From Bamboo Poles

MELISSA - NEW YORK, New York
Entered on April 18, 2008
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: family, legacy, work

I believe that every centavo counts. A centavo is the lowest denomination of Philippine currency in current production, akin to a US penny, but with about one-fiftieth the market value. Centavos are what my grandparents earned during the early years of their marriage, when they were both working as farmers in a small barrio in the Philippines. I find it difficult to imagine how my grandparents, poor farmers who never even completed their elementary school educations, were able to raise and put six children through college, yet they did. They did this by recognizing the value of every centavo and instilling the same belief in their children.

Before putting money in banks was common practice in the barrio, my grandparents stored all their money, down to the last centavo, in the hollows of long bamboo poles. They ensured that any money, even a single centavo, removed from the poles was accounted for and wisely spent on only the necessities. The necessities included food, health, and education. Period. No money was to be allotted for frivolities like soda pop and multiple shirts and shoes. Why pay for soda pop when there was free water? Why buy several shirts when one shirt that is washed every evening and ready to wear the next morning serves the same purpose? Why buy several pairs of shoes when one pair of rubber slippers, or even your bare feet, will bring you to school all the same?

Aiming to lift the family out of poverty, my grandparents disciplined themselves and their children to distinguish between what was and what was not worthy of being exchanged for hard-earned centavos. My grandparents also taught their children the value of earning an income, as each child who was old enough to help my grandparents with farm work did so, put any earned income in the bamboo poles, and, of course, excelled in his studies. Once a child earned his college diploma, he obtained a job outside of farming, earned more money than my grandparents had ever earned, and helped pay for the education of his younger siblings. This cycle of saving, earning, and spending only on necessities continued until all six children obtained college degrees. In the end, my grandparents ended up with one teacher, three accountants, one engineer, and one chemist—in total, six loving, intelligent, and productive children who are, among other things, very good with balancing checkbooks.

I have never experienced the type of poverty that my grandparents and my father and his siblings overcame, but I’ve come to realize the importance of every centavo and spending wisely. Every centavo my grandparents earned and saved forms the basis of each of their children’s successes. Every centavo my grandparents earned and saved forms the basis of my own educational achievements, my career, and my aspirations for the future. I am thankful to my grandparents for their discipline, foresight, and strict management over those bamboo poles.