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Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Mindanao Farmer’s Daughter Makes it to Northern Illinois University

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Farmer’s daughter from Sultan Sa Barongis, Mindanao makes it to Northern Illinois University (NIU) through SEAYLP, Synergeia scholarship

Have you ever looked at yourself in the mirror and said, “you are blessed!.” It never fails—I see my reflection like a dream. I am Harisha Mae Dalgan Pangadil, a farmer’s daughter, given a one in a million opportunity to study in America.

A difficult life but without worries

I had no worries back home; I had friends and neighbors as family. Of course, the internet signal was terrible, and laptop computers are for the gods.

But the absence of conveniences like air fryers, air conditioning, or an iPhone even, molded and taught me to dream.

My parent’s joy and strength were in the medals that hanged on our wall. I’m the last to graduate from college; my two older sisters finished in Mindanao with help from relatives.

Since elementary, my dream was to study in America. I began reading English at age seven. I collected books. Those you can get from the second-hand store. I was a voracious reader, and it expanded my vocabulary that helped quickly adjust to the US.

My uncomplicated life in the farmlands of Mindanao

Back in Mindanao, my day began with a 4 AM prayer. Afterward, we feed our chicken, ducks, and make breakfast. Then we’re off to the farm if there are no classes.

My parents tended our small “good earth” planting rice, corn, fruits, and vegetables. By lunchtime, we prepare for our noon prayer. As Muslims, we pray five times a day.

Life in the Mindanao can be hard. It’s blood, sweat, and tears. I remember my father’s look each time he came back home after farming. I can hear his panting a mile away. My mother took care of us despite her health condition.

The Big Break: Micro-Scholarship Synergeia Program

My big break was being part of the Synergeia foundation. I qualified for a local scholarship, funded by the Embassy of the United States in the Philippines.

Each time my mentor asked what my biggest dream was, my answer would always be to study in America—my heart kept saying so. She pushed me to aim for the SEAYLP exchange program in the US.

First Youth Program in Mindanao: SEAYLP

It was at the end of 2016 when I applied for the Southeast Asian Youth Leadership Program (SEAYLP) that I learned through Synergeia. Thousands of students applied for a once in a lifetime opportunity to be an exchange student.

Despite being in the biggest crowd I have ever seen, I never lost hope of getting selected. By mid-February, I got the first best news of my life.

I cried a bucket, and joy uncontained. It’s in this stage of a daughter’s life when the whole neighborhood barangay would feast and celebrate while I stand on top of a caravan truck, waving like a beauty Queen! Hail Harisha! We’re so proud of you!

Well, that was just in my mind—but being part of SEAYLP Batch 2017 was real. Through it, I met talented and smart people.

My SEAYLP experienced taught me what real leadership should be. It made me understand the vital role of youth in the community.

Harisha on her way to the USA for the first time. The Philippine Youth Leadership Program (PYLP) and SEAYLP are youth exchange programs funded by the U.S. Educational and Cultural Affairs. (PHOTO via Maguindanao Access Program)

My first day in America

It was like landing on the moon. I took my first step in the land of liberty and shouted, “Is this America?” There were cameras and mainstream media allover covering my arrival—well that part was an imagination.

Unfortunately, I did not have a good cellphone to capture the moment.

SEA Fellow Scholarship

Earlier that year, I qualified with the SEA Fellow Scholarship Program. It allowed me to study at Northern Illinois University (NIU). What’s ahead of me won’t be easy. I have to work even harder to maintain grade requirements. But I am determined to make my parents and my country proud!

Writing my new chapter amid global pandemic

It was my first semester at NIU when the pandemic broke. COVID-19 imposed difficulties. Among my concerns were essentials like food and personal needs—I don’t even have relatives in the US.

I had to look at the mirror again, and tell myself—stay healthy Harisha, hold on to your dreams!

Harisha is practically alone in the university dormitory. NIU deserted, the silence is deafening. With no relatives in the states, Harisha’s few Filam friends helps her get by.

A lot to be grateful for!

I hope my continuing life story will inspire others. Life depends on God, but we wield it through hard work. Whatever happens, you can’t blame anyone but yourself. “Think less and live more.”

Despite having no one to be here to comfort me, there’s a lot to be grateful. If you want to help Harisha, you can get in touch with her through her Facebook.

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