Scope#20 | Marubeni Scholarships in the Philippines

Empowering Philippine Students, Marubeni Scholarship Impacts Multiply


By James Simms

TARLAC, Philippines – In tears with his head in his hands, 17-year-old Carl Vega sat on the corrugated-tin roof of his wood and bamboo house north of Manila.

Moments earlier, his mother had told him that he’d have to quit his high school because the family wouldn’t be able to afford the tuition, as she needed to leave her government job to look after her cancer-stricken father and ill mother. With those words, his dream of becoming a computer engineer had disappeared forever, he thought.

In many a developing and industrial country alike educational aspirations are cut short by financial difficulties as well as insufficient ability or drive – or just plain fate.

Indeed, in the Philippines, which had led Southeast Asia in educational outcomes until about 1990, disparities have been increasing between economically disadvantaged and privileged students and between rural and urban ones. A family’s financial wherewithal, including any major changes to it, such as job loss, serious illness or divorce, is one significant factor hurting the country’s school enrollment and completion rates, according to a 2016 joint UNESCO and UNICEF study.

To improve outcomes, the government in recent years has increased budgets and passed reforms, including expanding formal schooling to 13 years from 10. Despite some traction, educational needs are still overwhelming in a country where one-third of some 100 million population is under 15.

In Carl’s case, quitting Don Bosco Technical Institute of Tarlac City, a private Catholic institution, because of economic hurdles might have changed his life and family’s forever. But fate intervened again – that very same day.

“I was actually crying on the roof on my own, [after] my mother told me that ‘we won’t be able to send you to Don Bosco anymore because we don’t have any money,’” he said with tears welling up in his eyes. “My aunt told me [then about getting the scholarship] because she has a friend in Don Bosco.”

That award, sponsored by Manila-based Marubeni Scholarship Foundation Inc., enabled him to not only finish his secondary education but also set the stage for him to attend college on an unrelated grant in 2003. Working as a senior IT security analyst at a US multinational now, he has helped his parents pay off debt and build a new home and his two brothers go to university. “The Marubeni scholarship was a big help and a blessing to me,” he said, sitting in a chair on the very patio tiles that he bought with his first bonus from his first job out of college.

Arnulfo Castro, his high-school physics teacher, said Carl was one of his sharpest students. “Way back then, we came to know that he would like to be a computer engineer. That’s why he was so extra diligent in his work,” he said. “Marubeni, not just helped him, but somewhat propelled him to push through on his aspirations to become an engineer. When Marubeni helped him, in turn, he helped others also.”

In 1989, Marubeni Corporation, which was celebrating its 80th anniversary in the country, set up the foundation with a grant of USD 200,000 to help students seeking a vocational-technical or voc-tech education, such as for construction, electronics, auto repair or hospitality. Most other corporate-sponsored programs, in contrast, focus on regular academic courses. Since then, Marubeni has invested another USD 850,000 in the foundation and expanded its mission to include improving primary school performance.

“It’s easy to see 80% to 90% employment after a voc-tech course (for blue-collar work), as compared to a university-level course, which can be down to 10% or 20% for popular majors like politics and marketing – unless the student is outstanding”, said Jose Sandejas, the foundation’s chairman and veteran business executive.

Jocelyn Dee, the Marubeni scholarship’s assistant treasurer, said the initial goal of the program, which has given over 2,500 grants to date each worth between two to six months salary for the average worker in the country, is to get the recipients self-supporting and then to help their families. “We’ve heard so many stories of the scholars, after they’ve graduated and found jobs – initially they’d help their parents. Then later on, they would help to provide education to their siblings.”

No different is another Marubeni scholar Francis Linsangan.

He attended Father Pierre Tritz Institute-ERDA Tech, an all scholarship voc-tech high school in one of Manila’s most impoverished areas. (Indeed, before the school started providing lunch for those who couldn’t afford it, some of its students fainted during class because they hadn’t eaten enough.)

Francis said, while attending the school, he quickly put the skills he learned to good use, earning some pocket money, by repairing electronics, like TVs, for his neighbors. After studying electrical engineering in college, Francis, who now works as a semiconductor-production engineer, said he helped his brother and sister to attend university and father to open a hawker food stall on the street outside their home.

“I am seeing a better future for my family because I received the scholarship. My dreams are slowing taking place into reality, like having a good job – and having a stable one in an electronics company,” he said, dressed in a white clean suit at his chip plant.

While education is a way to achieve life-long goals for some, help family and improve the competitiveness of the nation’s workforce, it’s also a way to stay on the straight and narrow for others. “If not for the help given to them in their high school education, many of them would have been in jail, in the streets or otherwise dead. We continue to help our students with the help of our sponsors,” said Peter Magsalin, ERDA Tech’s principal.

For his part, the president of Marubeni Philippines, Naoto Tago, said he would like to increase the foundation’s funding, if possible, and the scope of its undertakings, including helping scholars to secure employment. After meeting with recipients and receiving positive feedback from the sponsored schools, he said, “I’ve been impressed, but I’ve found out there is room for more activity.”