LEGAZPI CITY, Apr. 17 (PIA) -- Every man on earth wish to own a safe home with a happy family inside and everybody deserves one.

But fate never seems to favor everyone.

The Soquino family of Barangay San Isidro in Malilipot, Albay, used to live in a makeshift house made out of anahaw roof and plywood walls before Typhoon Glenda reduced this flimsy abode into rubbles in 2014. Consequently, they received a tent or shelter box from a foreign donor as an aid to the homeless victims of the said typhoon.

The tent turned into a bedroom or a living room where the meager space can hardly accommodate six members of the Soquino family plus personal belongings. Members of the family would often complain of the extreme temperature inside: the blistering heat or the freezing cold.

Marites Soquino, 42, a solo parent with five sons, is one of the poor residents of Barangay San Isidro where two of her children in elementary are Pantawid Pamilya beneficiaries who regularly receive education and health grants.

Soquino and her children was abandoned by her husband in March 2012 whom she assumed to elope with another woman, a punitive incident that still brings back the tears in her eyes.

Though circumstances must have taken away a beautiful life for this woman but her strong character remains.

For years, she barely provided the needs of her family in the absence of a partner who is supposed to share the responsibility of rearing their children.

Nagtinda ako dati ning kakanin para mataguyod ko ang pamilya ko (I sell rice cakes and other food tidbits for my family to survive) ,” she added.

She takes home at least PhP3,000 a month as a clerk in a direct selling company in Tabaco City, another town next to Malilipot. Her mother taught her to sew clothes and gets an extra profit as a seamstress at home.

Soquino is fortunate to have diligent sons who share household tasks whenever she’s gone for work.

She always reminds them: “Kung muya nindo makatapos mageskwela, magtarabangan kita (I you want to finish school, let us help one another).”

Volunteerism and the classrooms

In 2014, the same year when Typhoon Glenda dismantled the house of Soquino, she was elected by her neighbors to lead the group of volunteers who will manage the construction of additional elementary and high school classrooms in their village.

It was an offer Soquino never refused despite of the ordeal she carries.

On top of her regular loads at home, she has also allocated a considerable portion of her time and effort as a volunteer.

As the head of the group, she is responsible for the overall management of the classroom implementation and construction. Their group complied with all the documents required to avail of the funding and support from the government.

Her dedication for the community was evident. According to Kristine Rozen, the Area Coordinator of the classroom project, Soquino did not miss any trainings and seminars relative to the implementation. It was inevitable that she skipped work just to attend to their classroom project. She was even aware that her take home pay will decrease because of this attrition.

Just like any other government projects, the villagers doubted the completion of their classrooms when its construction was put on hold because of the discrepancy with the documentary requirements submitted by the community in 2015.

Residents accused Soquino of corruption because of the extended period of interval between the submission of requirements and downloading of funds that will eventually catapult the start of construction.

But she was unfazed and relentless to keep the spirits of her co-volunteers high despite of the tirades and bashings of their neighbors. She would candidly respond to queries by others to invalidate suspicion and malfeasance. Soquino who claimed to be innocent, kept her calm and remained focused on their primary goal—to erect the additional classrooms.

After the long anticipation in the village, the construction finally began in June 2016 and was finished seven months later, a clear vindication for the wrongfully imputed Soquino.

After all these difficult undertakings, she did not renounce her duty in the village. Until now, Soquino remains a volunteer for an upcoming project, a livelihood training center.

Very proud po ako na makitang natapos ang aming proyekto. Masaya po ako na nakakatulong sa barangay. Sa ngayon ay ako pa din ay isang volunteer sa amin,” she said.

Life afresh with the neighbors’ aid

Shooting stars do really work for Soquino who aspires to have a safe dwelling when the construction of her house commenced last February 10, 2017 with the support of her neighbors, friends and relatives.

To those people who witnessed how a destitute woman living in a tent worked her fingers to the bone for the common good of the village, they accorded her of the aid she deserves to receive.

According to Soquino, there are certain individuals who donated cash and cement. She also received some construction materials from the barangay council and her neighbors.

Now, she and her children have temporarily used the galvanized metal roofs donated by the church for their tent while their house is undergoing construction.

Moreover, two of the laborers of their classrooms rendered free service during the first two days of her house’s construction. A colleague from another community was also present to assist during the first day of construction while her co-volunteers in Brgy. San Isidro Iraya sponsored the meals and snacks for the laborers.

Maraming salamat po at nakatayo na po ang anim na poste ng aming bahay. Napaluha ako sa saya dahil ramdam ko ang tulong niyo,” she said.

Though the construction only ensues when she has excess money to purchase cement and pay for the laborers, hope never fizzles for Soquino. She believes that there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel.

Sigurado ako na kahit pahinto-hinto ay matatapos din ang pangarap namin na bahay,” she added.

For her, the classrooms and her house undergoing construction symbolize unity. That at a certain moment in her life, the villagers who are fueled with compassion have enliven the bayanihan spirit.

What compels a woman who spent two years of her life living in a tent build classrooms for her village?

According to Soquino: “Bako hadlang ang pagtios para makatabang sa kapwa.”

Her genuine concern and sincere intention for her community have sparked inspiration to others and reciprocated her with a tangible effort to at least uplift her from the needy situation. (MAL/DSWD5/PIA5/Albay)