Richil celebrates her 18th birthday with a red couture gown made by a quarantine nurse. // Photos courtesy of Rommel Mercado, Jr.

It was a simple gesture of kindness from one dreamer to another when this COVID-19 frontliner paid it forward to a cash-strapped teen about to celebrate her 18th birthday.

Aside from being a full-time nurse in one of the city’s quarantine facilities, Rommel Mercado, Jr. also designs gowns and other dresses. His works were recently exhibited at SM Puerto Princesa as part of the mall’s Independence Day festivities. 

Mercado explained that he met the debutante, Richil Anadio, through his seamster. Richil was about to celebrate her 18th birthday then on July 2 but didn’t have enough money to hold an event or even rent a gown.

Richil, whose father works as a carpenter and whose mother is a security guard, had long dreamed of having a debut celebration complete with 18 roses and 18 candles. However, she could not even afford a rented gown. Mercado explained that he was deeply moved by her story.

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“When she told me she only had 300 pesos to rent my gown, biglang ‘yong heart ko nag-melt and suddenly nag-flashback yung mga memories ko during the times na nagsisimula pa lang ako. When strangers would support me, help me financially and emotionally, and even helped me finish my collection ng walang hinihinging kapalit. I was in her shoes before, kaya me and my team decide to give it to her free of charge,” he said.

He explained that he happened to already have a gown in his collection that he painstakingly made during his days off.

“It took more than 693 hours to make that dress. I had assistance and guidance from Youtube and sa mananahi ko. Materials are from Manila pa kaya medyo matagal ‘yong gown natapos every after duty and day off ko dun ko lang sya nagagawa,” said Mercado.

Designing dresses is Mercado’s way of coping with the daily stresses of work as a quarantine nurse. He also expresses his current mood and emotions through his designs.

“Even pag stressed ako and nabu-burn out ako, sa pag-create ng couture ako nakakahanap ng peace of mind. Doon ko nalalabas yung pagod ko. ‘Yong interpretation ko sa mood ko minsan doon ko din nalalabas,” he said.

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is a senior reporter for Palawan News who covers politics, education, environment, tourism, and human interest stories. She loves watching Netflix, reading literary fiction, and listens to serial fiction podcasts. Her favorite color is blue.