"If they write about me, people will be happy to read my story for two minutes, feel good, be inspired, and then they will quickly forget. But if they talk about the kind of community I come from, full of hopelessness, poverty, and despair, and talk about how GreenEarth Heritage Foundation is addressing the problems, that will serve a bigger group of people beyond myself, I think that has more impact."
- Romnick L. Blanco, Green Earth Heritage Foundation scholar, International School Manila scholar Class of 2017, Harvard University Class of 2022
This is a story of hope. And, as with most remarkable stories, it started with a dream and many prayers -- followed by hard work, patience, perseverance, and love. This is the story of Romnick Blanco, the seventh of nine sons of a farmer who grew up in a small municipality in the northern foothills of the Sierra Madre; a young boy who endured a long walk each day on unpaved roads just to get to school. Romnick crossed a bridgeless river, under the scorching heat almost every day, including Saturdays, in an effort to better himself and with the hope that through education, he and his family and their community could have a better life.
This is also the story of GreenEarth Heritage Foundation, an organization that believes in Romnick and which has poured its resources in nurturing his talent with passion and prayer. It is a foundation that is dedicated to transforming lives through organic agriculture, in an area where the lack of farm-to-market infrastructure and sustainable countryside opportunities has perpetuated deforestation, illiteracy, and grinding poverty. GreenEarth Heritage Foundation's holistic mission is "to preserve the environment, adhere to sound and sustainable agricultural practices, and help in the alleviation of poverty through livelihood, education, and community development."
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This is Romnick's very own David and Goliath tale to tell: A poor boy who comes from a small, rural town. He describes his impoverished community as a place "where people are living in hopelessness and despair. They believe that no matter what takes place, they will be poor forever. They see no light at the end of the tunnel."
But Romnick now knows that hope exists and a better life for all of them is possible. He is dedicated to sharing his blessings so that others may experience the hope, too. "This amazing blessing that I have received will be looked upon by many as an achievement, but if I were to be very honest, I truthfully believe that what happened to me was nothing short of a miracle," he says.
Established in 2009, after receiving a land grant of over 100 hectares, GreenEarth Heritage Foundation quickly established programs in order to urgently address environmental destruction, lack of sustainable agricultural livelihood opportunities, and poor quality education, in order to help farmers and their children in Romnick's community.
In 2011, Romnick became a sponsored child of the foundation. His benefits as a sponsored child included receiving a monthly subsidy to assist with the ancillary costs of public school education, as well as free access to English and computer literacy classes at the foundation's Learning Center, situated right in the middle of their reforestation site and an organic farm.The foundation noticed Romnick s unwavering commitment to learning, and soon, he was outpacing the other farmers' children in English proficiency at the GreenEarth Learning Center. Through the foundation's vision, dedication, and support, he gained a highly coveted five-year scholarship at the country's oldest international high school, the International School Manila.
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"Rom has special favor from the Lord," says Dr. Mylene Matti, founder of GreenEarth, and Romnick's foster mother. "He has a destiny to fulfill in Him, thus the Lord is equipping and empowering him now with better education."
A member of the graduating class of the International School Manila 2017, Rom, as he is called by his friends and family, received acceptance and full scholarships to Harvard University, Dartmouth College, Wesleyan University, and New York University at Abu Dhabi. He has accepted the offer from Harvard and will be matriculating in the fall of 2018, following a gap year."I selected Harvard for all that it represents. Its reputation precedes itself," he shares. "I love its motto, 'Veritas: I will go where truth leads me.'"
While he was originally accepted for admission this September, he decided to take advantage of a gap year, something that is becoming a popular choice for young adults today. In its admissions letter, Harvard University encourages its incoming students to take a year of deferral because of the benefits it has observed from those who have taken a year off before starting college. "Before I got accepted to any college, I prayed to be able to take a break after high school and so with Harvard's outright encouragement, I decided to grab the opportunity."
Over the next 12 months, Rom plans to learn practical life skills. He plans to learn how to cook and drive, as well as play the guitar. He also hopes to travel around the Philippines. Not one who cannot give back, he also plans to add more to his 1,500 trees -- a Moringa Food Forest he himself established over 5 years at GreenEarth Heritage Foundation. "Trees have a special place in my heart as a farmer's child who grew up in the mountains with various kinds of plants and farm animals. When I entered ISM in the eighth grade, I could no longer plant as often as when I was in the province. But since I really love planting, I would go to GreenEarth whenever I have free time to plant trees.Â Over the last 5 years, I have planted over 1,500 trees, most of which are the acclaimed miracle tree and superfood of the world, Moringa [Malunggay]. I gave these to my father as my gift to help increase his weekly income."
In addition to planting, he hopes to be able to conduct a theater class for farmers' children and fellow scholars studying in the homeschool program of GreenEarth Heritage Foundation as he loves to act and sing, and has pursued these interests through different activities while at ISM.Rom was awarded "Most Outstanding in Theatre" for two consecutive years, Grade 11 and 12, at ISM.
As Harvard does not expect its incoming freshmen to choose a course of study before beginning their college education, Rom is keeping an open mind until he begins schooling, but lists economics, environmental studies, math, and history as possible areas of interest. When asked what his plans are after college, Rom says, "Right now, my mind is focused on preparing for my next mountain to climb -- Harvard. But if I may share what is in my mind, I yearn to see many more farmers' children experience my blessings. If not for my foundation coming to our neck of the woods teaching us to live, hope and dream and backing us up all the way, you would not be writing about me today. There are a number of other farmers' children who are very promising in our community. If only GreenEarth had more resources to look after many of us, my beloved foundation has proven that it knows what to do to help get a farmer's child to Ivy League! I pray more people will consider supporting us in our movement of transforming land, transforming lives."
For more information on the GreenEarth Heritage FoundationÂand how you can help, visit greenearthheritage.org.
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This story was originally published in the August 2017 issue of Town&Country.