from the Sta. Ana National High School. Unlike Grace, however, Joan did not have the opportunity to enter college.

Joan is the third child in a family of five children. Her mother died of high-blood pressure when she was young; the familys fate now depends on the care and support of their father. But her father doesnt have a job to sustain the needs of the motherless family. This left each of the children practically on their own, taking care of themselves.

Just last April, Joan, Grace and Vienna, who are all from Boulevard, went job hunting. They thought a job might provide for their needs even for a short time. They wanted to buy things without asking money from other people. With their resumes and personal documents in hand, they went around the city, asking for summer jobs.

Grace thinks there is discrimination in appearances when in comes to applying for a job. She worried about her bad teeth, thinking it would be a drawback in her quest for employment. She knew that employers always go for applicants with the Close-Up smile. I needed to work so I could help put food on the table, Grace says. Where would I get money to fix my teeth?

The three will attest to this physical discrimination. Vienna was the only one who was accepted to work, at a fast-food store. Grace and Joan admit that Vienna has the pleasing personality that employers usually look for, even if physical appearance had nothing to do with the job. She has a good set of teeth, a pleasant face and shes young. Yet the other two are not at all bitter. They understood that the requirement for the job was a certain age (17 to 19 years old) and must be a student. Grace and Joan are neither.

Vienna, however, turned down the job, mainly because her mother didnt want her to work.

Grace says that if she had the proper education, she could choose any well-paying job and wont be dependent on her family. She blames the government for the lack of education among young women like her. She blames the budget cuts on education. She blames the high tuition. She blames the fact that more and more schools are becoming businesses rather than learning institutions.

But its not all the governments fault, she qualifies. Sometimes, it is the way people think. They have this set standards that people should be like this or like that. Just like the employers who are looking for Close-Up models instead of workers.

Given the choices of either continuing her college education and a well-paying job abroad, Grace says she would chose the job. Of course. Thats why we wanted to go college, to get a well-paying job. But it would be a lot better if we finished.

But deep inside, the three women say they still hanker for that college education. They often dream of the possibilities. That, unfortunately, is all that they could do at the moment. (Jeffrey B. Javier/

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