There is a saying that when you give, you receive twice as much.
But when Lowel Andrian Solayao once received help, he paid it forward and gave back countless times.
The 27-year-old Teacher III from Pilar National Comprehensive High School in Sorsogon is no stranger to the struggles of an impoverished life. After graduating as valedictorian from Bayasong National High School, he passed the entrance test at Bicol University and was able to enroll in his dream course – Bachelor in Secondary Education, Major in Physics.
But he had to strive hard to make both ends meet. Despite this, Solayao finished college as cum laude, but not without the help of families and individuals who believed in him. First was a family in Legazpi City, Albay, who allowed him to stay in their house for a year in exchange for house chores and errands. A pastor, meanwhile, adopted him and allowed him to stay in the church in Legazpi City during his third year in college. He enjoyed free board and lodging through the generosity of Engr. Ulysses Fundano.
Solayao was also grateful to the inspiration and support of two God-sent professors from Bicol University – Prof. Flor Jenkin, who introduced him to Dr. Nemah Hermosa, who then granted him with monthly support enough for his personal and academic needs. He was even able to extend help to his two sisters back home. Most importantly, he allotted certain amount for books and reading materials, including magazines, which he shared with his friends.
From a circle of five friends reading together and sharing books and other learning materials, more and more students joined Solayao’s group. One of them convinced his grandmother, Lola Belen, to turn the extension of her nipa hut built on stilts above the seashore into a reading space that would house their collection of books. The space, albeit small, was clean and conducive for reading, as well as for holding group activities.
Solayao, who was then the Associate Editor of “The Mentor,” the official student publication of Bicol University College of Education, led the establishment of the said reading space into Pilar Reading Center (PRC) – an alternative learning hub for kids and other youth residing in the Tulay Community at Purong Batya, Banuyo in Pilar, Sorsogon. Appended on the seashore, PRC officially started serving the community on July 25, 2010.
“In the Philippines, specifically in Banuyo where people’s main concern is to do hard labor to survive amid poverty, investing time and effort in book-reading for their children is considered a luxury,” Solayao relayed. “Through PRC, we bring the books closer to them.”
His commitment to give back to the community which raised him led to the active participation of parents and families in the realization of his goal: making every child a reader, one child at a time. Through his persuasiveness and perseverance, Solayao was able to convince them of the crucial role of reading in the cognitive and affective development of their children.
While the PRC is already a huge responsibility, Solayao wanted to do more and continued paying it forward. He initiated the first ever Bicol University College Entrance Test (BUCET) review sessions at his alma mater, Bayasong National High School, in October of 2011. Through lectures and discussions, he helped aspiring college students pass the test. He did all these and more while preparing himself for the September 2011 Licensure Examination for Teachers (LET).
Dangal ng Bayan
After passing LET, Solayao continued doing free tutorials for kids and young people who come to the center. He proceeded with PRC’s various activities, including storytelling sessions, reading camps, spelling bees, and workshops both for kids and their parents with much gusto.
In 2012, he spearheaded the Project Bayanihan, a LET review tutorial and coaching for those who cannot afford formal review classes. With the guiding principle, “Bawat teacher ay bayani; tulungan natin silang makamit ang lisensya,” the project has already produced a regional top passer in the January 2014 LET. Those who have already passed the board through the program also serve as volunteer teachers at PRC and the review center, both of which became a venue for those who share the same passion to serve. To Solayao, these inculcate a culture of giving back, of kindness being passed on and paid forward.
It was no surprise then when Solayao became a recipient of the 2018 Dangal ng Bayan (DnB) award conferred by the Civil Service Commission (CSC) to heroes in public service – individuals who went beyond and above the call of duty, and displayed outstanding work performance.
Despite his hardships in the past, Solayao chose the path less travelled. Now that he is a professional teacher, he could spend his hard-earned money for himself and his family. Yet, he chose to give back a part of himself to the community: he shoulders the monthly rent of the reading center, and apportions an amount from his monthly salary for PRC’s resources.
“Teaching is a privilege to serve the community, and an opportunity to share our heads, hearts, hands, and health to the people,” the DnB awardee shared. “It is guiding and leading others to reach their own dreams and aspirations.”