- Global Perspectives
- Poverty POV
We’re all encouraged from a young age to foster empathy and compassion by “walking a mile” in someone else’s shoes. In the case of Leizel Ariola (21), we might tweak the phrase and say, “Trawl a nautical mile in her boat.”
Either way, the idea is to try to understand another person’s life experiences — the obstacles, hardships and limitations they face. But there’s no rule saying that it shouldn’t also include their joys and successes!
So, in that spirit, let’s go for a trawl with Leizel.
Leizel, as you may have surmised, is the daughter of a fisherman. She grew up in a fairly remote, rural community in Bicol, Philippines. She had numerous strikes against her from the very beginning.
Depending on the weather, for instance (which can be incredibly volatile in the island nation), it took her between 30 and 60 minutes to walk to school. She says she attended as much as she could, even when her parents had no money to give her for lunch.
“I had so much passion to finish my studies, because this is what my parents wanted us to do,” says Leizel, referring to herself and her two older brothers. “Due to poverty, my parents couldn’t continue their educations beyond elementary school.”
Like so many parents who find themselves mired in cyclical poverty, Leizel’s mother and father hitched their hopes and dreams for a better future — and hence, all the resources they could muster — onto their children. Although the intangible gifts they gave them, such as love and encouragement, were in abundance, providing many of the basic material needs was a lot tougher.
“It’s difficult being in a situation where your parents are struggling hard to make sure you have something to eat at home,” recalls Leizel. “My father (Julian) is a fisherman without a regular flow of income. There were days when he had something to bring home, but also times when he had nothing.”
Leizel did manage to graduate from high school, which was a big accomplishment. But she had her hopes set on an even bigger goal: attending college. Sadly, her parents explained to her, they simply didn’t have the money available to help with college tuition. Leizel had been holding out hope for that possibility, so the discussion was a difficult one. It ended in tears.
Her experiences and participation in CI programs helped instill a steely resolve and a reservoir of resiliency in Leizel. She brushed her disappointment aside and forged on, keeping her eyes open for other opportunities.
That chance came when a CI volunteer approached Leizel and her mother. The volunteer described the Into Employment® program and encouraged Leizel to apply. Once accepted, Leizel was fired up with a renewed sense of hope for the future. The young woman threw herself into the program with abandon.
Soon after, Leizel was making new friends and connections. She participated in trainings that gave her confidence and real-life skills she could put to use. She also received “soft-skills” training, like résumé and cover-letter writing, tips on job-hunting and interview prepping — which included simulated interviews with human resource professionals.
Leizel proudly reports that, within a few months after completing the Into Employment program, she was able to get a job with a steady income. She’s been working as a customer service crew-member for Potato Corner, a booming company in the Philippines. She’s been there for nearly two years and definitely sees potential for advancement. As it is, she earns nearly twice what her father makes in a typical month. And, unlike the fickle ebb and flow of a fisherman’s income, Leizel’s is steady.
“Now that I’m working, I understand how hard it is to earn money,” says Leizel. “The first time I received a paycheck, I remembered my parents and the sacrifices that they endured. My father needed to work every day to feed us, with no days off. I at least have a day off every week. I work in an air-conditioned mall, while my father endures the scorching heat in the middle of the sea.
“These realizations helped me appreciate more the life that my parents have given me. Because of their love and concern for their children, they prioritized our needs over theirs. They are happy to see us achieve success. That’s why I’m working hard, because I know that it gives them genuine joy.”
Leizel’s gratitude extends to her wider CI family, too. “I thank Children International for the Into Employment program. It has been life-changing,” she says, “and it inspired me to dream of a brighter future.”