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An alleyway of makeshift homes in the Philippines

Growing up without a stable family in the Philippines, Konny Dela Cruz struggled to stay on track — and eventually left school early to work in a garment factory. Then she learned about Holt’s Independent Living and Educational Assistance (ILEA) program — a donor-funded program that helps institutionalized and disadvantaged teens to attend college and learn independent living skills. 

Konny Dela Cruz in her graduation gown.

The story of my life is so beautiful with a lot of learnings.

I was born in 1997. I grew up with a family with whom I have no blood relationship. I was only 2 years old when my mother entrusted me to the care of the landlady of the boarding house where we used to stay because she went to Korea to work.

When I was growing up, I was wondering why there is no name of my father on my birth certificate. I asked the landlady, whom I have been calling grandmother “Lola,” to explain “why I have no father on my birth certificate,” but she would just tell me it is only your mother who can answer your question. And my mother kept ignoring my question, too.

I could not approach any relative because I don’t know anyone — and maybe nobody knows about me, too.

Years went by and I remained studying in private school, always having honors because of my good performance and achievements in school. My life changed when my mother stopped sending financial support to me from Korea because, accordingly, she already became an illegal alien. Our frequent communication via cellphone was also reduced, until finally she could no longer communicate with me or send me any financial support.

Our last communication was in 2009 and no more up to now. My “grandmother” had no choice but to transfer me to public school. That, I really appreciated. Despite such difficulty and big challenges to me and to my “grandmother,” I graduated from elementary school with honors. I met the Lord as I started to engage in different church activities.

However, when I entered high school, my lifestyle changed. I started to get involved with “barkada” or a group of youth with attitudinal problems. Even when I was inside the church, I did not care for other people anymore. I became hardheaded so my “grandmother” decided to refer me to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). I was admitted at Nayon ng Kabataan (NK), a center for abandoned and neglected children of the DSWD.

That, I could not understand.

In April 2018, Konny graduated from her 2-year IT program as a "Top 8" achiever. She is now enrolled in her third year of college.
In April 2018, Konny graduated from her 2-year IT program as a “Top 8” achiever. She is now enrolled in her third year of college.

I attempted to escape from Nayon but it came to my mind, “Where would I go?” I do not know any relatives who can help me, so I decided to stay. I was able to go to school, and I learned some skills from the training I attended like dressmaking, consumer electronics and cosmetology. I tried to grab all opportunities coming to me to change my life. I became a member of a “Rondalla” as a drummer and a guitarist. I also became a student leader in NK.

Considering my newly acquired skills, NK referred me as a worker to a garment factory, where I only stayed for four months because of my asthmatic condition. I resigned from my work and stayed with one of the workers of NK with whom I was closely bonded. I wanted to continue my studies so I begged for the understanding and help of my godmother, Gemma. Then, DSWD staff referred me to KBF — [Kaisahang Buhay Foundation, Holt’s long-time partner] — for scholarship under ILEA [independent living and educational assistance program].

In 2016, I was admitted at KBF as an ILEA scholar after I passed the Alternative Learning System (ALS). That is why I was able to proceed to college instead of completing high school.

My first dream was to become a civil engineer, but I thought there are more jobs available for information technology (IT) graduates so I enrolled in the two-year course in IT on March 23, 2016, and graduated this April 2018 as a Top 8 achiever. I again requested that KBF allow me to enroll for another two years to complete the four-year IT course. I am very thankful to God that I am now enrolled and He used KBF as the medium for me to achieve my dream in life “to become a professional.”

I can be a witness to the truth that a challenging past is not an obstacle for achieving our dream to have a better future. It is never too late to change our lives, and to learn to appreciate the people you know are concerned and are loving you. THANK YOU!!!

Konny Geraldine Dela Cruz | Holt ILEA Scholar

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