Nanay Jeannette of Batong Malake: An enduring testament to the value of education

by Angelica Jayz Villar

Last September 2018, a photo of an elderly lady in a college uniform went viral on Facebook.

The woman wearing the uniform of Laguna State Polytechnic University-Los Baños (LSPU-LB) is Jeannette Baldazo,  Nanay JB or Nanay Jeannette to her student friends and classmates, an 81-year old undergraduate student residing in Sacay Grand Villas at Brgy. Batong Malake in Los Baños, Laguna.

“I never lost the desire [to finish college],” this is why she perseveres with her studies. Nanay Jeannette has been pursuing BS Education at LSPU-LB since 2012, taking only a couple of courses every semester due to her health conditions.

This coming June, Nanay Jeannette earns her BS Education degree as part of the LSPU-LB graduating class of 2019.

From one college to another

Growing up in a poor family was not easy. Nanay Jeannette’s parents could not support her education. After graduating from high school, her married sister who was then living in Manila, took her in. Her older brother funded her for one year when she took up Office Administration, a vocational course in FEATI University in Manila.

After finishing the course, she looked for ways to generate income. “I like to be independent. I find things to do [to be productive]. Nanay Jeannette got a typing job but according to her, it was still not enough to make ends meet, earning only PhP 120 per month. “Nahihiya naman akong humingi ng extrang pera sa kapatid ko, so I had to really save my own money. I would buy a pack of hopia for lunch which was not really that expensive.”

Believing that finishing college would make a difference in her life, she tried enrolling in a business-related degree program at UP Padre Faura (now UP Manila). However, Nanay Jeannette stopped for she could not save enough money to continue the course. She got a job post at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in Los Baños that came with free board and lodging. It was too good an opportunity to say no to. She took the job and worked as a secretary at the Agronomy Department. Her tasks involved typing and proofreading theses of international students.

Nanay Jeannette tried to balance her work and her academics as she once again tried to enter college at Calamba Institute. She however, found it hard to travel back from class to her dormitory at night because there were no means of transportation to Calamba then back to IRRI during late hours.

It was at IRRI where Nanay Jeannette met her husband, Pablo Baldazo. He eventually resigned and started teaching at UPLB. When UP started “upgrading” its faculty, hiring only those who have a masters or PhD degree, Pablo left the country and tried to enter Pittsburgh University in Pennsylvania, USA. “For him to be able to go there, I had to sell a piece of land I own so that he could have the money,” recalled Nanay Jeannette.

Life in the US, a selfless pursuit for family’s comfort

After a year, Nanay Jeannette migrated to the US along with their sons Rex, the two years old, and Rey, 15 months old. When they arrived in the US, she was informed that her husband had a huge sum of money in debt. They managed to settle the debt it with her remaining pocket money.

To support her husband’s education, she worked different jobs for the whole week nonstop. Since they were living in a housing where many international students stayed, Nanay Jeannette accepted typing jobs and proofreading the documents along the process. It was pretty similar with her work at IRRI so the task was fairly easy for her. The problem was that it was challenging to take on several jobs while taking care of two children. Their family could not afford to hire a babysitter so she and her husband had to take turns in taking care of their children. In doing the laundry, she had to hand wash their clothes and let it dry at the basement of the building since they cannot afford to avail of washing machine services. Nanay Jeannette recalled the housing supervisor jokingly told her ‘You probably have the cleanest clothes in the building because you wash your clothes by hand!’. “What he doesn’t know is that I don’t have money to use the (washing) machine.”

Things started to get better for their family when her husband started working at the Department of Water Resources. They moved to Boise, Idaho. “However, even if our lives became a little easier, my focus was still on my family’s needs and not mine,” Nanay Jeannette shared. She worked at Boise State University at the Admissions Services while taking a couple of classes.

Time flew by fast for the Baldoza family in Boise. Their son Rex, according to Nanay Jeannette, was an excellent student and gained high scores in his SAT, an exam to be taken by high school students to be able to enter college. He studied Electrical Engineering at Texas A&M University.

Nanay Jeannette and her family went through the darkest time in their lives when her second son, Rey, died. Rex almost stopped college. But his parents pushed him to finish his degree since he only had one more year left. As for Nanay Jeannette, she had a hard time grieving for her son’s death. She eventually left her job at BSU and wanted to go back to the Philippines.

“The community [in the Philippines] was very good to me. I wanted to give back because I know how it is to be poor.”

Creating experiences, changing lives

Her desire to finish college did not change. Not knowing whether she could enter UPLB under a bachelor’s degree, she enrolled in Laguna State Polytechnic University-Los Baños instead. It is a state university located at Brgy. Malinta in Los Baños, Laguna.

During her stay as an undergraduate, she has initiated multiple projects. “My life here is made more meaningful, colorful, and much more satisfying for me by helping other people which, otherwise I cannot do if I was in the US because it would not make that much of a difference.”

Her first project was that she was able to put up a band. She announced in class, asking her classmates who wanted to join in.

Nanay Jeannette and her son Rex, while on a vacation cruise in Norway. (Photo courtesy of JBaldazo)

In her cruises with her son, she noticed that Filipinos were excellent musicians. This inspired her to buy second-hand instruments back in the US that were no longer used by young students and she  took them home to the Philippines. These are same instruments now used by her band members. After the original band members have graduated, she is now trying to establish a band at her church, Diocesan Shrine of St. Therese of the Child Jesus at UPLB, where she also serves as a lector.

