Life was not easy for Amy Mesias. “Alam ko yung hirap ng nauulanan at naarawan sa dagat. Kahit po hinihika si Papa, hindi po sya tumitigil sa pangingisda para lang po may makain kami. Sa tuwing may bagyo, nawa-washout ang bahay namin. Wala po kaming makain, wala po kaming pera,” said the 21 year old from Sorsogon City, Bicol, tearful as she recalled her family’s struggle in a Kuwentong Kapamilya video produced by ABS-CBN for its 65th year.
Amy had to discontinue her education because her father, a fisherman, and her mother, a laundrywoman, didn’t have the means to support her studies. “Pangarap ko po talagang maiahon ang pamilya ko sa kahirapan. Sabi ko kay Papa, balang-araw gagawin ko itong mansyon para sa iyo,” she said, as the video showed their home’s hapless condition.
The answer to Amy’s prayer came in the form of an ABS-CBN Station ID that aired in November 2016 featuring an institution called Punlaan School. When Mesias’ aunt in Manila, Emerlita Enfiesta, saw the video, she immediately thought of her niece. “Nabuhayan ako ng loob nung napanood ko sa station ID ng ABS-CBN ang Punlaan School. Naisip ko na paaralin si Amy,” said Emerlita.
Soon Amy applied for a slot in Punlaan. She passed the tests and screenings, and eventually got a scholarship. Last October, Amy was one of the first 35 ABS-CBN scholars who graduated in Punlaan. Today, Amy works at Café Mary Grace, one of the school’s industry partners.
Amy learned many things in Punlaan, especially about work in the service industry, about food and beverage and housekeeping. “Tinuruan kami ng Punlaan na maging responsable para maging leaders in the future. Katulad ng pagpapagawa namin ni Papa ng aming bahay, unti-unti ko po ulit binubuo ang pangarap ko,” the young Bicolana happily shared.
Planting seeds of hope
Punlaan School was started in the early 1970s by a group of women volunteers who heeded the teachings of Opus Dei founder Saint Josemaria Escriva—that love for family, fellowmen and God “is deeds, not sweet words.” With the goal of uplifting the lives of poor, young women, they held informal classes in English, cooking, sewing, flower arrangement, while honing their values. They offered these classes to household helpers, who wanted to learn new skills and improve themselves.
Their course offering slowly evolved to become a two-year technical-vocational course as the Home Arts Program was launched in 1984. And then in 1993, the group adopted a German-inspired model, the Dual Training Scholarship Program in Food & Beverage, in collaboration with the Hanns Seidel Foundation.
“The Dual Training Scholarship Program is a delivery mode of training wherein you integrate the theory in school lessons with on-the-job training in prestigious hotels and restaurants,” explains Anne Marie Jacinto, the school’s director. “We have partnerships with top hotels and restaurants such as the Conrad Hotel, Fairmont Hotel, Ascott Hotel, Dusit Thani Hotel, and Park Inn Hotel. So that is where they get their training.”
She emphasizes that that values formation and spiritual upliftment are part of the holistic education that they provide the students. “Here, we put premium on hard work, discipline and punctuality. Anybody can learn the skills but good work attitudes have to be deeply ingrained. That is why our tagline is “Transforming Lives.”
And the Punlaan School has transformed many lives over the years, as can be gleaned from their bountiful harvests. Many of their graduates have landed good positions in companies here and abroad.
Mary Ann S. Torres, for instance, used Punlaan School as a stepping stone to reach her dreams of becoming a lawyer. “At that time, I could not even afford to pay for my UPCAT application fee, which was P150. So I ventured on something that will assure me of a job,” she wrote in the Punlaan School newsletter. Torres took a Technical Course in Home Arts for a couple of years, and did her OJT at Annabel’s, the Quezon City restaurant. She eventually took up Law at the University of the Philippines and now works as an assistant provincial prosecutor at the Department of Justice.
