MARCH… the women-month… celebrated not only in the Philippines, but all over the world. It is that time of the year where women are given due recognition… for their role, their crucial contribution to this world… to our society.

In our lifetime, we individually have accumulated a number of women who have left an impact in our being… women who have filled the pages of our life book… women who, without their knowing it, molded us to who we are now… women who, unconsciously, taught us significant lessons that every day of our life, they are there, alive, even if some of them have left this physical world.

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Personally, I, too, have my own share of those important, powerful women… and they may not have known that they left a legacy in my life. They must not have realized that they continue to be like shadows, following my every move and action, and are factors in my life’s decision.

Today, I want to pay tribute to two of my “Wonder Women…”

Ma’am Athena: She was my fourth high school adviser… bedimpled, cute and very intelligent….always smiling… and most of all, very sensitive to her students’ feelings. She taught English, and was our school paper adviser, too. She must have noticed my flair for writing early on that she encouraged me to write and contribute articles and poems to our school organ. But what caught her attention about me was something she has been wanting to know, she told me later on.

It was on a snack break, one morning. I was left inside our classroom while my classmates were out enjoying their snacks. Maam Athena, too, stayed put in her table, checking test papers.

After a few minutes of silence, she said, “Teresita, why are you not taking your snack?”

“Ma’am, I am not hungry…” (If only I could tell her the truth….)

The same scene and verbal interaction were repeated every now and then and one day, she approached me and in a slow voice asked me, “Teresita, are you given a snack allowance everyday?”

Timidly, I responded, “Ma’am, I eat breakfast so I don’t have to take my snack…” If only I could tell her that even my school supplies and project I could hardly buy.

One day after school, Ma’am Athena called me. She asked me why I have low grade in our CAT (Citizens Army Training) subject. She says it was glaring because I had high grades in other subjects. She asked me what was my problem with my CAT subject, and why I was always absent during drills.

Cornered, I had to confess to her that I could not attend the CAT drills because I did not have a CAT uniform yet. I had to pour out to her my situation, and before we realize it, we both were misty-eyed.

The next day, our class president approached me and told me that I can drop by one tailoring shop after school, and have my CAT uniform fitted. Without my knowing it, Ma’am Athena called our class officers and told them about my problem. The whole class and Ma’am Athena individually contributed to come up with an amount enough to pay for my whole set of CAT uniform. I cried, in gratefulness.

From that time on, Ma’am Athena and I had that close connection. To me, she was not only my teacher/adviser; she has become a surrogate “mother” to me, too. She would not run out of encouragement and inspiring words when she saw me feeling down.

On my high school graduation, she was the first one to congratulate and hug me. I was very thankful for that hug, as it was enough to fill in what I could have received from my mother who missed attending my graduation.

A few months after I arrived in Cagayan de Oro City (I was already enrolled at Lourdes College then), I received a card from Ma’am Athena. How my heart leaped with joy. I could not simply believe that despite the distance, she still remembered me. She was asking how I was, and continued with her usual inspiring words. She ended her message with, “Teresita, always remember: behind the dark clouds lies the silver lining. Strive to fulfill your dreams…” I cried… so lucky to have a teacher like Ma’am Athena.

The last time I visited my high school Alma Mater (Notre Dame of Kidapawan Girls’s Department), I learned that Maam Athena has transferred school, already married and have kids. My ardent wish is to someday see Ma’am Athena again…and tell her that yes, I have fulfilled my dreams. I am sure she would be so happy to see what has become of me. I also wish to hug her and tell her how appreciative I am of what she did to me.

Sister Elsa Javier: She was my first “supervisor” and she taught me time management and good work attitude. I was a working student at Lourdes College then and Sister Elsa was the college dean. I did not know what she has found in me, but she especially requested that I be assigned to her office. Expectedly, I not only served as her secretary and do errands, but she also gave me “higher” responsibilities like taking charge of the Nutrition Library. When she gave me added tasks, I was rebellious at first, but later on, I have noticed that silently, she wanted to tap my potentials. Since I was taking up a course in Secretarial Administration, she would love to call me to her office to take letter dictation. I remember her approving facial expression after I would hand to her the finished letter.

In the morning, she would give me the list of things that she wanted me to finish for that day. At the end of the day, she would ask me to check which of those tasks I have completed. I had to see to it that I put the time and date for every finished task. Unfinished tasks were carried over for the next day and the first ones to be taken care of, unless there were urgent tasks that came up.

