Homeless teenage girl in Manila graduates from high school
Still, Rodali did not let that get in the way of her dream — to pursue her studies.
On Friday, she joined other Manila High School graduates in going up the stage to receive their diplomas.
For others like Rodali, education is not a basic human right but a luxury nearly impossible to attain.
Her mother, a sidewalk vendor, is the sole provider for Rodali, her younger sister, and her best friend Gemmalyn, who lives with them after being sent away by her family.
They all sleep on makeshift beds, which they set up on the sidewalk at night. Their only shelter is the overhanging eave of a roof.
Last year, documentary photographer Rick Rocamora met Rodali and learned that aside from being a determined student, she was also serving as kagawad in her barangay’s Sangunniang Kabataan (SK).
Rodali told Rocamora then how she struggled to do schoolwork on the sidewalk she calls home: without lights or a desk, she had to study in the darkness.
Without a bathroom, she had to wake up very early to collect water for bathing.
When GMA News Online caught up with her on the morning of her graduation, she revealed that her struggles last year as a third year student did not change but became even more difficult because of the senior year workload.
She got through by sheer perseverance: “Nung nag-4th year ako, parang dun ko binuhos lahat, na makakatapos ako ng pag-aaral, konting tiis nalang, kahit nahihirapan, pumapasok pa rin po ako sa school.”
There was strength in the almost-matter-of-fact way she recalled her struggles, revealing an indomitable spirit underneath her shy and self-conscious exterior.
In her presence, one cannot deny that here was a girl who refused to play the victim, who demanded more than what life handed her.
“Dito po sa amin sa Quiapo, halos lahat ng kabataan dito, mga naliligaw ng landas. Ayaw ko po matulad sa kanila, gusto ko po maiba. Naappreciate ko po na napakahirap ng dinaranas namin, kaya gusto ko po makatapos ng pag-aaral,” she said, explaining that her own sister was among those who did not want to go to school.
AUDIO INTERVIEW: Listen to 18-year-old Rodali Mosende talk about the difficulties of growing up on the streets and her budding career as a public servant and youth leader.
Multimedia package produced by Pia Faustino
In Rodali’s case, it helped that she actually enjoys learning. “Nag-eenjoy naman po ako na madami akong natutunan,” she said. She shared that her favorite subject is English.
“Masaya naman ako, kasi tapos na,” Rodali added, expressing a calm satisfaction over what she achieved.
Her mother Rosalie, on the other hand, was a picture of gushing happiness.
Quite the stage mother, Rosalie continually told her daughter to speak louder as she was being interviewed.
Rodali also revealed that it was her mother who made sure she didn’t run with the wrong people, and encouraged her to join the SK.
With tears welling in her bright brown eyes, the spry woman spoke of her happiness at the graduation of her daughter whom she fondly calls "Naning." It seemed as if Rodali's graduation was much Rosalie's achievement as her daughter’s.
“Natutuwa ako na makakagraduate po ang anak ko…hindi ko po naano na umabot siya ng ganito. Matiyaga lang po ako, sinusundan ko sila…ang iyak ko, iyak ng tuwa,” Rosalie said.
During the graduation rites, the uniform-clad students began their march, and Rodali, who came late, slipped into the procession silent and almost unnoticed.
"Quiet and average"
She had been described by both teachers and classmates as quiet and average, and in her uniform she hardly stood out from the throng of graduates, especially not next to the more boisterous ones.
“She’s a typical high school 4th year student. Very prim and proper compared sa mga 4th year ngayon. She has values. Average naman siya, nakakacope din siya,” said her class adviser, Corazon Castañeda, who nevertheless noted that her study habits were good and that she was top 3 out of the class of 40.
One of Rodali’s closest friends, Jude Santiago, described her rather differently.
“Kakaiba siya sa mga babae na kilala ko. Mahirap siya kilalanin. Hindi basta-basta makikipagkaibigan. Pero mabait,” he said. “Malakas ang fighting spirit niya. Malakas ang bilib niya sa sarili niya.”
Rodali explains that she is determined to get to college, and with the help of a benefactor who offered her a scholarship, she now has a real shot.
“Inaantay ko pa po yung result ng mga exam. HRM (Hotel and Restaurant Management) po ang gusto ko kunin, gusto ko po sa mga hotel, mga nagseserve. ‘Tsaka gusto ko din po magluto,” she explained.
She clarified that if she doesn’t pass the entrance exam, she plans to work at a fast food restaurant with her friends for a year, “tapos mag-aaral po ako ulit.”
After college, she said she not only wants to buy a house for her mom but she also wants to help other kids who are in similar situations.
“Gusto ko po magkasariling bahay kami ni Mama, tsaka makapagtrabaho ng maayos…tapos gusto ko po matulungan yung mga katulad ko, yung mga gustong mag-aral, yung mga nakatira sa kalye. Gusto ko po mabigyan sila ng bahay at libreng edukasyon,” she shared.
With her shyness waning, Rodali said she wanted kids like her to know that hard as it is, they shouldn’t give up on their education: “’Wag silang susuko kasi hindi hadlang ‘yung kahirapan para makatapos ng pag-aaral.” — VVP/HS, GMA News