ALS in LB: Conquering Dreams Even Behind Bars

Gilbert Malinaw, one of the top notchers of the ALS Program, delivers his speech.

by Rose Jeanette L. Agustin and Kimberly M. Afundar

They once looked at him with judgment and scrutiny, but now they look up at him as if he was a different person.

It was all like a dream to Gilbert, a 21 year-old detainee in Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) in Los Baños, Laguna. But as he marched towards the stage during the commencement exercise of the Alternative Learning System-Literacy Reform Program (ALS-LRP) Los Baños last September 5, he knew that dreams do come true; and that hindrances, like being a 2-year detainee, won’t stop him in fulfilling his dreams.

Gilbert, from Brgy. Batong Malake, Los Baños is just one of the many learners of ALS. This program prioritizes Out-of-School Youths (OSYs) and adults, drop-outs, persons with disabilities and less fortunate people who live below poverty line coming from disadvantaged and underserved communities. Gilbert was one of those who got side tracked by his peers and by the false pleasure from vices. With that, he dropped out from high school and was accused for drug pushing.

Sinayang ko yung sustentong binibigay sa’kin ng mga nagpapaaral sa akin Akala nila nag-aaral ako pero nasa barkada [ko] lang ako. (I wasted all the money that was given to me. They thought I’m in school, but the truth is, I’m wit my peers),” he said.

The beginning of hope

Gilbert and his other inmates were informed about ALS-LRP which is a non-formal education program. This program offers its graduates a diploma that provides them opportunities to enroll college or other training programs and into better paying jobs. He thought that this would be a great opportunity for him to gain one of the most important things he had lost – education.

With the program, he then realized that there were still a lot of things he didn’t know. ALS-LRP helped him become more knowledgeable about mathematical problems and most of all, essay writing.

People who made him push through

The encouragement from his second family played a very important role for Gilbert. When Gilbert got jailed, his biological parents despised him and stopped recognizing him as their son. However, his aunts and uncles kept him and made the effort of getting him out. They paid his private lawyer and visited him regularly. The help given to him made him more determined to return the kindness of his second parents and win back the trust of his family.

More than his family, the people from ALS-LRP motivated him as well. Municipal Councilor Lourdes Principe, who established the program, encourages him and other inmates to continue as well. Councilor Principe admits that what she saw in the learners of ALS-LRP is somehow parallel with her own life.

As one of those who were less fortunate in life, Councilor Principe and her mom used to sell samalamig (juice drinks), bibingka and other kakanin (rice cakes) in the markets in order to support their family and continue her studies.

Kung meron kang dream sa buhay mo, you will achieve it. Basta determined ka sa education, walang imposible. (If have a dream in your life, you will achieve it. As long as you are determined to pursue your education, nothing is impossible),” Councilor Principe said.

According to her, the other goal of ALS-LRP – which is to accommodate not just smart students but even those who are drop-outs and “pasang-awa’s” – is also pretty much in line with her advocacies.

ALS-LRP’s Advocacies and activities

One of the advocacies of the program is to make education accessible to everyone no matter what status they have in life. The learners need not to be smart or knowledgeable. As long as they are basically literate, they are qualified to be part of the program.

In ALS-LRP, the learning session which is called Learning Support Delivery System (LSDS) focuses on essay writing and reading comprehension. Learners are also equipped with skills in English communication, problem solving and critical thinking. These are preparations for the Accreditation and Equivalency Test (A&E) since an ALS learner will only graduate if he will be able to pass the said exam.

The students will take their A&E test after 800 hours of LSDS. For Gilbert and 8 other inmates, their A&E exam happened on October 23, last year. After the exam, they had to wait for four months to know if they passed or not.

When the results came, Gilbert was pleasantly surprised on the results of his exam. He was one of the passers of the exam but more than that – he was actually one of the topnotchers nationwide.

“Natawa pa nga sa’kin yung mga kakosa ko kasi nagtatatalon ako sa tuwa. Sumasayaw-sayaw pa ako. Agad kong tinawagan yung pamilya ko. Na-feel ko na yun na yung simula ng pagbabago ng lahat. (My inmates even found me funny when I jumped and even danced for joy. I immediately called and my family to tell them the news. I had the feeling that it things would change from then on),” he said.

Los Baños’ Mayor Anthony Genuino congratulates Gilbert Malinaw for being one of the topnotchers in the Alternative Learning System program

The turning point

Gilbert is now one of the successful learners who graduated from ALS-LRP. Since the establishment of the program in Los Baños in January 2009, it was able to accommodate more than 200 learners. From 18 graduates in each year of 2010 and 2011, it had increased to 32 graduates this year. Today ALS-LRP has expanded, not only with the number of graduates but also with their learning centers. From a single center in Gabaldon, other centers were established Bayog, Lalakay and of course, in BJMP, with plans of further expanding in other areas in Los Baños.

During the commencement exercises of ALS-LRP, Gilbert and eight other inmates were given five hours of freedom to attend and celebrate it as well. Municipal officials, BJMP inspectors, ALS-LRP facilitators and of course, their respective families witnessed this important event in their life.

Being a topnotcher, Gilbert was given the privilege to speak in front to deliver a speech. Tears rolled down his cheeks as he proudly delivered his speech. He thanked everyone who helped him with his journey and gave his deepest gratitude to the program, ALS-LRP.

The diploma for Gilbert did not only provide him open doors, but it also restored broken relationships and made him win back the trust from his parents. He promised himself that he will take care of this blessing forever. The chapter in his life where he became a learner in ALS, graduated from it and received his diploma became a milestone in his seemingly hopeless situation.

“It was all thanks to ALS-LRP and all the people behind it,” he said.

A step for a future

ALS-LRP always wanted its graduates to use their diplomas for good. The program hopes that they will use it to enter college and pursue education to the fullest. However, given the graduates’ status in life, they rather get employed. This is why as much as possible the program wants to provide scholarship grants to its graduates. According to councilor Principe, negotiations are still underway

For Gilbert, he plans to take up a computer-based course with his diploma. He promised himself that he would work on it seriously so he’d be able to graduate and have a college degree. Because more than graduating, he would want to give back to his parents.

Gilbert now knows in the importance of education. He now believes that, education is the only key for the future.

“Kung wala ang susi na to, di ka makakapunta sa road to success. Hanggang pinto ka lang. (Without education, you will not be able to enter the door which will lead to the road of success.),” Gilbert said.

He had experienced the hardships brought about by slacking in his studies but more than that, he had seen the consequences brought by the lack of it. Gilbert proved that by being persistent and hardworking, one will truly achieve one’s ambitions in life.

Living a life behind bars, Gilbert may still be deprived of liberty but this would never be the case o his hopes for the future. His plans may also be on hold by bars in his prison cell, but there is one thing that he is sure of, that with his patience and perseverance, his dream and aspirations will be fulfilled soon.

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