RUN, ROJAN, RUN!

The shy son of a poor fisherman in Camarines Norte, Rojan J. Pajarin travelled to Manila and finished his College Degree, but despite that companies rejected him due to his physical appearance and speech.

At the age of five, Rojan J. Pajarin could only remember that his parents brought him to a cleft mission in Legaspi City, Bicol. It took them more than three hours to get there by bus and jeep from their hometown in Vinzons, Camarines Norte. He could vaguely recall his experience on how his cleft lip and palate surgery was done, but his mother would always recount this happening to him. However, a hole or fistula in his palate and evident scars on his upper lip showed that the surgery was not very successful. A factor that contributed to that is Rojan was not able to return to the surgeons for medical follow-up because the doctors went back to their home country. Rojan had his elementary education in their town’s public school. It was a happy and memorable time for him due to his school friends. But when he started high school in Vinzons, Camarines Norte and he was separated from many of his friends, it was difficult for him to adjust in his new environment. He felt the meanness of ridicule and experienced being laughed at due to his “weird” voice.

Having a reserved personality, Rojan even became more silent as he avoided the taunts and jeers of his classmates. He got apprehensive whenever he’d see the usual grimaces and confused looks of people each time they could not understand his words. “I then talked less and became more pessimistic. Due to my inferiority complex, I then relied more on my own efforts to survive schooling because I do not want to be laughed at,” confessed Rojan. He remembered blaming his cleft condition as the cause of his preferred isolation in order to avoid the bullying. It was not easy and Rojan even wished death. He even destroyed photos of himself in their home. Life in Vinzons is far from easy for Rojan’s family. Rojan, being the eldest, would help his father fish. Being a fisherman, his father could not help him financially because fishing in Vinzons was badly affected by climate changes and illegal fishing practices. To get a college education, Rojan decided to go to Manila and find work so he could support himself. He aspired to finish college soon, so he could also help in sending his two younger siblings to school. Even if conditions were not that good, he lived with his aunt’s family in Malibay, Pasay.

Rojan worked hard to support himself while studying by becoming a pedicab driver after school hours, on weekends and during school breaks. This work enabled him to earn enough money to pay for his food, board and lodging, including transportation and school-project expenses. He was a proud business management graduate from the local college, Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Pasay.

“The toughest trial for me was not to have work for some time. I felt useless. After graduation, I was so eager to find a job, but I got rejected many times because of my speech impairment,” said Rojan. Potential employers thought that he will cause them problems; the future seemed bleak. One day, he saw the streamer of NCFPI in Daet, Camarines Norte in Bicol around September 2007. He visited NCFPI, wherein Dr. Bernard Tansipek suggested that he undergo a secondary cleft palate and velopharyngeal repair at Our Lady of Peace Hospital in Parañaque, with the help of a sponsorship from Smile Train.

After this surgery done by Dr. Xenia Velmonte at Our Lady of Peace Hospital last May 2008, Rojan attended a series of weekly speech therapy classes with NCFPI speech pathologist, Mr. Paolo Sison III at Our Lady of Peace Craniofacial Center. This improved significantly the quality of his voice and speech.

By November 2008, Rojan was offered employment by Ms. Mel Maranan, the former Executive Director of NCFPI, in a new craniofacial center that NCFPI was establishing in Manila, the Smile Train Craniofacial Center. Until today, Rojan works as a Support Staff for Patient Care and performs duties of an Administrative Assistant.

In April 2009, during the Cleft International Mission by Taiwan in the Philippines, Rojan had another surgery to improve his appearance; it was a lip and nose revision. The surgery was done by NCFPI volunteer plastic surgeon Dr. Bernard Tansipek with the guidance of Dr. Lun-Jou Lo of Chang Gung Memorial Hospital in Taipei and Dr. Samuel Noordhoff, founder of NCFPI. Rojan considered that year as another blessing. Not only did his self-confidence increased due to the treatment he had, but he was more blessed to establish a family in Vinzons. Back in 2008, he was even hesitant to get married. The stigma of rejection was strong but due to his work at NCFPI, he realized through the other patients and the NCFPI doctors that there is hope. Rojan is now married to a beautiful woman named Joyce, and together they are raising a healthy son and daughter.

2010 came and NCFPI organized its very first fun run called “Miles for Smiles: Run for Cleft Care” together with the Taiwan Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) and Smile Train at Bonifacio Global City, Taguig. Rojan joined the race and ranked 10th place in the 5-kilometer race category, despite it being his very first run. Afterwards, he took running seriously and trained under Coach Andy Leuterio. The latter donated an estimate of Php200,000 for the treatment of cleft children in NCFPI, an amount which came from his winnings in races. Coach Andy’s story inspired Rojan; he became an Elite Runner in 2011. For a whole year, Rojan and his teammates represented Total Fitness Magazine and joined sponsored races.

Rojan then focused on building his family and helping his parents. Typhoons and heavy monsoon rains affected their livelihood and home in Bicol. Rojan collected whatever income he saved to help his family and parents. It was not easy to make ends meet, Rojan still works as a pedicab driver in the evenings. His loneliness led him to ask himself what he could do for cleft patients, especially those belonging to indigent families and without any opportunities. In 2015, Rojan started his own personal advocacy “Rojan’s Run” where he put up a fan page to promote NCFPI and his races. Through this project, he aims to raise funds and help cleft patients in their college education. This is a continuing advocacy for his life and for other cleft patients. In 2016, Rojan was chosen as NCF Taiwan’s International Ambassador for its fundraising. A short film “My Name is Rojan” was made to raise more awareness and donations for NCF. By the year 2017, Rojan joined the 70.3 Miles Iron Man in Cebu for Smile Train’s advocacy. An athlete at heart, Rojan continues to hurdle the challenges of life in the same manner he faces the challenges of running, by giving it his personal best. Mel E. Maranan

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