published 03 April 2016
Nineteen-year-old Amalyn Gem Espiritu was gathering her requirements for submission to Bulacan State University when her godmother told her that there was a school in San Juan City offering scholarships in vocational food and beverage training to poor but deserving young women. 
Amalyn was hesitant. She lived in San Jose del Monte City, a two-hour commute, on a good day, to school. On difficult days, the travel could take as long as three hours, one way. 
Two years later, Amalyn is convinced she made the right decision by enrolling at Punlaan School. She is capping her on-the-job training at the Marco Polo Hotel in Ortigas, getting ready to graduate next month. She also has just earned a global certification from the American Hotel and Lodging Educational Institute as a certified guest service professional. 
Now she is excited to begin the next phase of her life despite the fact that she had humble beginnings and hailed from what she called a “broken home.”
Such compelling stories are nothing new for the administrators of Punlaan. Vice Director for Student Affairs Kai Nabatar narrates that sometimes, scholarship applicants would come without their parents or guardians just because they did not have enough transportation fare for two people. Other students make the sacrifice of walking great distances just so they could save on fare. 
The AHLEI certification is a game changer, according to the school directress, Nanan Jacinto. Because it is globally recognized, it opens new opportunities for Punlaan graduates to spread their wings and make something meaningful out of their lives despite early obstacles. 
It was one of Punlaan’s partner establishments, Seda Hotel, that offered to shoulder the training and examination of 25 girls from the school. In an article published at BusinessMirror, assistant director Manny San Luis was quoted as saying they were inspired by one of the Punlaan girls who had undergone practicum at Seda. In the beginning, she was very shy and introverted, but over the months she had transformed into a confident staff member who earned commendations from the hotel’s guests.
“[The certification] would help professionalize the industry,” he said. 
Becoming a CGSP was not easy. Ghill Satin Geronimo, 18, said the three-day training which dealt with the elements of great service was fun, but the examination was daunting. The test was situational, and the options presented looked as though they could all be the right answer. 
“We waited for two weeks as our papers were being checked. When the results came, we were overjoyed to know that all 25 of us who took the test passed it,” Ghill added. 
Now she looks forward to helping her mother, who works as a medical representative, earn a living for the family. Her father is still looking for a job. 
Angelou Colarina is yet another of the 25 passers. A native of Camarines Sur, she almost did not attend Punlaan because she did not pass the examinations the first time. Still she persevered, seeing firsthand how the school changed her own sister and opened up doors for her. Now, Angelou is training at Chef Jessie at Top of the Citi in Makati. 
“In the beginning I really felt inferior. Imagine, I was not familiar with all of the vegetables they were using! I had to work really hard.”
This is the same attitude that has enabled the girls to achieve the international certification at the first go, Jacinto said. This is how the Punlaan girls have been known, all along. They are humble and hardworking, initially tentative but gradually developing their confidence until they are able to show confidence in what they do.  
Punlaan School is a project of the Foundation for Professional Training Inc. and is funded by several organizations that believe in empowering the less privileged and giving them an equal chance at improving their lot. 
Its modest facade along Paterno Street is also a testament to the values of simplicity and humility it lives by—“although of course we would like to make some improvements so that more young people would be enticed to begin their career journey with us,” Jacinto said. 
And now that the school year is about to end, Punlaan would like to spread the word that it is ready to accept scholars between 16 and 21 years old for  its senior high school tech-voc track in Hospitality and Culinary Arts. One hundred thirty slots are up for grabs. 
For information on how you can help the school help its students, become an industry partner or apply for a scholarship, call 727-0581 to 82.