Decision- making is often left to adults in the assumption that they know better from their life experiences. But what happens when a decision must be made by a minor? Not to mention it also involves a baby’s life.

Looking back, Cristy Joy Manalo, a young lady from Zamboanga City, must have had one of the hardest decisions ever made by a teenager. She was made to decide whether to pursue her education or to save the life of her unborn sibling.

As a kid, Cristy was a diligent and a hardworking pupil in school. Learning everyday in the campus was a rewarding experience for her as it was all she ever wanted. Growing up in a poor household, she had seen how poverty and poor access to education have affected the quality of life that they have experienced. Her mom runs a store in the neighborhood while her father is a farmer earning a meager 5,000 pesos to support the needs of a family of 3 children.

Being in such a situation helped her realize the importance of education. It was her ultimate goal to finish her studies and be able to land a career someday that would allow her family to experience the kind of life that she thinks they deserve.

“I remember talking to my teacher and asking her that I would market her yema in exchange for 10 pesos,” Cristy shared.

The 10-peso deal practically carried her through fifth grade until the rest of her elementary years. It supported her daily financial needs in school such as projects and whatnots.

Poverty also led to a few more problems in her family. Cristy’s parents would always fight over finances, or lack thereof. One thing led to another until she woke up one day in an unhappy family.

When she reached college, Cristy’s family was already registered to the poverty-alleviation program of the government, the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) which supported her schooling until she finished high school.

“At that time, we really felt the help of the 4Ps. We were able to buy uniforms and projects. Honestly my mom was good at handling the grants that were intended for our education,” Cristy recounted how the 4Ps program had helped her educational concerns.

Unfortunately, the program only caters up to high school education of children. This means that she might not be able to go to college.


A decision that was never hers

At the height of this dilemma, when she was able to enter college in 2015, her family started to break apart. Her mom got pregnant, she needed financial support for college, and they were broke. Cristy was made to decide to stop her college education or if not, they will be forced to let go of the still unborn baby in her mother’s womb.

This is something that she never had ever imagined she would face. As a teenager, she did not know what to do. These personal issues and troubles in the family got Cristy lost in track toward her goals in life. Her grades spiraled down, she missed some classes, she “rebelled” as what others would call it.

She lived her life one day at a time but with no direction. It was as if she was a nomad wandering everywhere not knowing where to go. She still went to her classes but failed miserably because of lack of focus.

Maybe guilt ate her up for losing her supposed sibling or maybe she was just too mad at life that she had to go through such a rough time. Regardless, she was in deep, deep trouble.


Saving Grace

God does not give us problems without solution. You just have to know where to look. Just as Cristy was about to give up on life, she was saved by an angel in red vest. Amidst everything that her family went through, little did she know, a DSWD worker was working on interventions that would address the dilemma. Her family went through case management through the help of the assigned Social Worker.

Cristy also picked up the shattered pieces of herself and started to refocus her mind onto her goals. She worked part-time with the City Social Welfare and Development Office (CSWDO) in preparation for her return to school. Just like what other people would say, when you focus your mind on your goal, you will be able to see the opportunities that are around you.

With this renewed determination, Cristy saw an opportunity with the scholarship grant called the Expanded Students’ Grant-in-aid Program for Poverty Alleviation or ESGP-PA under the 4Ps-DSWD. The Social Worker helped her in the process and she soon became a grantee. This paved the way for her to experience a new drive and a new sense of life as if she was getting a second chance at life.

During our interview with Cristy, she recounted how the program empowered her especially in handling finances. She even mentioned that because the program required them to set an account in a bank, she was able to experience, for the first time, entering a bank and get through the process all by herself –a small but significant win for a teenager like her.

Through the 4Ps interventions paired with her personal determination, Cristy was able to finish a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education at the Zamboanga City State Polytechnic College. Knowing her potential, she was then absorbed by the DSWD as a Social Welfare Aide in 2020 and shortly promoted right away to Administrative Aide IV in 2021.

“Now, I am already independent. From time to time, I am able to send money to my father to support the education of my siblings back in my hometown. Hopefully, the program (4Ps) will be able to cater to more poor families and give them the chances that they need to survive the vicissitudes of life, the same as the chance that it gave me,” Cristy said.