The Tallaoen Community’s out-of-school youths and young parents may be the main target beneficiaries of the Tallaoen Vocational School Project, but that doesn’t mean that the project cannot make room for older people who are also willing to learn new skills.
Maria Oyando, 66, is one such example. Born and raised in the Tallaoen, Luna, La Union community, the mother of three now-grown children shared – “I only finished second year high school. Back in the day, Luna town only had one high school, located in Barrientos [another Luna community] which is around six communities away from Tallaoen. I walked for almost two hours to school because I wanted to finish high school. One day, my parents told me that they can no longer send me to school – there wasn’t enough money for school supplies and school needs. I know that in another life where we aren’t poor, my parents could not fathom the fact that I won’t graduate from high school, but the harsh reality is that we are a big family and there’s just not enough income. I cried for weeks. When I stopped crying, I had nothing else to do but help in farming. I was 14 years old.”
In spite of this, Maria didn’t bear any ill feelings towards her parents and on the contrary, she tried her best to help them out. “I can see how hard they work – they farm from 3 a.m. to 5 p.m. Aside from helping them in the field, I also tried to help by taking care of my younger siblings. I made sure that they were okay before I got married.” She married at the age of 22 – which in Tallaoen and during her time, was already a bit late. Eventually, she became a farmer’s wife and a mother. Time passed, her children grew up, had families of their own, and Maria became a grandmother to two boys. “I love them so much,” she said, “but now that I have more time in my hands, maybe now I can do something for myself.”
The Tallaoen Vocational School Project provided Maria with something she can do for herself – learn and gain knowledge and skills. “I attended a meeting inside the Tallaoen School. They said HBI and CO-OPERAID will conduct vocational classes about computers and cosmetology. I always wanted to learn about hair cutting and coloring because my children & grandchildren often cry after I cut their hair because I think I gave them ugly haircuts (laughs). So I asked if old people like me can join. HBI said that there is no reason why we can’t for as long as there are still slots available. I remembered going home that day hoping that the project will push through and that I can enroll.”
Months later, Maria finally got the chance to do something for herself as she attended her first day in vocational school. “My classmates were a little surprised to see me there. But I liked all our lessons and practical exams. I feel like I’m in school again.” Mr. Felipe Arzabal, the vocational school teacher said that “Manang [Madam in the local dialect] Maria is very eager to learn. Actually, in her first exam, her hands were shaky – maybe it’s because of age – so I told her that what she lacks in hand steadiness, she has to make up for by being more meticulous than her younger classmates. So she took her time in trimming, shaping, and cutting hair. She was also very careful when it comes to hair coloring, cleaning and painting fingernails and toenails. Eventually, she became good at it. For her final exam, she was asked to give proper and nice haircuts to at least 10 schooling children in Tallaoen – she was able to give 16 haircuts that day, including her grandchild who loved his new hairdo.”
As a result of passing her final exam, Maria and her 24 classmates graduated from the Vocational Course on Cosmetology on the first week of June 2013. Garnering the loudest applause from the audience, Maria beamed with delight and was clearly satisfied with her achievement. “It’s never too late to learn,” she said. “I’m happy that at 66, I can still be a part of something as wonderful as this – a graduation.”