How social media helped a dream come true

Natashya Gutierrez
Romnick Blanco is a farmer's son turned International School Manila scholar. This is his and my story.

INSPIRED. The author with Romnick Blanco. Photo by Art Demain.

When people ask me why I write, I give them a variety of reasons.

I say I love it, that it’s my passion. I say I write because I find a sense of purpose. I say I am drawn to the power that writing has, to be able to shape people’s thoughts and ideas.

And I’ve always told myself that if at least one story I had written, or a single sentence had been powerful enough to touch a life, then I would have succeeded.

But never did I imagine that I would, with written words, be able to change the course of someone’s life.

Tears from Twitter

I am about to tell you a story that I think about when I have bad days as a journalist.

It reminds me — fully and completely — about why I do what I do, about not just the power of articles and news stories, but the power of the Internet and social media as well.

In January, I wrote a blog on Rappler about how a scholarship to the International School of Manila turned my life around when I was 12 years old, and how it paved the way for me to a fully-funded education at Yale University.

Over a month later, as I was driving through the streets of Manila on my way to the Rappler office, I received several tweets from a Twitter user I didn’t know.

They read,

@natashya_g hi natashya, my name is Art Demain, and I work for GreenEarth Heritage Foundation. A farmer’s child named Romnick, who walks for two hours on unpaved roads and crosses a bridgeless river just to learn, just made it to the panel interview of ISM for the Philippine Scholarship.

I sincerely thank you for writing that inspiring article about your experiences as an ISM scholar. You’re amazing! I really pray that this impoverished kid gets in because Romnick can really be one of ISM’s success stories. Sorry for the multiple tweets. Take care and keep on using your talents to inform and inspire people.

I read the tweets and I cried.

Who was this young boy — the son of a farmer — who walked 2 hours every single day to get to school? How did he come across my article? And would he get the scholarship?

DAILY LIFE. Romnick tending his organic kitchen garden at GreenEarth. Courtesy of GreenEarth Heritage Foundation.

I got the answer 10 days later.

On Twitter, the same username sent me a series of tweets.

@natashya_g hi natashya! hope you’re having a great day! romnick just made it to ISM! the entire rural poor farming community we serve is overjoyed by the news. he’ll start classes on april 16. i can never thank you enough for inspiring him. this is indeed a once in a lifetime opportunity. i hope your paths will cross someday so he can give you a warm hug. THANK YOU, THANK YOU!

Searching for Romnick

I knew I had to find this boy.

The only information I had were based on the tweets of a total stranger. With bated breath, I searched online for GreenEarth Heritage Foundation, crossing my fingers that this wasn’t a hoax, praying, hoping beyond hope that there was such an organization and this Art Demain was a real person.

The foundation exists. I picked up the phone, called the number I found on Google, and asked for Art. Art exists as well.

He wasn’t there when I called but I got his cellphone number and a week later, I was en route to meet Romnick in person.

Romnick Blanco is a short, thin, dark-skinned 14-year-old boy with the brightest of smiles. He is quiet, reserved, but you can tell he is excited — his eyes are large, eager and wide.

I hugged him as soon as I saw him.

FOR THE SAKE OF LEARNING. Romnick crossed a bridgeless river to reach GreenEarth and learn English. Courtesy of GreenEarth Heritage Foundation.

I have a strikingly different background from Romnick but I feel the strongest connection to him because I know we will have a shared experience soon, once he starts school at ISM. I engaged him in conversation and he responded to me in halted, hesitant English.

I learned he is the 7th of 9 children, and that unlike his older siblings who dropped out of school, he stayed on because he truly wanted to learn. I discovered that he lives in Bulacan and hikes the foothills of the Sierra Madre Mountains for GreenEarth’s onsite education programs. 

I learned that it was Art, who teaches English to the kids, who had shown him my article. I discovered that he dreams of becoming an English teacher one day.

DESIRE TO LEARN. Romnick stayed in school despite his older siblings dropping out, driven by his desire to learn. Courtesy of GreenEarth Heritage Foundation.

I wanted to tell him so much!

I wanted to tell him about how his life is about to change, about how he can be anything he wants to be. I wanted to tell him I am incredibly proud of him and that I am rooting for him.

And I did, at least I tried to.

But I know he will not understand until years from now, like I did, the impact of the scholarship. Instead I know I must leave him to learn for himself, to navigate his new world. The least I can do is tell him to reach out to me if he needs anything, anything at all.

SIMPLE LIFE. Romnick is the son of Renato and Imelda Blanco, a rice and vegetable farmer and a plain housewife. Courtesy of GreenEarth Heritage Foundation.

Two sentences

Romnick attended ISM for 6 weeks before summer started. He will be back next school year to enter as an 8th grader.

He said he was surprised by the sheer size of the school, the buildings, the classrooms, the resources. He started playing sports and said classes were okay so far, although he needs a little work on Math. I am told he struggles to understand one of his teachers who has a thick British accent.

He no longer needs to walk 2 hours to and from school because a free bus service picks him up.

BIG DAY. Romnick on his first day of school at the International School of Manila. Courtesy of GreenEarth Heritage Foundation.

I want him so badly to do well, and my gut tells me he will be okay.

Right now he lives with a host family associated with the GreenEarth foundation where he is closer to school, and has a sensational support system at GreenEarth that guides him every step of the way.

I am grateful to have somehow been part of his dream. And that mine — of touching a life with words — has come true too.

Art says there was a sentence or two that inspired Romnick the most when he read my article. It said, “I write this in the hopes of inspiring other young, simple adolescents who are what I was 13 years ago. I wish for them to take a stab at a dream they might never have known they had.”

Two simple sentences.

And I am reminded, this is why I write. –