Tree scientist wounds hands to reach dreams

Published: July 5, 2019 01:14pm | Palawan


He used to scrub floors and pigsties until the back of his hands ruptured and bled just to get an education. Decades later, the wounds have healed and scarred and the owner of the hands, Dr. Rodolfo Abalus Jr., is now an educator and a tree scientist. Be awed and inspired by this moving tale of a man who dared to dream big and worked to realize it.

The scars on his hands are a mute testament to how Rodolfo Abalus Jr. fought and conquered poverty to get to where he is now today. A son of a farmer who toiled on another's land, Jun as he is to his family and friends, dreamed of getting a college degree and owning land.

"After finishing elementary, it was certain my parents could no longer send me to high school," Jun, the eighth in a brood of 11, reminisced. So he had to take matters into his own hands. And literally he did. At 13, the teenager from Nueva Vizcaya convinced his father to find him a family who may let the young man work in exchange for schooling.

"I saw in his eyes how he was devastated, his fatherly pride shrunk, because of his apparent failure to send his son to school," he recalled. To his family, Jun was an obedient and hardworking young man. He would help his mother sell vegetables harvested from their backyard during school breaks.

The young man would carry basketful of veggies while following his mother who had on her head a winnow of their produce. "We would cross a river and trudge a hilly path down to the market. We did it many times a week," Jun said. During those times, his childhood and youth years breezed so quick that he did not even had the time to experience what his contemporaries did, like going to other barangays to participate in basketball matches. He just had no enough time for such juvenile diversions as he was busy helping the family.

He worked as errand boy for a well-to-do family who promised to send him to high school. Jun's day would start before daybreak, as everybody else was still in deep sleep. "I would clean 13 rooms, scrubbing them until these become slippery shiny. I also cook for the family and tend to the household's ornamental plants," Jun recalled. He also had to clean 13 pig pens with eight sows each, hosing away pig dung and scrubbing dirt and manure off the concrete flooring. His constant scrubbing was so vigorous that the back of his hands rubbed the rough flooring until they become ruptured and bloodied. "It was so painful that I could not get enough sleep during the night," Jun said, showing off his scarred hands.

Despite his harrowing ordeal, Jun chose to stay with the family since they fulfilled their end of the bargain of financing his studies. They were even generous enough to send him to college until he finished his BS Forestry degree at the Nueva Vizcaya State University in 1995. He took and passed the forestry licensure exams that year. His farming background and a friend's encouragement made him decide to study forestry, even as he also liked mathematics and numbers.

Jun worked with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) where he used his knowledge in helping preserve and develop different tree species. His job brought him to Palawan where he also shared his learning to the young by becoming an instructor at Western Philippines University before he was transferred to another government tertiary institution, Palawan State University (PSU).

His desire to continue going up to the tertiary education ladder and increase his knowledge prompted Jun to pursue graduate and, eventually post-graduate studies of forestry.

With the help of a scholarship from the Department of Social and Technology (DOST), Jun became a doctor of philosophy major in forestry in 2017 at University of the Philippines in Los Banos (UPLB). "As a son of poor parents, I really wanted to get a good education so I can help them and my siblings. With my experiences, I was able to prove that there's nothing impossible in getting what you wanted if you will just strive hard," he said, now dotingly called by friends as "Doc Jun."

Aside from his teaching duties at PSU, Doc Jun is currently helping Yamang Bukid Farm, an emerging agro-tourism destination at Barangay Bacungan, Puerto Princesa City, Palawan, in giving inputs about the farm's project on forestry. "We also give advice on matters related to operation and improvement of farm operations," Doc Jun explained. Doc Jun hails the farm's practices as a fine model of sustainable ecosystem.

The farm's integrated approach to agriculture ensures its sustainability, and Doc Jun's tasks include teaching farmers scientific and modern ways of cultivating crops. "I wanted to help farmers on how to improve their ways of doing things for the betterment of the farm and to everyone there," said Doc Jun. The farm, he pointed out, is not only pro-people, which is shown by fair treatment and competitive pay to workers, but also pro-environment.

"Here, we plant at least ten trees a day. The farmers also join tree-planting activities," Doc Jun said. He said the farm, which used to be a grassy hilly area with few plants, has regenerated, as many species of plants and animals slowly coming back.

"Before there are only few trees, now more have grown. Not only individual trees, but whole indigenous species," Doc Jun said. Currently, Doc Jun is an accomplished farmer and an emulated academician who has published many journals about his field of expertise. In his family, he was the first to earn a college degree, and the only one ever to get a post-graduate one. It was an accomplishment and an extraordinary feat attained by hardwork, determination and grit. "When my students asked what happened to my hands, I would tell them the reason. At first, they would not believe it, but after hearing my story, I would hear gasps of wonder, disbelief or awe."

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