A Filipina who started working at the age of six and later spent five years as a housemaid has graduated from the Philippine Military Academy.
Meriam Libongcogon is the second of seven children born into abject poverty in Bambalan, Cebu. Her father Mario was a rice farmer and carpenter and her mother Florida a housewife.
Due to the family’s dire financial straits, she joined her siblings helping in the rice fields from the age of six. Then, when she was nine, she started gathering coconut shells, wood and sand to sell as construction supplies. Her endeavours earned her just 20 pesos a week.
“We often had no food to eat,” she said. “But sometimes we ate sweet potatoes or bananas. Whatever was available.
“What we did was, we searched for coconut shells to sell. Then we fetched water. We put what we earned in a piggy bank, then we used our savings to sew our clothes.”
Despite working from such a young age, she still managed to finish as valedictorian in her elementary school.
She then entered a Catholic school in Cebu City as a full scholar, graduating at the age of 15.
At this point she started working as a housemaid in order to fund college studies in computer engineering.
“I graduated a valedictorian at grade six. That was my gift to my parents, even though we were poor, I could make them happy.”
However, due to the pressures of juggling her work life with her studies, she was forced to abandon her degree.
She told ABS-CBN News: “It was tough because the kids were still very young. They were stubborn, and I had to wake up early to bathe and feed them. Then I had to take them to school before I could go to my own school.”
After working as a housemaid in Cebu for three years, she moved to Baguio, where she met her foster parent Nanay Rose.
Rose encouraged her to join the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) and helped her in the enrolment process.
“God used the people I met when I was a maid to help me study at the PMA. They asked me if my grades were good, and helped me get my credentials from Cebu.”
Meriam believes the hardships she has overcome in life gave her the strength of character to complete the gruelling training programme.
“Resigning from the PMA never crossed my mind, because I was used to hardship. I also prayed to God for help,” she said.
Meriam is now preparing for a career in the Philippine Navy, and plans to build a new house for her parents.