Nanay Jeannette has donated a small study area so that the students would have somewhere to go to whenever they do school projects and assignments. According to her, she provided the funds for the construction materials, the school administration provided labor, and the College of Teacher Education (CTE) Council provided the tables and chairs.

The study area which Nanay Jeannette helped setup in LSPU-LB.

She has also organized a couple of seminar at her school, one of which was a basic Mandarin class conducted by her tenant at the condominium that she owns at Sacay Grand Villa.

One way of repaying her classmates who helped her in their major school requirements was to bring them to the cinema, restaurant, theme park, or musicals.

According to her, most students of LSPU come from financially-challenged families, which mean they could not afford life’s luxuries on their own.

“If I made a difference in one’s life, okay na yun sa akin,” she explained. “Right now, I am in a position where I can do things which ordinary people cannot do. So what I do is I try and create ‘experiences and opportunities’ for these children,” Nanay Jeannette added. “These experiences will drive the students to do better to be able to afford these experiences much later in life.”

The biggest project that she has done was to organize a cooperative, a bridge loan that lends money for students with OFW parents. She deposited PhP 20,000 to open a bank account, with 50% being the circulating money. The cooperative had lower interest which made it easier for students to return the borrowed money. However, on its second year, Nanay Jeannette decided to discontinue the cooperative because of a student who did not return the PhP 2,000 she borrowed.

A call to adjust the curriculum

Nanay Jeannette’s life in college is no different than other students’. She experiences difficulty in some of her subjects, specifically in Math, Chemistry and Physics. She explained that she could no longer use the theoretical concepts taught in class in her everyday life at her age. “It would’ve been better if they give me practical exams and application where I can see its relevance in real life.”

She believes that the curriculum should adjust to its students especially now that a lot of people her age may soon be entering college because of free education. Nanay Jeannette specified that she already finds it difficult to memorize and thus, experiences difficulty in enumeration and identification-type of exams.

Another thing that she did not like was the classroom set-up where students are the ones reporting the lesson and the teacher listens and grades the reporters. Nanay Jeannette feels deprived since some of the students, according to her, may not be able to provide sufficient information, as compared to that when the actual professor delivers it.

This urged her to write a letter to the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), requesting for adjustments in the curriculum, such as providing non-traditional students like her, exams and activities that would best be relatable to their lives. Unfortunately, her request has been denied, with the CHED officials returning the her letter to the LSPU-LB administration.

A different view on things

Because she lived in the US for for several years, she cannot help but take note of the differences between American and Filipino learning environment.

“I think, when I am in class, I bring knowledge and experiences to the classroom that makes it beneficial to everybody kasi iba ang pananaw ko sa buhay.”

She noticed that Filipinos lacked financial literacy. According to her, many people still don’t give importance to saving their own money. Similarly, people do not understand the concept of interest. “Ang pera, hindi sa laking ng pumapasok, it’s how you manage it.” 

She also hoped that the educational system could take into consideration the diversity of the students. “We have to go to the level of the students so that you can deal with him because you cannot give him information if he is not ready to receive it.” Nanay Jeannette shared that when she was in the US, the professors provided diverse experiences for the learners who came from different walks of life Nanay Jeannette believes that learning could be best achieved when the lesson is translated into something understandable that caters to a diverse group of students, depending on their cultural backgrounds. “It is the teacher’s duty to put in extra effort to find ways on how to make learning more comprehensible and relatable for her students.” Nanay Jeannette firmly believes that we should start training students to be critical thinkers. “This is why our country lacks good leaders. We are just trained to be good followers.” 

Life outside the university

Just like any other student, Nanay Jeannette also finds time for other activities outside school. She is currently a member of the senior citizens’ group of Brgy. Batong Malake. She volunteered in handling and updating the list for  future references when the government plans to make programs for the senior citizens.

Other than that, she is also a member of the Lectors and Commentators’ Ministry at the Diocesan Shrine of St. Therese of the Child Jesus.

Nanay Jeannette also funds a scholarship in the name of her son Rey. Initially, it was supposed to be a scholarship program at UPLB. But since the chancellor at that time was “looking for something else” that was beyond Nanay Jeanette’s capacity, she decided to push through with it at Boise State University, funding Filipino-American students and Filipinos who came to the US to study.

Nanay Jeannette lives alone. She does the house chores on her own and wash her clothes. “At my age, I still value my independence,” she shares. Ate Anna, a helper, only comes once a week to clean the house.

She travels to US at least once a year to visit Rex and some of her relatives and also to pay her taxes and occasionally goes on cruises with her son, believing that traveling is educational.

Nanay Jeannettes’ future endeavours

Nanay Jeannette only has two more subjects to take before graduation, one math course and one seminar-type. When asked whether she would be taking the Licensure Examination for Teachers, she jokingly answered with, “Sino ba namang magh-hire sa isang 80-years old? Masaya na ako sa diploma.” (

As for her plans in returning to the US, she said that when she is given a reason to stay here in the Philippines, she would. If the barangay would still need her help or when a project is asking for her assistance, she is more than willing to lend a hand.

Nanay Jeannette never gets tired of helping other people. Her life is made more colorful by inspiring and touching others’ lives.

The elderly lady in the college uniform proved that no one is old enough to chase their lifelong dreams.

 


“When you go through hardships like that and you look back, you could say, ‘Thank God!’ I knew that He was with me the whole time.”

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