Dream On – They’re Free!

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Beating the African drum in Swaziland. All women should march to the beat of their own drums and dreams. If not, who will?

By Cecil Laguardia

Never settle for anything less than what you love doing and do well. – Colin Powell

I have almost done it all. I got pregnant and was prematurely married at 18. It may not be that shocking today, but in the 80s and on a quiet Filipino family, it was like a whistle bomb dropping in the middle of a family lunch. It broke my parents’ heart big time.

Doing this after finishing valedictorian from high school, my reputation took a nosedive in a small village where my mom was a respected public school teacher. I stopped university for 2 years, tried full-time motherhood and worked in the farm. I admonished myself I can’t be doing it forever!

I eventually picked up the broken pieces to finish a degree in Public Relations. My dream was to become a writer but I can’t remember how I ended studying PR. A year before I graduated, I gave birth to my second daughter.

I had 3 children in all at 27, a single mom at 28. To survive, I juggled on 3 jobs – day job at an electric company, a weekend job at an export business and a Thursday night job as secretary for a Rotary club.

These were apart from accepting writing work that burned too many night candles. But that journalism dream didn’t fade away. It blazed quietly, finding a way out. It didn’t quit on me and I gave it its due.

At a distribution activity in Swaziland and trying my hand carrying a pack of food assistance.

For 6 years, I was freelance correspondent for a national newspaper writing stories from Mindanao. I suspected my stories got published not because I wrote them well but because I send them the earliest ahead of competition.

Every published story gave me fireworks. Remember I was still having those 3 jobs on top of this one. I took every excuse to be able to write. No work was too small or boring.

When I landed a communications job in World Vision, it felt like I won the lottery. I can do what I love and get paid for it. It was normal for me to do 20 stories in a week’s assignment. I rode motorcycles to my interviews, braved floods, climbed mountains, took slow boats at muddy rivers and slept in gecko-laden guesthouses.

But in every assignment, I woke up early – no matter how late I slept – excited to go for that next story. I cried, felt sad, angry and scared, drained and exhausted. But the next day, I’d be like the phoenix rising.

I was raising 3 growing children on a meager income. But that didn’t stop me go for that dream. I worked hard and played harder as a mom. I slept and dreamed and woke up writing stories. I must. I often wrote about the “nobodies”. Their stories must be heard.

I didn’t accept “Oh, there are no stories here” comments. Every person has a story. Millions are waiting to be written. I will never run out of work.

Things got more challenging. I covered relief work during disasters, armed conflicts, famine, a civil war and more. All through these, I never gave up. I almost did, but I know I won’t.

At Lesotho’s snow mountain. When we pursue our dreams with dogged determination, the path opens up. You’ve read this one, right? It certainly does. Don’t doubt.

It would have been unfair to my children if I didn’t pursue what I want and tell people I didn’t because of them. At 49, I saw them complete university and pursue their own life’s dreams. Their dreams are fast becoming mine.

I can’t explain how I got lucky. One thing I am certain is – when you have a dream, never give them up. Don’t quit. Don’t trade. Don’t say you can’t. Just don’t.

Kathryn Stockett wrote her bestselling book The Help for 5 years and wallowed in 60 rejections for 3 and ½ years before she got it published.  She chased her dream like mad.

I’m no Stockett but I am like her. My persistence gets me sailing through the rough seas but I can’t imagine living any other way. Who knows? I might end up doing a bestseller and beat her to the draw by having 200 rejections. Watch me. Yes, I am on to my first book!

So dream away. They come true. It may take time, but they will. Trust me, been there. It’s far sweeter if you do your best for it. I know I made my father proud before he died.

You see, I’ve done it all but I am still at it. I’m not dropping out of the game. No one’s too old for another dream. Winners never quit. Keep telling yourself that. I do!


So the pie isn’t perfect? Cut it into wedges. When faced with a challenge, evaluate or assess the situation, gather the good things in sight, abandon the bad and move on. Focus on the positive. Stay in control and never panic. – Martha Stewart

Trying my drummer skills at the roadside in Mozambique. No matter how tough the work is, there is always an opportunity to enjoy it. Seize every chance!

The Swazi women’s inner strength to rise above any adversity is inspiring. They love and find joy in their tradition. My over one year in the Kingdom of Swaziland is one of my happiest work assignments so far.

Cecil is a communications manager in an aid agency in Southern Africa based in Mbabane, Swaziland. On weekends and work breaks, she writes for her upcoming book, blogs and edits for istoryya.com, reads the piles of books she hoards in bookstores from countries she visits (currently its Bill Bryson’s hilarious The Road to Little Dribbling bought in Cologne, Germany) and explore God’s amazing creation.

Click to read some of my published work:

Premier Christian Radio interview: Aid workers urge churches to engage

World Vision: I know what it’s like to spend a childhood escaping conflict

Rappler: For travelers, aside from the usual tips

The Guardian: Diary of an aid worker: Desolation and bleakness in Tacloban

Time Magazine interview: They’re walking because there’s nothing else

Devex: Why it’s crucial to save before disaster strikes

Rappler: Living in the conflict zone; I know what it feels like

World Vision EU: The communicator as a humanitarian

World Vision: In Iraq, cash in hand lets displaced families buy what’s needed most

The “Dream” Blog link-up:

We believe dreams are made of the same filling as hope, joy and love – the things that give us breath to run, faith to believe, and a heart to sing. When we dream, nobody imposes limitations on us, and that which can be imagined and hoped for can be so.

