Mardy Halcon from our cbm South East Asia & Pacific Regional Office is amazed by the achievement of cbm’s emergency response in terms of rebuilding “better”. In the following blog article “A day in an awesome place with wonderful kids” she shares in her own words her experience of visiting the Special Education classroom at Dumarao Elementary School in Capiz, financed by cbm.
Twelve-year old Adrian was running around the classroom when we arrived. When he saw the volunteers from the Association of Disabled Persons in Iloilo (ADPI), Adrian lovingly hugged some of them.
Francine Kay, a seven-year old child, was seated in one of the benches inside the classroom. As soon as she saw us, she smiled warmly and looked at each of us. Then, she went back to her colouring book. Both Adrian and Francine have autism.
The rest of the children simply glanced at us, and went on with what they were doing: one tinkered on a keyboard, another one flipped a bunch of books.
As well as giving loving hugs, affectionate glances and warm-hearted smiles, the children seemed to have a world of their own – a private space they cherish and protect.
The Special Education classroom at Dumarao Elementary School in Capiz in Western Visayas is home to 23 children with disabilities. The blue paint across its walls exudes a calming effect on our bodies, tired from three-hour travel under scorching heat. The sporadic giggles of grade school students were akin to soft melodies that lifted our spirits.
Once I entered the classroom, my attention was caught by a photocopy from a book on sign language. Though blurred, it was still readable. I turned the pages and instantly, I was fascinated by this new medium of communication. Not far from where I stood was a book on Braille, another medium of communication that I am not familiar with. It was just dots to - untrained eye - I couldn’t figure out what they meant. I thought it was difficult to understand.
Then I met Anne Dominique. Teacher Mila Abougharib, who has been teaching there since 2010, spoke of Anne as if she’s her daughter.
“Anne could still see until she was in grade 4. She was about 10 years old then. Despite the loss of her eyesight, she still graduated as valedictorian in elementary,” Teacher Mila said.
Losing her sight was a huge challenge for Anne, who was a good dancer and a quiz bee champion in her grade school days.
“I love to watch dance shows on television because I also love to dance. When I became blind, I switched to listening to radio. It comforts me,” Anne said.
She hasn’t allowed her disability to prevent her from dreaming of becoming a journalist someday.
“She’s now preparing for a placement test that will allow her to get accelerated to college. She’s really intelligent,” Teacher Mila beamed with pride.
As I left Anne to continue her writing, my eyes shifted to a group of parents who were there to pick up their children.
I asked if they could spare a few minutes with me, and they gladly obliged.
Arnel, Adrian’s father, volunteered to speak first when I asked them what improvements they had seen in their children since they attended Special Education classes.
“Adrian can now do tasks that he had difficulty doing in the past, like taking a bath. Now, he is slowly learning how to clean himself,” Arnel said. “We are also thankful that there’s a Special Education in this public school because we don’t have to spend money just to give Adrian the right education.”
Purisima, Francine’s grandmother, said it was initially difficult to take care of a child like Francine. But since she was informed of her granddaughter’s condition, she made sure she’ll be fully armed with tools that could help Francine: a lot of patience and understanding.
“This school trained her well. She can now dress properly and she can properly handle a dipper now when I give her a bath,” Purisima shared.
“We feel blessed that of the many villages here, the Special Education classroom was built here. We don’t have to go far and pay a lot of money for their education,” Arnel said.
Purisima added that the classroom is almost an extension of their home, as far as Francine is concerned. ”She looks forward to coming here every day.”
A classroom of their own
This Special Education classroom serves 33 villages in the municipality of Dumarao. Since 2010, enrolment has steadily increased.
"I guess we can attribute this to word of mouth. People have started talking about Special Education and parents have become more interested in sending their children here,” Teacher Mila surmised. “Admittedly, though, many children with disabilities are not yet enrolled because although there are no tuition fees, costs of transportation from where they live are expensive.”
On the average, a student living in another village had to pay P50 (about €0.88) for transportation – a fortune in a province where the poverty incidence is at 22.3% and 37, 143 families are classified as poor.
After Typhoon Haiyan, she said she’s happy that cbm financed the reconstruction of the classroom. “Although Special Education classes started in 2010, this is the first time that we are having a dedicated classroom for Special Education. We not only have a space exclusive for the students, we also have bigger area for them. They don’t have to compete with each other for space,” she said.
cbm, through its partner Resources for the Blind Inc (RBI), also provided learning materials and furniture. Before the year ends, an embosser for students with visual impairments will be delivered to the school.
But a lot of things are needed for children with disabilities to truly benefit from the presence of Special Education. “We hope to be (formally) declared a Special Education centre because that will give us access to many benefits that a centre is entitled to, like an additional trained teacher,” Teacher Mila said.
I could imagine the complexity of teaching 23 children with different and varying disabilities. In a country that does not pay well, I fear that Teacher Mila may look for greener pastures and leave. But when I saw the spark in her eyes as she talked about her students, witnessed how she gave them personalised lessons and watched her hug them as they bid her goodbye, I am at peace.
Written by Mardy Halcon, cbm South East Asia & Pacific Regional Office