Aris stopped schooling when he was in Third Grade. He was the butt of his classmates’ bullying.

The children in school would make fun of the “batang lansangan,” the street kid who collects plastic and other recyclables from the streets to survive.

His parents did not ask Aris to work. He did it on his own to help the family. Amid all the difficulties, he never lost his dream of a better future, not only for himself but for his family.

All these changed when he stopped going to school.

The “batang lansangan” joined a gang and learned how to smoke marijuana. He admitted that drugs became a way out of his sorry situation. Once “high,” he escapes to nowhere, staring into space.

One day, the father of one of his friends talked to him. The man’s words would play over and over again in Aris’ head. In the end, he decided to take “small steps” to change.

“Why would I waste my life,” he told himself.

A neighbor convinced him to attend an activity sponsored by the Kapatiran-Kaunlaran Foundation, Inc. in the neighborhood.

Aris still recalls that day when he went out of the house without a bath and with dirty, stinky clothes on.

At the gathering, Aris met Joanna Marie Merced, a KKFI volunteer, who convinced the young man to attending classes under the Alternative Learning System (ALS) of the government.

With hands trembling, Aris once again held a pencil to write his name. He was overwhelmed, then frustrated, and then he realized how much he missed school.

He struggled to go through the lessons, hoping in his heart that going back to school is the answer to his prayers, that it is the key to the “better life” he asked from God.

“Surely there is a future, and your hope will not be cut off,” he recalled what he read from the Bible. He persisted and slowly made progress.

He was nervous when he first took the ALS Accreditation and Equivalency Examination. He failed, but he did not lose hope. He kept on reminding himself that maybe it was not yet the right time for him.

He took the test again, and again he failed. He started to have doubts of his ability. He was afraid that he would disappoint the “Ate” and the “Kuya” in KKFI.

He waited for another schedule to take the test. Everyone supported him with words of encouragement. He took the test for the third time, and this time he passed.

Aris was excited, thinking that soon he would be wearing a school uniform and would be sitting in a room with his classmates.

But he had a hard time looking for a school that would agree to take him because he lacked some requirements to enter Grade 7. His classmates were also much younger than him.

He went to Jose P. Laurel High School to inquire and was admitted after a “reconsideration.” The school principal agreed to take Aris with a condition that he would do his best.

As classes started, Aris did not have the confidence to participate in discussions. His teacher noticed that he seemed hesitant and was having a difficult time.

In the end, with the help of his teacher, the young man was able to adapt to the school setting.

From roaming the streets of the city, Aris became a student with a “home-to-school, school-to-home” routine.

Mr. Larren Jo Basilio and Ms. Rodelyn, both KKFI Staff, were his constant guides.

KKFI activities, such as the Youth Lead, Educate and Advocate for Development, helped Aris and the other scholars enhance their self-esteem, making them more sociable and open in sharing their life stories.

Aris later said that the KKFI program was the key to his success.

While studying, Aris joined LikhAral. In 2016, he volunteered to teach children with Margoh, another KKFI scholar.

During the pandemic, the scholars, including Aris, were forced to adjust to the “new normal.” It was difficult for everyone, especially for those not familiar with technology. But they all persisted.

Aris said to himself that he survived the unforgiving streets of the city. At an early age he was exposed to the harsh life.

Now that he made a choice, there’s no stopping him from shaping who he is now. He came out strong and brave and determined to finish his studies to provide for his family.

With his KKFI family, he got the support system he needed — from the financial to the moral support provided him by the Foundation and its staff.

Aris mother, who has been working odd jobs to ensure that the family would not go hungry, is his inspiration, he said.

He vowed to finish his studies, saying that someday he would give her mother the life she deserves, the life he, Aris did not experience when he was still in the streets. [END]

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