One day, Sister Elsa called me to her office. She handed to me something which at first I did not fully understand, and was again feeling rebellious. She wanted me to list down all the things that I do from the moment I wake up until I retire to bed. Corresponding to the list of tasks is the time allotment. I was amused. Imagine, I had to time my morning prayer… time for fixing my bed… time for washing my face… or taking my bath. I also had to put time for reflection, for saying the rosary, for attending the mass. I even put time for ‘unwinding’ (my term for chikahan).

One day, Sister Elsa told me she was to be out of town and would be arriving the next day. She left me instruction that I should see to it that I water the nutrition garden (it was a research area). Irresponsible and young as I was, I did not water the garden that night, thinking that Sister Elsa may not know if I did not. I was thinking I would water the garden early the next morning.

Without my knowing it, Sister Elsa arrived late that night. Early the next morning, I rushed to the nutrition garden to water it. There I saw Sister Elsa, watering the garden. When she saw me, she said, “Tessie, ikaw na tiwas ani…” (Tessie, you continue the watering) as she handed to me the water hose. She did not scold me, nor did she make a big fuss of my being so irresponsible. And me? God, how embarrassed I was. I wish I could evaporate at that very moment. She taught me a hard lesson that until today reminds me of her. Lesson that is now fully engraved in my work attitude.

Today, time management is part of my systems. In fact, unconsciously, every time I do something, I tend to put a time to it…always with a conscious effort that I would finish the task as I planned it would be finished.

The last time I saw Sister Elsa was when we unexpectedly rode the same motorela. She was on her way to the RVM Regional House in Carmen, while I just came from a press conference and was on my way back to the office. I have noticed that she did not recognize me anymore, so I tapped her knee and said, “Sister Elsa… do you still remember me?”

Seeing her questioning facial expression, I continued, “Si Tessie ko Sister… Tessie Superioridad… I was your secretary when you were still the college dean of Lourdes College…”

In her usual calm voice, she said, “Oyyyy…. Ikaw man diay ni Tessie… wala naman ko kaila nimo. Niguapa naman ka… “(Oh, it’s you Tessie. Sorry, I did not recognize you anymore. You look beautiful now…”).

“Sister, naa ko DOST ga-work… ug lipay kaayo ko na nagkita ta karon. Sister, salamat kaayo sa tanan nimong gitudlo nako. Nagamit gyud nako.” (Sister, I’m so happy that we met today. Sister, thank you so much for what you have taught me. Really, they are very useful to me.)

“Maayo… lipay ko kaayo ana. Minyo na ka?” (Is that so? Well, I am happy to know that. By the way, are you married now?”

“Yes, Sister… minyo na ko….ug naa na ko mga anak…” (Yes, Sister… I am married, and have kids…”

“Mao ba? Abi man to nako ug mag-madre ka… kay morag mao na to imong gusto sa una….” (Really? I thought you said you wanted to become a nun…)

“Lagi, Sister…gusto gyud bitaw ko magmadre sa una, pero morag lahi man gusto sa Ginoo para nako…” (Yes, Sister, I really wanted to become a nun, but God had other plans for me…)

Our conversation was cut short when we both noticed she has reached her destination. As I watched her stepped out of the motorela, I saw how she has aged and looked sickly.

She waved goodbye at me, and as I waved back to her, I said, “Sister, puede ta ka ma-visit diha one of these days?” (Sister, can I visit you there one of these days?).

Smiling, she said, “Dili ko kabalo until when ko dinhi Cagayan (I don’t know until when I would be here in Cagayan). I am now assigned in Bulacan…”

When I arrived at work, I excitedly told my close officemate (Lillian, who later on became a nun herself) about what happened a while ago and she joked, “Ma’am Tess… you mean you were ugly before? And you believed Sister Elsa?”

I was not able to see Sister Elsa again. One day, while visiting friends at Lourdes College, I learned that Sister Elsa has passed away. I regretted not having spent a few more hours with her, to tell her how much I appreciate what she did to me.

For now, I appease myself with the thought that every day of my life, Sister Elsa is alive. I may not be able to hug her anymore, but I know, in other life, I would be able to do that. And perhaps, when we reminisce those days we were working together, maybe she would tease me, "Tessie, abi nimo makalusot ka no?” (Tessie, you must have been thinking you could get away with it, right?)

Then I would shyly respond, “Lagi, Sister… ulaw kaayo ko… hangtod karon…” (That’s right, Sister….and I feel so ashamed, until now…)

I realized, I would have appreciated the scolding… I would not be so guilt-ridden… but no! A silent “reprimand” is more powerful…and much more effective.

There is a long list of women who are instrumental in molding me to who I am now… but the list is endless, as every day, I continue to meet them, and they leave a mark in my life.

Next week, I hope to add their names to the list… as they all deserve a tribute, just like Ma’am Athena and Sister Elsa.