BAGUIO CITY, with its majestic views and historical structures is also known as the seat of education in Northern Luzon. Despite the city’s competitive tuition fees, however, a number of Baguio’s youths still struggle to find means to complete their education.
SM Foundation, Inc., the socio-civic company of Henry Sy, Sr. has been consistently providing free college scholarships for these underprivileged students. SM Foundation counts 3,000 scholars in its roster consisting of 1,700 graduates and 1,300 still in school. Of this number, 35 graduates and 35 current scholars have come from Baguio City, with most of them finding employment with SM and other companies in the Philippines and abroad.
“All of our scholars come from low-income families. This is the mission of the program – to support the college education of bright but financially challenged youths,” said Linda Atayde, SM Foundation Executive Director for Education. The Foundation began granting full scholarships to deserving students in Benguet Province in 2003, the same year SM City Baguio started operating.
One of SM Foundation’s beneficiaries is Jonalyn Panela, 23. She was referred by a volunteer organization called Pathways to Higher Education to the SM Foundation. After passing the stringent selection process by the Foundation, she pursued civil engineering in Saint Louis University in Baguio City with a full scholarship grant. Today, she works as a project engineer in SM.
Daughter of a single mother who works in a public market, Panela initially thought she would never get to fulfill her dream of getting a college degree. “I didn’t receive any support from my father so there was no chance [to continue college],” she recounted.
The same holds true for another SM scholar from Baguio, Mark Jo Vincent Hidalgo. He once thought his hopes of graduating from college were over when his father passed away. “My father died before I entered high school. We don’t have a business or any consistent income except for the wage earned by mama as a waitress-cashier in a small restaurant in Baguio,” he recalled. “During that time, I was desperate to go to school.”
His desperation motivated him to try a number of scholarship programs, yet most were unfit for his choice course and offered small benefits. “It was the second semester of my third year in high school when I saw the post of SM Foundation on the bulletin board in school,” Hidalgo said.
After going through a stringent screening process, Hidalgo received a phone call that turned his anxiety into hope for a degree in civil engineering. “My scholarship in SM Foundation was a tremendous blessing,” he said. “Because I do not have to worry every enrolment period, I was able to dedicate my full attention to my studies.”
Hidalgo’s focus enabled him to surpass his goals, graduating cum laude and becoming a licensed civil engineer in 2013.
“Mark and Jonalyn’s stories are just two among the numerous ones told by our scholars across the country,” Atayde said. “This year we look forward to changing more lives and laying the foundation for more success stories in the future.”