From street child to Atenean: The story of Rusty by Bobby Lagsa

This is a story of how a street child, exposed to drugs and crime at a young age, went against all odds and graduated from Ateneo.

CAGAYAN DE ORO, Philippines. In late 2009, 20-year-old Rusty Quintana lined up at a classroom in Xavier University – Ateneo de Cagayan for a shot at one of the scholarship grants that the university offered.

Though unsure that he would get a chance of entering his dream university, he queued up anyway.

Rechelle Tolinero of the Development Communication Department at XU, said that she first met Rusty on that day for an interview for a scholarship grant. “We knew right there that he was different, that there was something about him,” Tolinero said.

Rusty was wearing his best clothes that day — though his best was an almost tattered shirt and faded pants. He did not cut his hair for a while and his thick kinky hair stood out.

A native of the Agusan river in Barangay Florida in Butuan City with lineage from the indigenous Banwahon tribe, Rusty‘s brown skin and hair is hard not to miss.

“When it was his part for the interview, Rusty was quick to point out that if possible, we converse in the Bisayan dialect because he could not speak English,” Tolinero said.

In fact, Rusty did not finish his elementary and high school. Rusty was only armed with a diploma from the Alternative Learning System (ALS) of the Department of Education, a proof that he is eligible to enter college.

“But what struck us the most is his honesty and straight forward demeanor, when he came here, he had no pretentions that he knew something, or [that] he could speak English, unlike those who came before him in the queue who struggled to speak in English just to prove a point,” Tolinero said.

He lived in the shanties

Rusty is a street kid who grew up outside the grand gates of Xavier University, near the historic Plaza Divisoria.

He was just 7 years old when he was plucked out of their home by his older brother, Rodolfo Quintana Jr, and was brought to Cagayan de Oro City in 1996, to get away from their troubled home.

Upon reaching Cagayan de Oro, they lived in shanties near the CDO River. Rusty spent his days asking for some small change and hanging out at the statue of the late Philippine President Ramon Magsaysay.

One day, his brother suddenly disappeared. He later learned that he was arrested by the police on charges of drug pushing. Rusty found himself at the Mother Theresa Foundation, a shelter in Upper Puerto, where he spent almost 4 years.

He attended Grade 5 “without proper documents, no birth certificate, no school record” because he just “attended school to learn.”

At age 11, he was asked to do drug runs by people in their community and, sometimes, he stole from other people. Soon enough, he got addicted to drugs and spent his days with other boys sniffing rugby.

It was not long before he too was arrested by the police and was housed in Tahanan ng Kabataan, a rescue centre for children in conflict with the law.

Admittance at Xavier University

In 2010, Rusty was admitted to XU with a scholarship. He decided to study Development Communication and major in Education Communication. He could not believe that he got in, much less become a scholar.

“I know that getting in is just the first step and I worried that I may never survive the first semester,’ Rusty said. It wasn’t an easy journey, Tolinero said, as Rusty did have a hard time while at school.

To sustain his education, he had to work while studying. He needed money for food and endless photocopies of books he couldn’t afford. The P5,700 allowance given as part of his grant was not enough, so he sold art pens in campus and online.

A semester before graduating, Rusty found himself doing his thesis all alone after he was dropped from his thesis group. However, he persevered and in two months, was able to produce a full thesis on the Indigenous People’s Skills and Knowledge.

Now, Rusty hopes to help other communities and his family. “I am now considering the idea of working for a non-government organization where I can put my skills into action for a better community but at the same time giving my art some time to mature,” Rusty said. “I have now my father, my siblings and a nephew to think about, I must work for them, but they have to learn how to live too.” And that’s a testament to his method of madness, his creative juices and frustrations moulded into one and ending in a fusion of creative flow that in his own words: a healing process.  (Rappler.com)