First in family

From an early age, Elizer Jay de los Reyes (Jay) dreamt of becoming a lawyer. He liked the idea of defending people who’d been oppressed.

A scholarship established in 2010 through the generosity of US-based John R Irwin (BE(CivEng) 1967, MEngSc 1970, Ormond College) is helping one education student explore the ways young people in the villages of the Northern Philippines imagine and forge their futures.

From an early age, Elizer Jay de los Reyes (Jay) dreamt of becoming a lawyer. He liked the idea of defending people who’d been oppressed. It was a big dream for a boy whose playground was village streets lined with shanties. His parents worked as teachers and also ran a small grocery and meat store to supplement their meagre incomes.

In the mornings, Jay would awake to the noise of mothers haggling, merchants trading, loud music from the pirated-cassette store, and the smell of decaying rubbish. It was a colourful Filipino life and one that Jay, who was born partially blind, enjoyed.

When he finished high school, Jay left his village to study at university. He still wanted a career that would give him the opportunity to help others, but instead of law he changed focus and opted for political science. After graduating, Jay too became a teacher. He understood the power of education to change lives and was determined to become a teacher who would instil curiosity and creativity in young minds.

He also saved all his money to pay for his two siblings’ education when his parents could no longer afford to do so.

“I was determined that my brother and sister would get an education so I began assuming the responsibility of being the breadwinner even though my parents didn’t ask me to,” Jay says.

Jay felt there was a lot he still needed to learn if he was to become the best teacher he could be, and so he successfully applied for a Fulbright Scholarship at the University of Illinois. He graduated with a Masters in Educational Policy Studies.

A short return to the Philippines followed but Jay no longer felt like he fully belonged in there.

“I returned a different person. I came back with creative ideas for teaching but I wasn’t allowed to do all the creative things I wanted. I didn’t feel supported by my country,” Jay said.

That’s when his thoughts turned to Melbourne.

“Our parents taught us to dream. We were the village dreamers,” Jay says.

He began thinking about the power of dreams, of imagining.

“How do you work with minimal resources to imagine new possibilities? How do young people in villages think about and imagine their futures?”

Jay at Melbourne Uni
The Graduate School of Education at the University of Melbourne is one of the top places in the world and I specifically wanted to work with Professor Fazal Rizvi whose research is aligned with what I am doing. I was so pleased I could work with him, and Prof. Julie McLeod who has been a wonderful influence, and guided me through my candidature.

Jay applied for and received the John R Irwin Scholarship to undertake his PhD at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education.

“I also want to be able to give back to the village and to coach the leaders there about how to write legislation to establish grants for poor but deserving students, and to come up with a program to give the students jobs in the village,” he says.

Jay said the Scholarship has opened more doors for him and dared him to dream even bigger for himself – he wants to become an inspiring and socially-committed academic, one who can contribute to an exchange of knowledge and ideas between Australia and villages in the Philippines.

“The generosity of John Irwin and the impact of this scholarship is huge, it has created so many positive ripples. I can’t say ‘thank you’ enough.”

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