The Boy with the Dictionary

Mano Amiga teacher Andy Fullido, noticed that JM Besmonte, one of the shyest students in class, showed unusual eagerness during her English class, “He always listens attentively during my class and often insisted on sitting right in front of me.” 

When Teacher Andy would check the quizzes however, JM would always have a failing grade, “I could not understand why he had failing grades in English because he always listens to me and would religiously write his notes.” 

Concerned about his performance, Teacher Andy approached JM after class. Without hesitation JM opened up to her, “First time ko talaga matuto ng English kahit Grade 6 na ako, dahil sa public school po na pinanggalingan ko, laging mataas grades ko kahit wala naman talaga ako maintindihan” (It’s my first time learning English this way even if I’m already in Grade 6, because in my public school for the past years, I always have high grades even if I don’t understand anything).

Moved by his sincerity and desire to learn, Teacher Andy started assisting him intensely— giving him extra worksheets, and encouraging him to participate in English conversations with his classmates. 

One day, JM brought a small tattered English to Filipino dictionary to class. As Teacher Andy  discussed her lesson, she noticed JM excitedly turning the pages of the dictionary every time he encountered a word he did not understand.

It was JM’s mother, Mrs. Judy Besmonte, who told Teacher Andy the story behind the dictionary. “Nagpabili siya sa akin ng dictionary  para maintindihan niya daw nang mas maigi ang English lessons niya,” she said. “Pero hindi kasi namin kaya bumili nang maganda kaya noong naglalakad kami galing sa simbahan noong linggo, tinuro sa akin ni JM na may P50 na dictionary sa garage sale kaya binili ko kaagad!” (JM asked to buy a new dictionary so he could understand his English lessons better, but we could not afford a nice one. When we were walking from church one Sunday, JM pointed out a P50 dictionary in a garage sale, and I immediately bought it!)

Mrs. Besmonte works odd and irregular jobs and her husband works as a construction worker.  Even if there are times that the family barely makes enough to cover their monthly expenses, the Besmontes are never late in paying their monthly tuition fee to the school, and always make sure to complete the required sweat equity or monthly volunteer hours.  “Minsan walang wala talaga kami, pero hindi ako na-lalate ng bayad ng tuition kada buwan dahil importante sa aming mag-asawa na makatapos si JM sa magandang eskwelahan dahil responsibilidad at obligasyon namin ito,” Mrs. Besmonte said. (ISometimes, we really don’t have any money, but I am never late when paying the monthly tuition fee because it’s important for me and my husband that JM finishes in a good school because this is both our responsibility and obligation). 

Teacher Andy continued to assist JM throughout the school year. At end of the fourth quarter, the school had a Carnival of Ideas event where students showed the different projects they worked on during the year. One of those who excelled during their mini TED Talk was o other than JM himself. With pride and honor, he spoke about the injustice the world is currently experiencing, specifically saying, “I have had my experience with regards to injustice, simply because we are poor, but with education, I know we can rise above these injustices.” – JM Besmonte

Mrs. Besmonte had tears streaming down her face as she proudly watched her son and broadcasted his speech via Facebook Live. Teacher Andy looked over to Ms. Judy, also teary-eyed, and mouthed, “We did it!”

JM, is now in 7th grade, and excelling as one of the most hard-working students Mano Amiga has had the privilege to know.