Norman King, the first Aeta to graduate from the University of the Philippines Manila in 2017 never had it easy growing up.
Born eldest of seven kids, he had to work at an early age to help his parents provide for their family. But the young Norman’s struggles did not stop at the hard manual labor, as at that time he was already beginning to question his ethnicity and color.
He asked his mom, Warlita, why the Aetas’ skin color is being compared to soil—wondering if that was the reason people were calling him dirty.
But his mom ingrained in him that a clean heart has more value than physical appearance, saying “Ang taong madumi ay ang taong hindi malinis ang puso, (The unclean person is one whose heart is not clean).”
Norman had his share of tough times at school, wherein he was ridiculed by other students for wearing old clothes and for being poor to buy new clothes. Now cognizant of his image to other people, he suggested to his mother to buy him new clothing.
Sensing her son’s low self-esteem, Warlita asked Norman if he wanted to hide the fact that they were poor. “Alin ang karapat-dapat hangaan? Isang taong madali ang buhay o isang taong dumaan sa matinding kahirapan? (Who is worthy of admiration? One who led an easy life? Or one who has overcome extreme hardship?)”
Norman worked after finishing high school. When his father sent him to Manila, he studied to become a computer technician while working as a delivery boy. He eventually got into UP Manila with the help of a patron.
As a teenager, Norman also went through the phase of changing himself to belong and be accepted by his peers and people around him. He went to as far as changing his hairstyle to afro because, he said, his classmates paid more attention to him that way.
But again, his loving mother reminded him to be proud of his race—making him realize he doesn’t have to change himself to be accepted by others.
Norman carried with him these lessons from his mom as he took his own journey away from home.
It was his mother’s non-material provisions for life (pabaon sa buhay) that became his protection and guide in life to help him keep his focus on his goal despite the struggles of leading an independent life.
This inspiring story is revealed in Safeguard Philippines’ latest short film entitled “Pabaon sa Buhay.”
The short film aims to inspire parents all around the country to impart their personal “pabaon” to help protect their children in life.
“There is a universal challenge parents face in bringing up their children, having to balance the desire to keep them close and protected with letting them go explore the world to learn by themselves,” said Alex Vogler, associate director, Digital Transformation and Brand Communications for Procter & Gamble’s Beauty Division in Asia Pacific.
He added, “At Safeguard, we strive to help parents overcome this tension by fostering a healthy independence between parents and children. Essential to this are the ‘pabaon’ parents give their children —be it an everyday lunchbox, the lifesaving habit of hand washing or life lessons—which will help protect them as they explore the world on their own.”
Two days since the video’s posting on Facebook, it has already garnered 1.1 million views.
For Norman, his mother’s words of wisdom have helped him accept himself fully, so much so that he went onstage to receive his diploma for his Behavioral Sciences degree not in UP’s official graduation attire but in a lubay (bahag), and wearing his hair how Aetas traditionally do.
“Ang turo sa ‘kin ng nanay ko, kapag natanggap ko na kung sino ako, mas malayo ang mararating ko (Ma taught me that only when I accept who I am, will I go further in life),” said Norman.
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