Meet Meliton Zamora, a retired University of the Philippines janitor and my hero.
For forty-five years, he swept floors, cleaned up trash, watered plants and did odd jobs at the University.
I met him when I was active with the UP Repertory Company, a theater group based (then) at the third floor lobby of the Arts & Sciences (AS) building. He would sweep and mop the hallway floors in silence, venturing only a nod and a smile whenever I passed him.
Back then, for me he was just one of those characters whom you got acquainted with and left behind as soon as you earned your degree and left the university for some big job in the real world. Someone whose name would probably ring a bell but whose face you'd have a hard time picturing. But for many UP students like me who were hard up and had a difficult time paying their tuition fees, Mang Mel was a hero who gave them the opportunity to finish university and get a big job in the real world.
The year was 1993 and I was on my last semester as a Clothing Technology student. My parents had been down on their luck and were struggling to pay for my tuition fee. I had been categorized as Bracket 9 in the recently implemented Socialized Tuiton and Financial Assistance Program (STFAP). My father had lost his job and to supplement my allowance, I worked part time as a Guest Relations Officer at Sam's Diner (back when the term GRO didn't have shady undertones) and took some odd jobs as a Production Assistant, movie extra and wardrobe mistress.
To be eligible for graduation, I had to enroll in my last three courses and pay my tuition fee. Since my parents didn't have enough money for my matriculation, I applied for a student loan hoping that my one of my Home Economics (HE) professors would take pity on me and sign on as a guarantor for the student loan. But those whom I approached either refused or were not eligible as guarantors. After two unsuccessful weeks of looking for a guarantor, my prospects looked dim, my future dark. And so, there I was, a downtrodden twenty year old with a foggy future, crying in the AS lobby. I only had twenty four hours left to look for a guarantor.
Mang Mel, with a mop in hand, approached me and asked me why I was crying. I told him I had no guarantor for my student loan and will probably not be able to enroll this semester. I had no hopes that he would be able to help me. After all, he was just a janitor. He borrowed my loan application papers and said softly, "Puwede ako pumirma. Empleyado ako ng UP." He borrowed my pen and signed his name. With his simple act of faith, Mang Mel not only saved my day, he also saved my future.
I paid my student loan the summer after that fateful day with Mang Milton and it has been 15 years since then. I am not filthy rich but I do have a good job in the real world that allows me to support my family and eat three meals a day. A few weeks ago, a friend and UP Professor, Daki, told me that Mang Mel recently recorded an album which he sells to supplement his meager retirement pay, I asked another friend, Blaise, who's taking his Master's degree at UP to find out how we could contact Mang Mel. My gesture of gratitude for Mang Mel's altruism has been long overdue. As fate would have it, my friend saw Mang Mel coming out of the shrubbery from behind the UP library, carrying firewood. He got Mang Mel's address and promised him that we would come over to buy his album.
Together with Blaise and my husband Augie, I went to pay Mang Mel a visit last Sunday. Unfortunately, he was out doing a little sideline gardening for a UP professor in Tandang Sora. We were welcomed into their home by his daughter Kit. As she pointed out to a laminated photo of Mang Mel on the wall, she proudly told us that her father did retire with recognition from the University. However, she sadly related to us that many of the students whose loans Mang Mel guaranteed neglected to settle their student loans. After forty-five years of service to the University, Mang Mel was only attributed 171 days of work for his retirement pay because all the unpaid student loans were deducted from his full retirement pay of about 675 days. This seems to me a cruel repayment for his kindness.
This is a cybercall to anyone who did not get to pay their student loans that were guaranteed by Mang Mel. Anytime would be a good time to show Mang Mel your gratitude.
Mang Mel is not asking for a dole out, though I know he will be thankful for any assistance you can give. So I ask those of you who also benefited from Mang Meliton's goodness or for those who simply wish to share your blessings, please do visit Mang Mel and buy his CD (P350 only) at No. 16-A, Block 1, Pook Ricarte, U.P. Campus, Diliman, Quezon City (behind UP International House) or contact his daughter Kit V. Zamora at 0916-4058104.