September 14, 2023

Poverty is Not Destiny series | Empowering communities through education: Warsa’s story

“I dream of turning my region’s focus from arms into pens.” Learn how Warsa is leading the change she wants to see while supporting her family.

Close up portrait of Warsa, a teacher in a BRAC learning center in the Philippines, smiling in front of a chalkboard


Around the world girls and young women face barriers to education caused by poverty, cultural norms, and practices, crisis, or violence. Yet, evidence shows that  when girls receive quality education, everyone benefits. Women learn labor and life skills, have economic power and stability, and contribute to their families and communities, enabling them to be more informed about nutrition and healthcare and powering them with the tools and opportunities to rise above poverty. 

Growing up in Patikul, Philippines, Warsa’s life has been shaped by displacement and conflict. Gunshots and the sounds of explosives are common in her hometown and she recalls countless nights taking refuge in shelters and relatives’ homes until the situation was declared safe.

Warsa’s parents were farmers, cultivating anything from cassava, bananas, coconuts, and other seasonal crops but their yields were small and unpredictable with wild animals like monkeys damaging their crops. The small yields they were able to harvest would be sold to street vendors who then sold the goods at the local markets. 

Warsa’s parents worked relentlessly during the off-season trying to make ends meet, which meant there was less produce for Warsa and her siblings to eat and income to buy essentials like food, transportation, and hygiene products. Instead of electricity or kerosene, Warsa’s family would burn local materials for light and cooking.

Because of the hardships they experienced as farmers, Warsa’s parents always encouraged her and her siblings to receive an education since they didn’t have that opportunity. 

Determined to finish her studies with the help of her family, friends, and teachers, Warsa continued her education all the way through college by commuting 28 kilometers on a small bus or a rented motorcycle. 

Since she couldn’t afford to buy school materials like books and review materials for her board licensure exam, she borrowed them from a friend. Working hard and studying every day, Warsa passed her exam and became a certified teacher. She recalls the day she received her diploma and the way her parents’ eyes sparkled, watching her be the first in their family to graduate college.

Warsa now teaches at a government-led education program for families whose children have little or no access to education.

“I dream of turning my region’s focus from arms into pens,” she says.

Warsa loves teaching. She uses a holistic approach to education, by using the three domains of learning — cognitive, affective, and psychomotor. She also engages with her students through knowledge, intellect, emotion and feeling, and physical senses. She actively encourages them to dream big, and as their teacher, often recognizes the potential her students hold. 

Looking back, Warsa is incredibly proud of her journey and what she’s been able to accomplish. As the second-oldest sibling and the first to graduate from college, she supports her parents with basic expenses as well as her three other siblings. Warsa fondly remembers receiving her first paycheck and stopping at the market to buy rice and clothing for her sisters. 

“I strongly believe that, through education, we can find a way to build a more peaceful community,” she says.


Michelle Villar Cervantes is a Communications Intern at BRAC USA.