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Public Affairs

The boy who reads: A story of hope from a viral photo

“Opo, ako po ‘yan,” MJ said while looking at a photo of a barefoot boy seated on the floor of a bookstore, his worn out shirt and shorts hanging loosely on his small frame. The boy in the photo appeared engrossed in reading a book.
In an interview with Jessica Soho for GMA Network’s weekly magazine and lifestyle program “Kapuso Mo, Jessica Soho,” the boy in the photo--13-year-old Mark Jayvee "MJ" Mojon-- said that he wants to serve as an inspiration to other street kids.
“’Yung ibang bata, may mga libro pero hindi naman po nila binabasa. Itatapon nila. Sayang lang din naman po yung pinaghirapan ng mga magulang nila," he said. "Samantalang po ako, wala. Gusto ko pong maging inspirasyon sa mga batang katulad kong pulubi, kahit na mahirap, pursigidong magtapos ng pag-aaral po.”
MJ inspired thousands of netizens when his photo was uploaded on the Facebook page of “YouScoop,” the citizen journalism arm of GMA News. The photo shows MJ, barefoot and in tattered clothes, reading a book on the floor of the Pedro Gil branch of Booksale.
Two days after it was posted, the photo went viral, receiving more than 14,000 likes and 6,000 shares. A number of Facebook users also commented on the photo, asking for the boy’s address so they can send him more books and toys, and possibly, help put him through school.
The YouScooper who took the photo, Sedricke Lapuz, an Assistant Professor at UP-Manila, said that he was amazed at the child's apparent passion for reading.
“Na-amaze ako na may batang ganoon ang kalagayan sa buhay pero gustong magbasa… bilang teacher, siyempre I’m an advocate of education, and to see a kid against all odds trying to read [is inspiring].”
MJ said that the bookstore was near the place where his grandfather, a vendor, sells his items; MJ said he would visit the store whenever he got the chance. “Nagpapaalam naman po ako para papasukin ako. Gusto ko po kasing binabasa ‘yung kwento ng pagong at matsing," he said.
Searching for the boy

“Kapuso Mo, Jessica Soho,” also known to fans of the show as simply “KMJS,” tracked down MJ in the small town of Palayan in Nueva Ecija, where he currently lives with his mother and sibling. But searching for the boy was not that easy.
With the viral photo in hand, the KMJS team went to the bookstore where the photo was taken. The store manager confirmed that the boy would frequent their store weekly.
“Madalas siyang makiusap dito na makibasa. Hindi naman abala kaya hinahayaan na lang namin,” the store manager told KMJS.
On that day, however, the boy didn’t visit the store.
The program’s staff circled the area, asking vendors and people near the establishment if they knew the kid in the photo. A couple of hours later, KMJS chanced upon an elderly vendor Jose Mojon, the boy’s grandfather.
Lolo Jose told KMJS that MJ had been living with him in a depressed area in Quiapo for the past two to three years. But about about a week ago, MJ moved with his mother to Nueva Ecija, where he’ll be studying this coming school year.
The boy who reads

MJ is the second among the five kids. His older sister was adopted by one of their relatives, his brother is in a boys' shelter, and his youngest sibling died at a very young age.
At age 13, MJ is just an incoming Grade 2 student. MJ’s mother, Janita, says financial struggles forced MJ to drop out of school for several years.
“Wala po kasi akong pirming naging trabaho," she told KMJS. "Kumbaga minsan ume-extra-extra lang po ako. Naglalabada para may pangkain po sa mga anak ko. Malungkot po kasi hindi ko po sila mapakain ng maayos."
Even while living with Lolo Jose, MJ would sometimes beg on the streets for money to buy food.
“Minsan po kahit nahihiya po ako, ginagawa ko lang po para may makain po ako. Minsan po sa panghihingi ko po, nalalagay po yung buhay ko sa peligro," says MJ.
But poverty hasn't stopped MJ from wanting to learn. When he wasn’t begging, he would visit the bookstore to read. Even in his house in Nueva Ecija, MJ has a small corner where he keeps books borrowed from neighbors.
“Minsan po kapag brownout, gasera lang po ang gamit ko sa pagbabasa, hindi naman po ako nahihirapan. Nababasa ko pa rin naman po yung mga letra.”
A surprise for MJ
Just before the end of MJ’s interview with KMJS, Kapuso star Marian Rivera surprised MJ with a pile of books. The actress also shared that she was inspired by MJ’s story and wished him well in the future.
When Jessica Soho asked MJ what he wants to be when he grows up, the boy answered without hesitation: “Piloto po.”
“Kailangan mag-aral ka. Dapat hindi ka mabarkada,” Soho told the boy.
“Pagsisikapan ko po,” the boy promised.
KMJS also reunited MJ with Lapuz, the YouScooper who took the viral photo. Lapuz told MJ that many netizens are rooting for the boy's success. Some have even offered to send MJ toys and books, or support his studies
The boy replied: "Maraming salamat po sa kanila, tapos tulungan din po sana nila yung mga kagaya kong bata rin po."
--Mia Enriquez/PF, GMA News