An Officer and a Gentleman

Sharing with you this wonderful heartwarming success story written by Eli Fossum, a former ALIG member and charity coordinator.

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Jhuan Paulo Clavecillas, our Filipino “son” from Tunasan in San Pedro/Laguna Graduated this June 3, 2016 from DMMA College in Davao with his degree Bachelor of Science in Marine Transportation (BSMT) and is soon ready to start his career as Deck Officer onboard international merchant- and offshore-vessels. With this young man’s strong motivation and hard work over the last 5 years, he even managed to graduate with the Academic Award “Cum Laude”, clearly demonstrating his personal qualities, skills and dedication.

As for too many Filipino youngsters, Paulo’s way forward from he was born on May 8, 1992 was not set to be easy. As one of five siblings in a poor San Pedro/Laguna family, his father disappeared when he was four, leaving his mother Portia alone with all the responsibilities for her 5 children. 

With the constant struggle to meet even their basic needs of tomorrow, the siblings were separated and not all of them grew up together. As many other underprivileged children in this country, Paulo grew up with a strong sense of responsibility and at an early age had to help out to secure the family’s  small daily food rations. 

It was actually when he as a small boy together with his brother were sent to harvest mussels in Laguna to support the family’s daily fight to add some extra flavour to their small portion of rice, often representing their only daily meal, that he learnt how to swim! 

As a result of this Paulo was even taken out of school for a period, in the small family’s struggle to survive and only graduated from High School at the age of 18, two years later than normal. 

According to his mom, Paulo never ever complained to her, were it for this or other things more privileged kids (and adults) take for granted. He was sent to school without proper shoes/slippers, and his T-shirt was never ironed says his mother. This attitude, combined with Paulo’s great heart for others, his strong dedication and hard work, very much describes the young man we have learnt to know over the last 5 years now.     
 
Paulo and his brothers have over the years been regular users of Tunasan, Kanlungan’s day-care/visiting centre for underprivileged children in Muntinlupa & San Pedro, supported for many years by Alabang Ladies International Group (ALIG)
Here the kids are given a free daily meal, education enrollment and assistance and lots of love and care by very compassionate and dedicated staff. 
It was at Tunasan we met Paulo for the first time and learnt about his dream to one day become a brave seafarer, sailing the seven seas to see the world as deck officer to support his family, and perhaps one day become a Captain. 
But as usual and not surprisingly, the funds required to fulfill this dream represented an “ocean too big to overcome” between his dreams and what he realistically could hope for.
 
As a past seafarer, and at that time working for the Norwegian Shipowner’s Association (NSA) at the Norwegian Training Centre in Manila (NTCM), it was therefore not difficult to provide Paulo with the opportunity to apply for the NSA Philippine Cadet Program
Unfortunately this was at the end of the application period that year, and with limited preparations he failed! 
But instead of giving up, we sent Paulo to a regular Maritime College in Muntinlupa for him to prepare for next year’s NSA uptake. 
That was a year of hard work and long travels every day, but Paulo stuck to his hope for a better future. As such we were actually not surprised when he then one year later (2012) passed the high intake criteria’s and could start his education all over again at DMMA Maritime College in Davao, Mindanao in June 2012 on the NSA Cadet program.
 
The NSA Philippine Cadet program is a 4 years fully sponsored education program under NSA in Norway, which includes not only the required 3 academic years in thoroughly selected maritime Universities in the Philippines and the 12 months mandatory cadetship period onboard one of its member companies vessels, but also provide a job guaranty to the candidates onboard the vessels of the same members upon successful graduation. 
The NSA program is not only the oldest, biggest and most comprehensive program here in the Philippines, but also the most renowned and popular program by far.
 
NSA and NTCM normally receive up to 10.000 applicants every year for the available 300-500 seats, as such only the very best candidates are accepted. Over its more than 25 years in existence, more than 5,000 young Filipino’s have graduated here and today serve as merchant marine officers in worldwide trade, supporting their families back home.
 
Despite all his hardship, with Paulo’s personal qualities and motivation, nothing seems impossible anymore!
 
Paulo was, after enrollment to the program, assigned to Teekay Shipping Inc., a world leading tanker owner and operator, where he also sailed as a Deck Cadet last year to gain his sea time. 
He reported to their office in Manila for some further training and validation of his seafarers documents over the summer, before he again returned to sea, joining his ship M/T SELETAR SPIRIT in Covenas, Columbia, after a long air travel from Manila via Amsterdam and Panama. This is one of Teekay’s oil tankers trading world-wide, and where he will complete his required sea-time.
Upon his return to Manila around Easter next year, he will review his Curriculum for the last 3 years and sit for the mandatory Professional Regulation Commission (PRC) examination about 2-3 months later. After this, he will receive his  Certificate Of Competency (COC) as Deck-Officer on merchant vessels.
 
Before Paulo left Manila, he was visiting his childhoods Tunasan of course, the day-care centre for underprivileged children, to be there and visit the new generation of kids as an inspiration and “role model”. 
In person he has shown them that “nothing is impossible”, despite a difficult start in life. In his stylish white merchant marine uniform, I believe you cannot get closer to the mental picture we all have of an “Officer and a Gentleman”.
May we see many more talents growing out from Tunasan and the many similar sites in the Philippines in the future. There are so many more talents out there, all they need is a fair chance to prove their abilities.
 
We are so proud of you Paulo!
 
Stein & Eli