The viral photo of a Physics student with the street as his bigger classroom

Freedom represents many other young Filipinos thirsty for knowledge and wishing to achieve something in the field of science despite their economic status.
Freedom Mendiola de la Cruz, a PUP student, sells face masks, face shields, umbrellas, ballpens and the like on Evacom Road in Parañaque City.

Learning is not confined within the four walls of the classroom, and for PUP Physics student Freedom Mendiola de la Cruz the street is his classroom.

It was early afternoon of March 23, 2020 when my car stopped due to heavy traffic in front of Freedom’s mobile stall along Evacom Road in Parañaque City where he sells face masks, face shields, umbrellas, ballpens and the like.

I noticed that he seemed to be reading something on his cellphone, then he would write on his yellow pad paper.

To satisfy my curiosity, I took some shots before I called him to buy the face shields, and I asked some questions.

I learned that Freedom is a second year Physics student from the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP) and he was attending to his online classes, among others, when I saw him.

I initially thought that he wanted to be a scientist when I posted the photo later that afternoon.

Social media can be very influential as Freedom’s photo has gone viral with hundreds of shares, likes and comments, and was even featured by major media outfits.

When I visited Freedom again two days later, he told me that he was overwhelmed by the social media attention that he received due to my photo.

He said that Physics was not his original choice as a pre-medical course in PUP as he was not able to get available slots for Biology, Chemistry or Psychology.

He plans to proceed to medical school after graduation, preferably at the University of the Philippines (Manila) with specialization on children since he was often brought to the hospital during his younger years as a sickly child.

Although his education is free as one of the Iskolar ng Bayan, his parents have to allot a substantial part of the family income to cover the additional costs.

Before the pandemic, Freedom used to go to school and stay in a dorm with monthly expenses of P1,800 for dormitory rent, water and electricity, while his daily allowance for food and transportation is P200.

He was already helping his parents in their mobile stall at a very young age during his elementary years. He has two sisters Katrina (18) and Chloe (16).

He starts selling from 8 a.m. until around 7:30 p.m. while his parents transfer on foot from one place to another around Parañaque, Muntinlupa and Las Piñas carrying with them big plastic bags containing their merchandise.

Sadly, Freedom lamented that Covid-19 caused their estimated average daily gross income to drop from P3,500 to P1,500.

They buy the faceshields from Baclaran at three pieces per P10 and sell them at P10 per piece.

Then I asked why is his name Freedom.

I was right. His father, Jerry, was a former activist engineering student from National University who said in a TV interview that his son’s name means “malaya sa paghihirap, sa pighati sa [ma]sama sa mundong malupit.”

Freedom clarified that he was self-studying online not only for his Physics classes at the time I took the photo.

Although he wants to be a doctor, he showed me the yellow paper where he was also writing down notes on non-science-related subjects for self growth, including terms lifted from legal web sites like law, jurisprudence, constitution, stare decisis, precedent, legal positivism and statute of limitation.

Freedom represents many other young Filipinos thirsty for knowledge and wishing to achieve something in the field of science despite their economic status.

I only encountered Physics as a subject during high school, which is not an easy subject  for me. And now here is Freedom who is taking it as a full-blown course. 

Physics is the study of the mathematical beauty of the universe at scales ranging from subatomic to cosmological, from studying stars far beyond Earth, to explaining the shape of a water droplet.

The viral photograph is a manifestation of how education has changed dramatically due to the Covid-19 pandemic that shattered the confines of a “closed classroom” concept.  

Freedom stressed that going to school and learning online are different because one can easily learn skills in a classroom unlike in e-learning where teaching is undertaken remotely and on digital platforms.

He receives a weekly load of P100 from his organization Physics Society to cover the Internet expenses.

What is more difficult for Freedom in giving full attention to his lessons is the fact that there are external distractions, like the noise and crowd, considering that their stall is along a busy main road. Poverty is the greatest obstacle of ones’ education but it may also be treated as a challenge. The greatest lessons are not learned in a classroom but through living from day to day, and one doesn’t get told about them, one experiences them.

In the event that he will successfully enter the medical profession, I hope that he will remain true to his character and convictions and be guided by the best of human virtues such as altruis​m, compassion and the desire to alleviate human suffering.

Kule is the monicker of Philippine Collegian, the official student publication of UP Diliman. Atty. Dennis R. Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, e-mail info@sapalovelez.com, or call 0917-5025808 or 0908-8665786.

Image credits: Dennis Gorecho


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