The Cinderella Man

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By Prim Paypon


Friday, April 4, 2014

LAST week, pioneering institutions and highly influential personalities behind the development of Internet celebrated its first 20 glorious years since it was made available in the country in 1994.

While my timeline was overflowing with gratitude to the unfathomable impact of Internet to our nation and individual lives, I was having my post-Earth Hour, reflecting on how the Internet connected me to young inspiring Filipinos whose life stories and passions allowed me to connect my own dots and build the pillars of my social dreams. Most of them, I professionally chased. But others, I got connected to, organically and mysteriously, by social media.

From virtual friends and mutual followers, our connections evolved, and we became lifetime friends and community collaborators, offline.


And in celebration of the storytelling powers and reach that Internet gave our generation, I am privileged – and licensed – to share to the world the story of a real-life “cinderella man” whom I met in Twitter in November 2012.

His name is Richard Nollen.

Turning 33, he has an accomplished resume, and would tell you that in dreaming, there are no rules.

A licensed nurse, a social entrepreneur, and a community builder, to name a few, his is a remarkable feat, living his dreams, enjoying a good life in one of the upscale residences in Bonifacio Global City.

But with humility, he told me that it took him 14 years to earn his college diploma.

“Life was hard back in my home province – Atimonan, Quezon Province. We are nine in the family, and I am the youngest. My father left us when I was six. My mother had to do multiple jobs to raise us all. She cooks coconut candy in the morning for me to sell in school. In the afternoon, she accepts laundry jobs from a nearby establishment. At night, she would sew some rags to be sold to tricycle drivers at the terminal.”

Because of his dedication in school, he finished elementary as valedictorian, and was given an entry scholarship to high school at Leon Guinto Memorial College.

But the new academic environment proved to be more challenging than he and his mother thought. He confessed that it was a struggling high school for him, and his mother’s ultimate dream became his only guiding light.

Because his mother showed him maturity and frugality in life choices, he never thought of having fancy cars. “I only wanted to give my mother a life that she deserves. A better one,” he says.

Convinced that life has no shortcuts, he dreamt of obtaining a college degree. But it was a whirlwind wanting to enter and finish college for the young Richard because he did not have the means to start with.

“I chose the most convenient route that I could possible take. Find employment. Save up. Be a working student.”

After finishing high school, at 17, he left Manila to look for a job.

His first job was through a manpower agency in Pasig City, as a promo merchandiser for RFM – Swift ham. After his first project-based job which only lasted for a month, he took a job as a bagger in a supermarket in Caloocan City. Despite the physical demands of the daytime job, he would volunteer to do overtime work to do general cleaning of the supermarket.

“Doing the overtime work every time would mean that I would be sleepless for a day or two because I was on a “broken time” (opening – long break – closing) block,” he shared.

But he needed the overtime work to earn extra money to enroll in a one-year computer-based accounting program at AMA.

Years went swiftly for him. He finished his AMA program, got promoted to become a team leader of the quick-service restaurant of the supermarket, and awarded as the “Rookie of the Year.” To augment his lifetime savings to pursue his lifelong goal and his mother’s, he went into chicken distributorship, sold juices at various day-care centers, went into catering services, and took chances in scrap metal-buying.

After 10 years of hard work, despite the lure of earning a living already, he decided to pursue his lifelong goal— to obtain a bachelor’s degree.

At 26, he enrolled at Global City Innovative College in Taguig City and took up nursing. Three years after, at 30, he gifted his mother three beautiful things: the first and only college diploma in the family, to be the mother of the class valedictorian (cum laude), and a set of new dress and simple jewelries to wear for the graduation rites.

“The hard battles of life left my mother with scars, figuratively and literally. That’s why to see my mother in her most beautiful clothes, with a little make-up, meant the world to me,” Richard shares.

A month before his college graduation in March 2011 while reviewing for the licensure exam, using his own savings, he conceptualized a quick service restaurant that serves healthy and nutritious burger snacks but at the same time, offers an alternative solution to decrease the country’s problem of unemployment among college dropouts and high school graduates.

After earning his licensed as a nurse, at 31, his concept restaurant grew to seven stores, and is now a restaurant chain called Bodato.

Despite the beautiful success of Bodato, he continues to challenge himself to be continuously relevant.

He still practices community health as a nurse as a member of the Board and Livelihood Project lead of Exempli Gratia Foundation, a movement of ordinary young professionals, students and entrepreneurs who share their skills, abilities and resources to help uplift the conditions of communities in need.

In 2013, he founded Project DUKE, an initiative that aims to decrease the number of Filipino out-of-school youth.

In the same year, in his pursuit to encourage more people to pursue their passion through enterprising, he established TAG (Titanium Accounting and Business Solutions Group), a trusted accounting and business solutions partner bringing about internationally aligned integrated management solutions for startups and micro, small, and medium enterprises (mSMEs) driven by experienced business consultants, entrepreneurs, social innovators and accountants.

In 2014, he co-founded IdeaCube, a startup people’s relation focused on the ideation and incubation of socially relevant programs and concepts for mission-based organizations to bridge social gaps and maximize opportunities.

With the life he had to go through, and the generosity he continues to give, Richard Nollen deserves to be called a Filipino “cinderella man” who fought his own battles, worked hard for his own luck, and earned his own victories.

And of all the battles he fought, fighting for the college diploma his mother dreamt of, which took him 14 years, remains his hardest but sweetest victory.

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on April 04, 2014.


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