Two “babies” of the Special Program for the Employment Students (SPES) never thought that the program could let them scale heights beyond summer job.

After graduating with flying colors and now gaining grounds on their professional careers, Mae Joy Hermoso and Connie Beb Aya-Toralba couldn’t recount their inspiring real-life stories without their SPES experience.

Connie was 15, a second year high school, when she enrolled in the Program; while Mae Joy was 18, a struggling 3rd year college student.

Nineteen years ago, former President Corazon Aquino started the SPES by enacting Republic Act 7323 on March 30, 1992. Subsequently, RA 9547 which was enacted in 2009 expanded the coverage of the program by introducing amendments to the original SPES law.

Her Only Hope

“It was just the perfect timing and opportunity for a struggling student like me when my neighbor told me about the program,” Mae Joy said.

She was an incoming 3rd year student of University of the Philippines Mindanao Campus in 2009 that she learned of the program.

“All I know was that it was a summer job opportunity offered for underprivileged but deserving students by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) through Public Employment Service Office (PESO).  And so I tried my luck,” she said.

“I considered it as my only chance, my only hope. My parents were separated, my father did not provide for the family and I have 3 younger siblings dependent to my mother’s P200 daily income from selling chorizo, embutido and tocino. Desperate to help, I pushed my luck in praying to at least provide my school expenses and allowances so as not to add up to my mother’s burden,” Mae Joy said.

She took her work assignments under the SPES program with a grain of salt which had taught her great lessons in life.

She was first employed as a food crew in one of Jollibee’s branches in the city who later gave her a longer contract.

“It was my very first job, a service-oriented job, where I learned to give value in providing fast service and a smile for customers while enjoying it at the same time,” she said.

On a summer of 2010, she was assigned as a packer at the Lonbisco, Inc. (a biscuit manufacturer) where she learned the value of hardwork and ‘hitting the quota’ to earn extra commission at the end of the day.

The following year, she was assigned at Davao City Assessor’s Office.  It was there that her social skills were enhanced as she needed to face a lot of people every day. In 2012, she gained more experience working under the City General Services Office (GSO).

“After the summer stint at GSO, my boss asked me if I wanted to stay. Without hesitation, I grabbed the opportunity, arranged my class schedule for my two remaining subjects and continued to work part time,” she said.

In 2013, she graduated at the University of the Philippines – Mindanao with a degree in Bachelor of Arts in Communication.

Today, she continues to work in the GSO as a casual employee.

“SPES had been a blessing for me and for every SPES grantees who graduated from college. The experience taught us to appreciate the value of a job beyond the rate of one’s salary,” she said.

Mae Joy said that SPES did not only support her financial needs to graduate college, but it has also given her the advantage to experience a rare chance to develop proper work attitude and skills.

“From the moment I was with SPES, I felt blessed every time. I am deeply thankful,” she said at the brink of tears.

Paying it forward

Some 300 kilometers away in Butuan City, Connie was a second year high school (1996) in Agusan National High School when her neighbor told her about the program.

Like Mae Joy, she appreciated her various work assignments for teaching her the right attitude and values at work.

“I enjoyed my job as assistant ticket collector for the public utility bus. It developed my confidence to face people and talk to government officials,” Connie said.

“My salary covered my tuition fees (in college), school materials and expenses (in high school). I also gave some to my mother to pay our water bills and electricity,” Connie recalling her experiences with a proud smile.

“It was a wonderful feeling when I receive my salary from what I worked for.  You will really feel proud of yourself,” she added.

After graduating with special academic honors with a degree in Bachelor of Science in Industrial Engineering at Father Saturnino Urios University, she soon sought employment in government service.

“I feel that I need to pay it forward through public service all the blessings I have received for so many years,” Connie said.

“When I applied for my first job at NCMB (National Conciliation and Mediation Board), I was also very proud to put into my resume my work experiences under SPES. It is my source of pride,” she added.

After some time, she got a plantilla positon as Administrative Assistant at NCMB. Later on she transferred to the DOLE Davao Region Office when she was promoted to Labor and Employment Officer III designated as a Labor Laws Compliance Officer (LLCO).

Connie and Mae Joy are just two of the thousand SPES babies all these years. Two inspiring real-life stories that have brought fruition to the vision of providing the Filipino Youth life-changing opportunities.

Sherwin B. Manual/DOLE 11