Bernadette Pillen, daughter of a tricycle driver and a housewife, took the scholarship at the Punlaan School, and had her OJT at The Peninsula Manila, where she was absorbed after graduation. Pillen is now a chef in a hotel in London, grateful for the lessons on self-reliance, self-esteem, work ethics, and faith in God, which she said continue to be most valuable to her.
All the values she learned from Punlaan Jojean Ebba was able to put into practice when she gained enriching work experiences: at the Sofitel Philippine Plaza’s Food and Beverage Department, at Mabini Mansion Hotel’s Front Office Department, and at Kanuhura Maldives as a Switchboard Operator. “I have experienced challenging situations—from being homesick to adapting to a multi-cultural environment. But I told myself that if I want to succeed and reach my goals, I must persevere and continue to learn to develop my skills and knowledge,” she said of her overseas work experience.
Her hard work eventually paid off, and she was able to work in the HR department of known resort companies in Maldives for nearly seven years. As she eventually met her spouse and built a family, they decided to settle down in London. Ebba now works at the Connaught Hotel in London as a Human Resources Manager.
Building a bigger, better Punlaan
Punlaan School’s list of successful graduates continues to grow, and the institution is not resting on its laurels. In the hopes of transforming more lives, the Foundation for Professional Training (FPTI) is building a bigger, better school so they can accommodate more students and offer more courses. “Our industry partners are requesting us to provide more students, but we don’t have any more space to accommodate scholars. We don’t have any land. So we demolished the old building and we are now building one which is seven stories high,” she explains.
The new building will house a baking kitchen for 45 students, a cooking kitchen for 45 students, 10 to 11 classrooms that can accommodate up to 500 students, a chapel, an auditorium, and a multi-purpose hall. “The shell is done. We are just waiting for the installations and the finishings. We already have the interior designer,” Jacinto happily informs ANCX. They broke ground in 2018, and are targeting to open the new building by December 2020, so donations for the construction are highly appreciated. “We do naming rights. We can name a classroom for your family or your company. Some companies got the naming right for the baking kitchen,” Jacinto offers.
Click on arrows for slideshow
ABS-CBN execs with their first batch of Punlaan School scholars.
Integrated News & Current Affairs head Ging Reyes and ABS-CBN COO for Broadcast Cory Vidanes.
Punlaan School director Anne Marie Jacinto with ABS-CBN Corporation Chairman Mark Lopez.
Anne Marie Jacinto, Mark Lopez, Connie Lopez with the scholars and their parents.
ABS-CBN Integrated Public Service head Jun Dungo.
Lifestyle Ecosystem Business Development Head Paolo Pineda with the scholars and their parents.
Ging Reyes (center).
ABS-CBN Films managing director Olivia Lamasan.
School directress Anne Marie Jacinto.
Punlaan School’s Anne Marie Jacinto, ABS-CBN Public Service Partnership & Events' Teta de Castro and Jasmine Gonzales, and Margarita Cadiente.
The Punlaan School scholars with ABS-CBN Public Service Partnership & Events' Jasmine Gonzales and Karen Diaz.
The cast of Kadenang Ginto with the scholars.
How to help
Individuals, companies, and organizations could help in various ways. One is by supporting a scholar—either by donating the tuition fees, which is P40,000 per year (P80,000 for a two-year program) or for the board and lodging, which amounts to P132,000 for two years. “Some of our scholars come from far-flung provinces, so if they have no place to stay here in Manila, they cannot avail of the scholarship,” Jacinto explains. She said the support of ABS-CBN executives go to the latter and to other miscellaneous needs of the scholars such as food and transportation.
If you got way too many rice cookers, cutleries, or other kitchen implements on your wedding or anniversary, you could donate those to Punlaan. They also welcome experts (say, chefs) who could do demos and other workshops.
An easy way to help this Christmas is to order their butter cookies, which are sold for P100 for a canister of 20grams, and their signature choco chip walnut raisin cookies, which are sold at 4 cookies for P200 (also in a canister). They are accepting Christmas orders up to December 13. To order, call 727-05812.
For more information about Punlaan School, visit their website https://punlaanschool.edu.ph/
Photographs by Daniel Soriano