Thousands of Nursing students have attended my classes, and they have come in various shapes and forms: young, not so young, married, single, well-off, poor. They have one common goal: to leave this country as soon as possible.
Ask them why they took the course, and they are quick to tell you success stories of their relatives in other countries, and the dim tomorrow that awaits us in our own. These students are well-driven, and well-motivated. Charity begins at home. And so are apathy, resignation, and materialism. Any influence that I wield as an educator is very easily negated by the gospel of a world that is painfully real.
When I decided to move to teaching from a better paying job, I was in high spirits. I yearned to live and grow in the academe, where knowledge thrives, where the ideal is pursued, and where young people are taught how not to commit the same mistakes our fathers did. Today, I am afraid, I am reduced to being an accomplice to one sugarcoated mistake.
My students listen to my lectures, but seem too occupied to really get the message. Our nurses are leaving by the hour. Operating rooms are filled with novice nurses because the skilled ones have left. Women and children are dying in depressed communities where health care is poorly administered. Because nursing students pass through my classroom, blood is also in my hands. How can we build a country deserted by the best of her sons and daughters? I cannot take this sitting down, but I have also grown too weary to resist. I am just another powerless academic. For this, I grieve.
And I grieve even more when I meet students who were forced and brainwashed by their elders into taking up nursing. Many of them have come to me in tears. They tell me of their agony, the pain of killing a dream at its infancy. Such is the epidemic that plagues the homes of the Filipino middle-class today, a scandal that negates what the fathers of this nation lived and died for, a plague that would not spare my own home.
I gained a better insight into my students’ situation when a year ago, my nephew J-Jay informed us that he wanted to be a mathematician. It was a surprise. In this country where young people dream of becoming doctors, lawyers, actors, and presidents, we have someone who dreamt of being a mathematician.
Members of the family were proud of him, especially when he graduated on top of his class, and aced all aptitude tests in math. But many were worried about his future. “What will he become, a teaaaaacher?” they asked, apparently concerned about the prospect of J-Jay dying of starvation. Consequently, our relatives convinced him to take another course that is close to numbers, but farther from the sting of poverty. J-Jay chose Engineering. That was a good compromise—or so we thought.
But then Ate Hedy, my older sister, went home for a three-month vacation from New Zealand, where she works as a nurse. She prodded J-Jay to study nursing. “If you take nursing, you can leave this country, and bring your family there, too. You can buy the things you want,” she told him. At first, J-Jay was hesitant, “Sayang naman po ang galing ko sa Math, Tita,” he said matter of factly. But Ate Hedy’s “success” was one that J-Jay could not ignore completely.
I talked to Ate Hedy and told her we should not teach J-Jay wrong values. Her reply pierced my heart deeply: “I am just trying to enlighten him. Wala nang pag-asa ang Pilipinas! Wala nang mangyayari sa atin dito! Bakit, sa tingin mo, may pag-asa pa ba?!”.
And Ate Hedy was not content with J-Jay taking nursing. She also urged me to take my chances abroad, promising help.
The offer was sweet, but it left a bitter aftertaste. It’s grounded on the assumption that I was not happy, or might not continue to be happy, if I stayed in this land. Apparently, even in my loving family, I am a powerless academic.
I did not want to ruin Ate Hedy’s vacation and her balikbayan bliss, so I spared her a lengthy discourse about nationalism, responsible citizenship, and the price we have to pay for them. If she were in one of my classes, I would have bored her by my pleading to imagine our nation in a more kindly light. I am not sure though how my one and a half hours of talking about big concepts would change the way Ate Hedy looks at things.
I was even beginning to be unsure if I made sense to my students. No, I was not telling them not to take nursing. I was asking them to serve our countrymen, and not to give up on this nation. I was asking them to give back to this land, a land that they feel has not given them enough.
Rizal must be rolling violently in his grave. The youth is a source of hope no more. I’d rather draw strength from people who are decades wiser, those who never cease to believe in their power to make a difference. Dr. Nancy Balantac of MMSU is one of them. The lines in her face reveal her age, but the glow in her eyes shows a burning love of country that is as pure and intense as the love of a two-year old child for her mother.
Then there is philosopher Rizal Javier, a man of letters who I am fortunate to work with. His living is modest, but his universe is wide and meaningful.
My mom is another big inspiration, she allowed me to pursue this dreamy life. I hope she is proud of me. If only for her, I cannot sell out.
E. San Juan, one of the more magnanimous social thinkers our land has nurtured, told me a few years ago: “When you begin to feel powerless, Herdy, try to talk to people who have the same fervor as you do. Profound social change is brought about not by individuals, but by large, organized movements.”
And so I write this piece in the hope that like-minded citizens will come together to keep the flame of hope burning. Powerless academics unite! Let’s come together and share our own victories and failures. Let’s tell what keeps us going, ever refusing to concede defeat.
What keeps me going? There are some saving graces. One came in the form of an e-mail from Kadz, a former student, who wrote to say she had transferred to San Beda to major in philosophy. She said that if by making that difficult decision, she could be half as happy as I seem to be now, then it would be worth it. It’s not true that I was taken for granted, she assured me.
Meanwhile, J-Jay went on to take Engineering, and my Ate Hedy lovingly understands.
I am now able to sleep more soundly these days as I think of Kadz, J-jay, and other brave souls who took the path less taken. I pray that Bathala may shower them her most abundant blessings.
But I pray harder for Jeus, Danica, Archie, Bertrand, Byron, Mininio, and many others held hostage by either need or greed. I mourn for the death of the philosophers, mathematicians, artists, and dreamers in them, even as I celebrate the demise of the prostitute me. ##