MANILA, Philippines - It's a unique student awards ceremony when nearly half the proud parents don't show up.
But each of the students whom Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) honored at an awards lunch at the bank's Makati headquarters on Monday November 12 has a unique story.
One young woman is an award-winning triathlete.
One young man is a business owner.
Another student is the youth vice major of his city.
Each of the 10 awardees grew up with a parent working overseas — and until today, they are still there, working to support their families in the Philippines.
As a nice personal touch to the awards lunch, BPI beamed in video messages from each of the honoree's parents.
From Qatar, Canada, Italy, Saudi Arabia, America and even the high seas, parents told their kids how proud they are of them.
In a country where more than two million citizens work abroad, many students have to get used to having their parents miss some of the biggest events in their lives, like graduations and important school events; and the little events that make up a day, like riding to school, eating dinner together and giving one other a hug before bedtime.
The 10 incredible students who won BPI's 6th annual search for the Ten Outstanding Overseas Filipino Children shared with Rappler the joys and pains of being the child of an overseas Filipino worker or OFW.
1) Name: Angelo Jan David Garon or "Gelo"
OFW parent: Father works in the United States
Biggest challenge: "Missing him, plus nobody taught me how to court a woman. Just kidding. It's hard to not have the person you admire and look up to right beside you. His physical presence is like gold to me."
Hardest moment: "Every Christmas when he can't go home because he is one of the heads of the company he works for. It's one of the family's most fun moments of the year and it's always so sad that he's not there."
The silver lining: "I have to say it's a good thing he became an OFW especially for the needs of the family because we are a big, big family. I have 6 siblings. This disadvantage of not having him around comes with a complementing advantage. I am more independent and self-sufficient."
Lesson learned: "Be excellent in everything you do. Remember that there are people who support you even if they are not with you."
Dream: "I'm currently thinking of building my own IT firm. But my mom has a different dream for me: she wants me to become a politician. I think it will be better to become a politician so I can help OFW families more."
2) Name: Mark Anthony Lacsinto
OFW parent: Mother works in Qatar
Biggest challenge: "There is no one you can approach if you are encountering personal problems."
Hardest moment: "I graduated [from high school as a] valedictorian and yet my mother was not able to come… I was crying as I delivered my speech. I kept thinking how much happier I would have been if she was personally there clapping for me and putting my medals on me. After the graduation ceremony when we came back home, my sister told me that my mother called while I was giving my speech, and my sister funneled [the phone] into the speaker. My mother cried while she listened to me."
The silver lining: "She and my father are able to provide our needs. They really work hard to support our education."
Lesson learned: "Even though [there is] distance and [there are] years of separation, understand why your parents come up with the decision to work abroad — it's for our own sake."
Dream: "To be a broadcaster, an anchor… I really think my passion is there."
3) Name: Jovito Jose Katigbak
OFW parent: Father works in Saudi Arabia
Biggest challenge: "Growing up without a father figure. There are certain decisions [that] when you have to make them instantly, you have to go with your guts."
Hardest moment: "Every day. There is not a single day I don't think of him. We speak everyday through Skype."
The silver lining: "His sacrifices made me the person I am now. It's not about the economic gains or the prestige of having an OFW parent; it's about being stronger and a better individual."
Lesson learned: "Appreciate the little things you have. Give importance to the small things and value what you have."
Dream: "To be an ambassador or a counsel, because I learned that some of my dad's co-workers experience difficulty in another land. I want to pay my blessings forward and reach out to other people."
4) Mark Collin Solas
OFW parent: Father is a seaman
Biggest challenge: "The emotional part of being far away from my father. I have to cope with challenges [without him]."
Hardest moment: "Occasions like school graduations that only happen once and where my father should be. I was sad when he told me that he won't be able to attend my graduation from college, but [I know his] support [for me] doesn't stop."
The silver lining: "He supports our family's daily needs to help sustain whatever we have."
Lesson learned: "I make the most of my time with him when he is here in the Philippines."
Dream: "To become a seaman. I'm taking up his course to take on the same job, the same profession, so that I [may] appreciate what he is doing for us to be financially stable. I love his job; to be an officer, to man a vessel, to be a captain."