We’re writing about dreams this month because we believe when we share our dreams, we are dared to chase them. These dreams have inspired us, changed us, and fuelled our love for life and God. They’ve moved us jobs, continents and through relationships. They remind us that everything is possible.



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38 thoughts on “Dream On – They’re Free!

    • I really think I should write one sooner or later – bestseller or not. Thanks for inspiring me, even if the dream is getting weirder each day. They won’t be dreams if they aren’t weird, are they? Thanks Richenda – coming from an amazing social media diva, this is one huge compliment!

  1. Truly inspiring! You never ceased to inspire people. You just did. That’s why I cannot give up. I am proud we’re friends.

  2. Hayyyy… what more could I say???? 🙂 You’re lucky you could spell your dreams in words while we jst paint ours in the sky! hahahah Keep up te… we are proud of you 🙂

    • We paint them in the sky and go get them! Thanks. Its always a happy thing to share all these with super-nice friends. Get to that dream, Juday!

  3. Thank you for sharing your inspiring story. Your story inspired me to push myself harder in life and it made me realized I am not too old to dream and become a successful me.
    Belated Happy Mother’s Day Cecil!

    • Oh, I’m so glad I have made you inspired with my story. I truly believe we shouldn’t give up dreaming! Keep on Ev, and go for whatever will make life more meaningful for ya. Thanks for visiting my blog!

    • Because it challenges you to do something much better and higher. Go Van and follow your dreams! Hope you and your friends will learn from this story.

  4. Amazing story! Congratulations Cecil. You never let go of your dream! You inspire me to also pursue my own dreams with the same passion and determination.

    • Thanks, Matet! You can’t get away from that nickname huh. Go pursue your dream – don’t hold back. Life will be more exciting if we don’t give up. Good luck!

  5. Soli Deo Gloria! You are an inspiration. This world is indeed a better place ‘cos of you! Keep living those dreams and share ’em 😉

    • Thanks Joanne! So heartwarming to share this and get all of you inspired. The world is at your feet – you can make the world better by living up to your dreams and sharing them – for others to learn from. Godspeed and go pursue those dreams! Quitting not allowed.

  6. dear Cecil! thoughts are for the moment, conversations for the hour but writing lives forever 😉 I was moved by your reporting videos and am glad to be able to read this 2 years on after you posted it and be as inspired as the rest. What an adventure! Thank God for your perseverance, thank you for your service to those in need through our World Vision. May you continue to lend a listening ear, tell many more stories of real people who matter and warm many more hearts (“,)

    • Hello Amelia! Thanks for such a heartwarming comment. I guess that’s now my mission in life – tell as many stories of real people as I can. So much stories to listen to, so little time to do all of them. It’s an adventure and a privilege. You visit to my blog is very much appreciated! Godspeed on us trying to do God’s work in our own humble way.

  7. Pingback: Ok, let’s get the secret out: I’m publishing my first book! | – Istoryya

  8. Miga, you will remain a good fried, a real woman who has excelled in writing many stories of “nobodies” but their stories and lives have been changed because you helped them share their lives to the world. What else I could say but my prayers for you to keep writing and sharing. Long live, Miga! Congratulations for becoming a grandma too. Your family is expanding and may you have more grand children to share your stories.

    • Cheers to both of us amiga Ping! You are one of those who helped me with my dreams – chasing stories so others may learn. Thanks for all the prayers. God bless you and your loving family, too!

  9. Wow! Thank you for sharing your story. Beautifully and concisely written. Your appreciation and love for life is contagious and inspirational

    • You’re such a blessing for all of us, Les! We’re all pieces of a pie and it cannot be complete without each of us making life more meaningful. I am glad I met you along my journey. Thanks so much for the inspiration!

  10. Thank you for sharing your story Cec. Sometimes, we think people were born with a silver spoon in their mouth .. not knowing the difficulties they have faced to get where they are now. Thank you for sharing and motivating .. indeed, you can achieve anything you set your mind to if you have the right attitude. Thank You!

    • Thanks for the inspiration and for taking time to read my blog. Wherever we come from I am sure we can inspire others with our lives – spoon or no spoon, lol. It’s amazing how we find each other along the way, gold nuggets that is worth keeping forever. Keep going (and keep exploring), lady. Godspeed on you next exciting phase of the journey.

    • You made my day Kristin! Thanks so much. I hope my story will inspire many girls that even if they made that decision of marrying young, it is possible to achieve their dreams. Not even poverty or the hardest of circumstances can stop us. Yes, we can!

  11. Whoa Cecil!, you sure are such a strong girl. We should never assume anything about anyone we meet.
    Awesome and well written story, very touching and I can very much related to your background.
    Keep up the adventure!

    • Yay Liana, thanks for reading the blog! Yeah women are an amazing breed – we can survive in all kinds of struggles and rise up smiling. 🙂 you should share your story!

  12. You are inspiring Cecilia! Your story, is one of many and the courage to jot it down and share with others is simply admirable! I challenged myself to start my own blogsite thanks to you!! I know when to lean on for sure, when I stumble!

    • Thanks Lucy! Your upcoming blog on istoryya will surely be an inspiration to many women. Go start anything you want to do, life is short we must start doing what we want in life and make the world a better place, esp for women.

  13. Cecil you are such an amazing being. I loved your flexibility, humility and life filled with laughter. It was never a dull moment with you.
    I wish you all the best in your next life venture

    • Thanks so much Zanele! You are also a joy to work with. I wish we have more time together but the short one will always be a treasure for me. See you next time and shine on, lady!

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