by: Dr. Richelle H. Verdeprado, RSW, JD
I am usually being introduced by stating my academic background, that I have just recently completed my academic requirements for Juris Doctor degree at the University of Negros Occidental- Recoletos School of Law and that I finished my Doctor of Philosophy in Development Management last 2017 with Outstanding Dissertation Award and Academic Excellence Award.
I earned my Master’s degree in Social Work at Asian Social Institute in Manila and Bachelor of Science in Social Work in UNO-R as summa cum laude, and was top 2 in the Board Examination for Social Workers last 2011. Presently, I am the head of the Social Work program for both BS and MS programs in UNO-R and the Chairperson of the Board of Trustees of Sowing Legacy Movement Inc., an organization I myself founded with friends that offer scholarship program and conducts outreach and developmental activities for the youth and partner communities. I am also the author of ‘Love and Learning’ Book for a Cause and main author of “Leadership and Legacies. I am a Regional Finalist in the Pinay Power and was awarded by the Philippine Association of Social Workers, Inc. (PASWI) as outstanding social worker in the Philippines in the field of academe last 2020.
Currently, I am a fellow in the Youth Leadership Development Program in its Leadership and Democracy (LEAD) Fellowship. Leadership engagement has a special place in my heart. Back in my college years, I was among the Ayala Young Leaders delegate, The Outstanding Students (THOS) and the Outstanding Students of the Philippines (TOSP) finalist. Through the years, I had been invited as a speaker and facilitator in various camps and seminars about leadership, social work, gender equality, volunteerism, psycho-social support, and community service. I was also a delegate in the Philippine Young Leaders last September 3-12, 2017 in Beijing, Henan and Shanghai in China, and was also among those trained by the Climate Reality Project last 2018 at Los Angeles, California.
But taking away these achievements, I am still the Richelle who has been and will always be full of dreams, and who share those dreams not only for myself but for others. By listening to those introductions, I know that those could be achieved by others too, but what makes them symbolical for me is the fact that I did not live with privileges. I had to go through a lot of challenges, and each milestone remind me of people who believed in me and journeyed with me.
I could not imagine how my life would be if I did not meet the Capuchin Tertiary Sisters of the Holy Family. I had sad stories of how I had found myself on its doorsteps but I think those things happened because God is leading me to somewhere beautiful. I went through poverty, loss, rejection, and struggles. When the idea of living in an institution came to me, I was full of misgivings. It was because I had a traumatic experience of living in a center before. But I have nowhere to go that time, and I convinced myself that such an opportunity was worth the try. And I was not wrong! It was the sisters who opened their doors for me, with love and joy. I can still clearly remember how I was struck by the words printed in the gate of the Holy Family Home, “A child redeemed is a generation saved.” I had lived with the sisters from the second semester of my first year of college until I graduated with my Social Work degree.
I came from a poor family and both of my parents did not finish schooling. We cannot afford to buy all our needs and many things and experiences that were denied to us. Despite the lack of comfort, I can say that I had developed trust in my parents and in myself. I can see how they had been working hard for us. The reasons that made me feel powerless are the same reasons that made me feel capable enough.
I had a different childhood. While others are playing and running in the fields, I was studying in the library for a quiz bee contest. While others are having vacation with their family, I was with my mother selling bananas in the market. While other teenage girls were having fun with their peers, I was looking after my younger brother. I knew that I have to exert more effort because I wanted to achieve more. My sacrifices reaped good result. I delivered the valedictory address in behalf of my high school batch.
I then had to make another major decision. What course will I take up? The missionaries suggested to me that I take BS Social Work. I have no idea what that course was actually. When I took the entrance exam, I had even forgotten the name of the course. But when I attended my first Social work class at the University of Negros Occidental-Recoletos, it was though I was meeting my first love. And there I am, falling in love with it every day even up to now. “Embrace your profession, the profession you have worked hard for several years, the profession you have fought for and will live for, the profession you will die for.” Such words were so strong, so powerful and so passionate: just like love. The moment we began to feel that we wanted to spend our time and our talents in knowing more about our profession and in acquiring skills so that we know how to practice it better, we do so not because we have to but because we have already fallen in love with it. Our profession becomes our vocation. It is not just like love anymore; it is already love. It is love in its truest form.
Things did not just go as simple as that when I was institutionalized at the same time. New beginning required much change- and those changes don’t simply come as fast as what others would require them to be. I have deepened my faith while I was there but sometimes, I have also shaken it. I am not a devout catholic since birth and that I only went to church once in a blue moon. But I had felt that I have to defend what I believe- not because I am being stubborn or worshiping something or somebody else- but because I have never placed a doubt in my relationship with Him ever since and that it is that relationship that has delivered me through.
I’m glad that the Holy Family Home of the Capuchin Tertiary Sisters welcomed me in the middle of the school year and accepted me even though they don’t know me. I also met Father Sean Coyle of the Columban Missionaries who gave me an opportunity to work part-time in Misyon magazine where he is the editor. I continue to study with the support of the sisters, with the university academic scholarship I maintained and with the part time work.
I enjoyed my college life. I was active in many organizations and in our university publication. In this part of the narrative, I wanted to write something about my college graduation and board examination. But there is not much to write about marching as one of the summa cum laude of the university and the one who delivered the speech in behalf of the graduates or about being the second placer in the National Board Examination of Social Workers. Those achievements could be acquired by anyone and then be forgotten. What is more inspiring and thrilling to write are the struggles and joy before and after. Awards, medals, and certificates do not speak of who we are. We can go on attaining them and gain something for ourselves but they will only have meaning if those awards will be of impact to others too. They will only have meaning if out of the knowledge we had gained; we will significantly create change to help others find hope in their lives. Such is the beauty of social work. Such is the beauty I had discovered more outside the classroom, a beauty beyond what books had expressed and theorist had explained.
The instrument that social workers used a lot are our own selves and so we must be aware of who we are and what process we are going through so that we will be able to help more our clients. When I started working in Coalition Against Trafficking in Women-Asia Pacific, I was remembering the passion of my fellow youth especially young women in pursuing their limitless dreams. Until now, I am remembering how the dire economic situation of our country obliged them to start working young or to give up their schooling. How many of them were deceived by traffickers who take advantage of their vulnerability. They find themselves trapped into modern forms of human slavery, forced labor, debt bondage, and prostitution.
Now, I am also running our organization together with other volunteers. We have recently opened the Legacy Home and Legacy Cafe to support our scholars. We are excited to explore various innovative approaches that will enhance all the projects of Sowing Legacy Movement, Inc. while providing our scholars and volunteers with a comprehensive program that will hone their leadership skills and allow them to experience the best and ‘challenging yet worth it’ happiness of being community leaders. This will be our concrete way of showing our gratitude to our supporters whose dedication and love to SLMi are priceless.
Home is not a ‘what’ for me, or the ‘where. It is the ‘who.’ We are building this home with and for the people who are immortalizing their ‘legacies’ not just for the ‘future’ but for today. And I will forever be grateful of the sisters for allowing me to experience what a true home really is, and from that I am inspired and guided in ensuring that the homes we are building are founded in love to humanity and service to God.