5) Name: Mark Kevin Nuñez
OFW parent: Father is a seafarer in Italy
Biggest challenge: "Seeing him sick when he comes home; for the past two years it has been like that. I don't like seeing that. I worry about his safety and I miss him."
Hardest moment: "When he came home and his appendix had already exploded for almost a week; he was about to die. That was one of the worst moments. It inspired me to start [my baller band] business and make it big so that my parents will just stay here and I will give them the business. That [incident] pushed me."
The silver lining: "I want to make him proud so I strive hard to do my best."
Lesson learned: "He provided me with the inspiration and passion to do my best."
Dream: "I want to expand my business and go into other industries, maybe technology to create some innovative applications."
6) Name: Mary Pauline Fornea
OFW parent: Father works in Saudi Arabia
Biggest challenge: "Having my father so far away."
Hardest moment: "Each time I compete in a race. Before he went to Saudi, my dad always prepared my stuff for triathlons. He cheered for me."
The silver lining: "He inspires me to be a good athlete and a good student."
Lesson learned: "Try hard and pray for the best."
Dream: "To be a world class triathlete. That has been my dream since I was 10 years old."
7) Name: Paul Emerson Almontero
OFW parent: Mother is a caregiver in Canada
Biggest challenge: "That she is not here physically."
Hardest moment: "At first, I was confused about why she had to leave us [after my dad died]. Why did she have to go? Did she love us? But the rest of our family was there to explain that she had to earn a living as both a mother and father. A graduation day [was hard too] because I had an award but no one was there for me. I had to hold back my tears and just wear my medals proudly because all my achievements are for them."
The silver lining: "The challenge of being away from her comes with an honor because she is my idol and a modern hero. Seldom do you have the chance to be the son of a hero."
Dream: "My dream is to teach children in elementary school, especially OFW children."
8) Name: Ritchelle Lamayo or "Ritch"
OFW parent: Father has been working overseas for 10 years
Biggest challenge: "The fact that you are here and they are far away from you. But then it's up to you to make your life better. Being away from your parent is not an excuse for you to destroy your life; it is a challenge for you to make the most out of it."
Hardest moment: "As a child, I was always jealous of other children who had their parents with them."
The silver lining: "Whenever my father comes home for vacation and I see the smile of satisfaction on his face that we grew up to be good individuals."
Dream: "I would like to stay here. I want to be the best teacher I can be and to help OFW children. I want to be a high school science teacher who inspires her students and also teaches them how to live a full life, not just academics."
9) Name: Gerard Don Padilla
OFW parent: Father is a civil engineer in Qatar
Biggest challenge: "It's actually bittersweet. It's bitter because he's not there; I don't have a father figure at home. But it's sweet because whenever he arrives from whatever country he is coming from, there are so many pasalubongs and it's like having a month of holidays. We would always go out, watch movies and eat out."
Hardest moment: "School gatherings — like my high school graduation — are hard. But I understand why he can't be there."
The silver lining: "In the end, it's worth it because for him it contributes to his experience. I think it's good that he gets to work in different countries for different companies and add these experiences his resume."
Lesson learned: "Anything is possible. People might think that we are so disadvantaged because we don't have a father or mother figure growing up with us, but we still excel. If we were able to do it, then of course they can do it, too."
Dream: "I want to be an internal auditor because I want to travel. Some of my professors were auditors before and they tell us how fun it is so I'd like to try it out."
10) Name: Aljon Mayuga
OFW parent: Father is a seaman
Biggest challenge: "I am already used to my father living out of the country since he left when I was still a baby. The general challenge I face is the incompleteness of my family. Whenever there are special occasions, I get jealous of other families."
Hardest moment: "My brother and my high school graduation. It was a very important event but he couldn't come."
The silver lining: "[Our father] working abroad gives much more income to our family."
Lesson learned: "You should learn to walk by yourself, take initiative and think outside the box. Know your purpose [even if] without the guidance of your father or mother."
Dream: "My dream job is to be a civil engineer contractor and to have my own contracting company. I really like technical stuff. When I was a kid, I always reconstructed broken toys. My friends would always throw away their toys but I would always rebuild them. Now in school they call me 'the craftsman' because I want to mix things up and create something new." - Rappler.com