Joshua Labra was only 16 years old when he decided to quit school and work instead to support his four younger sisters in their education.
Living off only with the income from his mother who worked part-time as a laundry woman and his stepfather who worked as a jeepney driver, Joshua knew, being the eldest, that there was only so much to go around.
“Malaking struggle sa akin nung sinabi ko sa sarili ko na kailangan ko mag-stop para mapag-aral yung kapatid ko. Kung ako pa, at saka siya, hindi ko na kaya. Kaya sabi ko,“Sige lang, mas matalino naman siya sa akin”
(The hardest decision I had to make was to stop school so my younger sister could continue hers. If it were the two of us going to school, it would be hard to finance us both. So I told myself, “That’s okay. Let her
continue with her schooling. After all, she is smarter than me),” Joshua said.
At a young age of 9, Joshua started delivering newspapers and selling iced water. Whatever Joshua earns from selling he gives it to his uncle to help with expenses. This was his way of paying back his uncle who supported him and his siblings in their studies.
He would wake up at five in the morning, get the ice from their freezer and walk a kilometer carrying those to pueblo (town), in front of a shopping mall to sell them. Balancing work and school, it was a challenge for him to keep up with his studies as he was often late to class because he has to travel from home, to his uncle’s store, and then to school and back.
It was hard, Joshua recalled, as they must run away from police officers who caught sidewalk vendors, carrying everything they were selling.
At such a young age, Joshua was forced to grow up faster than children of his age. Joshua prepares his sisters for whatever challenges might beset their family. “Baka isang araw bigla na lang sila mawala tapos hindi kami handa (I fear that one day our parents might be gone and we are left to fend for ourselves.).”
These challenges did not become a hindrance to Joshua to work for his dream to study again.
May 24, 2018, Thursday – Joshua found out about the SUGPAT Program of the Ateneo de Zamboanga University Center for Culture and the Arts. An alumna of the program went to their house and asked him if he wants to study in Ateneo, a Jesuit university in Western Mindanao. With all enthusiasm, Joshua said yes and processed all the requirements needed that was due the next day.
“Andito na yung opportunity na gusto kong makapag-aral ulit (The opportunity of studying again finally arrived),” Joshua said smiling.
After passing numerous requirements, series of screening, and an intensive interview, Joshua became one of the thirty fellows of the SUGPAT Alternative School for Peacebuilding and the Arts (ALSPA), an 8-month intensive leadership and development program for out-of-school youth that covers human dignity and children’s rights, bridging leadership, project management, and design thinking.
SUGPAT ALSPA also let the fellows undergo creative workshops like photography and digital storytelling. This was where Joshua discovered his love for filmmaking.
“Pinakamagandang experience sa buhay ko yung one week lang na preparasyon para makagawa ng isang short film. Hindi ko inaasahan na ako ang magiging director (The most memorable experience in my life is when we only had one week to prepare and make a short film. I did not expect that I will be the director),” he answered proudly.
Joshua directed his first short film “Pamilya Dimagiba” which won Best Short Film in SUGPAT HeART Intensives Film Festival last September 2018. His short film also became one of the competing films in a national film festival, Festival de Cine Paz Mindanao.
His newly found interest in film making did not stop there.
For their community project, Joshua and his groupmates communicated their message through a short film. Their mentor encouraged the group to use this tool and their set of new skills to help their community; addressing the issue of underage smoking in their communities.
Their short film aims to spread awareness on the risks of smoking to one’s health and diverting their attention to sports to improve their physical health.
The 30 fellows of the SUGPAT ALSPA completed their 8-month journey with the program. After almost a year of being a fellow, Joshua said that he was reconnected with his dream: “Gaya nga ng SUGPAT na ang ibig sabihin ay connect at merge, dito sa SUGPAT, na-connect ako ulit sa pangarap na gusto kong abutin na naputol noon. Huwag lang mawalan ng pag-asa kung gusto mong abutin ang pangarap mo (Like SUGPAT which means to connect and to merge, here in SUGPAT, I was reconnected with my dreams that I want to achieve that was cut before. Just don’t lose hope if you want to reach your dreams).”
Even after graduating in the program, Josh says he wants to continue to help his community. “Hindi hadlang ang pagiging out-of-school youth para tumulong sa komunidad. Kung may maganda kang pag-iisip at intensyon, pwede mong tulungan ang isang community (Being an out-of-school youth is not a hindrance to help the community. If you have a good mindset and intention, you can help a community),” he expressed.
“Hindi ko naisip na may potensyal pala akong gawin ito. Pero nung nangyari na, sabi ko sa sarili ko, ‘Ay kaya ko pala kahit out-of-school youth ako’ (I have not thought that I had the potential to do this. But when it happened, I told myself, “I can, even though I am an out-of-school youth).” the 18-year old filmmaker said.