Dual credit instructor’s poor upbringing yields rich content for children’s books
It was New Year’s Day 1988. Growing up in General Santos City, the southern-most city in the Philippines, Rey Jope sat under a coconut tree, closed his eyes, and then asked God for hints about what was in store for his life.
His thoughts were drowned out by the sound of fireworks from nearby neighborhoods, but Jope (pronounced Ho-peh) said he still remembers the first time he became inspired to change his life.
“I remember asking ‘Lord, can you at least give me an idea what's in store for me’ because I wanted to help my family, and I wanted to start a career,” Jope said.
He did not know it at first, but his path would eventually lead him to the United States. Nonetheless, Jope said his young mind initially believed he would win the lottery.
The very next day, Jope said he went straight to the store and began purchasing lottery tickets, not knowing that opportunity would come in the form of a teaching career. One day, he was looking through classified ads in a newspaper and happened to come upon a call for teachers in Texas.
“Everything I dreamed about came true. Even though my mom got sick within a year, I had money to pay for her hospital bills since I was working,” he said. “Did I plan to go to the US? Well, I did not know that at the time.
“It all came from the dream I had for myself, and the nagging feeling that I thought I would win the lottery, but it turned out my dream was telling me about teaching in the United States,” he said.
“My mom used to tell me everything will be just fine,” he said. "She would say that the only reason that we were poor is because we didn't have money, but we were rich in everything else."
He arrived in the US in 1993 already possessing a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics from Mindanao State University, and would later receive a Master of Liberal Arts in Mathematics for Teaching degree from Harvard University.
“Before I moved here, I had never heard of anyone in my neighborhood who went to Texas and became a teacher,” he said. “Some of our neighbors believed that the opportunity for me to teach here in Texas was a scam.
"They asked my parents ‘the United States is so advanced, why would they hire teachers from a third world country,’” Jope said.
When he arrived in South Texas, Jope said he began teaching at a junior high school in Hidalgo. Years later, Jope is now a mathematics teacher at Achieve Early College High School in McAllen and was named District Secondary Teacher of the Year by McAllen Independent School District in 2008.
In his free time, Jope said he also decided to create two storybooks for children “Feyesper and the Rogue Kite” in 2013 and “Feyesper and the Wicked Neighbor” in 2018. The stories follow the title character, a pink fairy armadillo, and his friends Maty, a bantam rooster; and Oyel, a golden snail.
“These are stories about hope. They are stories about survival, and stories about a kind of love that you really can’t find anywhere..."
Jope said he developed the characters in his stories shortly after his mother passed away in 2002. While grieving, Jope said he looked for the best way to honor her memory and turned to writing short stories. He said he created the main character for his stories, Feyesper, by combining the Spanish words for “faith” and “hope".
“This is the way I want to remember my mother. I want to tell the world about her, but I just can’t find the time to write everything down in a memoir,” he said. “My stories epitomize my mom in that despite being born poor, you can still be a picture of hope and faith.
“My mom used to tell me everything will be just fine,” he said. "She would say that the only reason we were poor was because we didn't have money, but we were rich in everything else."
Common themes in his stories, he said, approach the subjects of children and their early relationships with their parents. For those students he teaches who may come from modest means, Jope says he uses his stories to explain that being born poor is only the start of their lives.
It all changes if they are willing to work hard, and if they have teachers who can inspire them, he said.
“These are stories about hope. They are stories about survival, and stories about a kind of love that you really can’t find anywhere,” he said. “My first story was the Rogue Kite, and it came about because I was concerned with the frequency of divorce here, and how divorce manifested inside my classroom.
“I explained the reasoning for the story like this. How do you fly a kite? You need wind, right? When do you release the string, and then when do you just hold it?
“Imagine if we can start teaching children at an early age how to be accountable with their relationships,” he said. “Using a kite, I can bring it down to three things. Know when to just hold, when to pull, and especially when to release it, because it's not about you all the time.”