Stories of hope from the Philippines

I attended a public speaking seminar once and the speaker said that to capture an audience’s attention, always open your message with a story. People love stories. Stories captivate us and allow us relate to the main character, feel their emotions, and imagine ourselves living in their situation.

My IWitness journey to learn more about children with disabilities was filled with stories. Stories of heartbreak, struggle, love, friendship, determination and, most importantly, stories of triumph. Allow me to share these stories with all of you.

This is Leklek—she officially has a place in my heart. Leklek was born with Down Syndrome and upon meeting her, she didn’t want to engage with me or with anyone for that matter. She would sit facing the opposite direction and, when I would ask her a question, would bury her face in her hands. I made it a personal goal to make sure that she at least acknowledged me by the end of our session. I tried really hard and finally, one question got to open her up—who has watched the film Frozen?

I asked all the other kids and, from the corner of the room, Leklek screamed “ELSAAAAAAAA”. Bingo. After that, she was the light of the room. When we were taking a photo to close the day, she chose to sit on my lap.  When we were leaving, she gave me a giant hug and even ran after me as I was leaving the room.

Because of all your hard work at IKEA, Leklek is now part of the mainstream school system and has access to the education and therapy she needs to allow her to lead a normal life.

Before meeting Mark, we were told that he has Autism Spectrum Disorder and ADHD. I braced myself for a hostile child and thought of creative ways I could possibly communicate with him. Instead, I was greeted by a polite boy who spoke better English than most college graduates I have met. He offered us a seat in his family’s tiny 20m2 home and told me stories about school and his favourite subjects, math and English.

Mark’s mom also shared her struggles of being scared to take Mark out of special education schooling and in to mainstream education. She was scared that her son would be bullied. He was. Kids stole his shoes and threw them away. She found Mark crying outside his classroom with no shoes on. She said: “I don’t care if they throw my shoes away. But not my son’s. I would do anything to protect him.”

Because of all your hard work at IKEA, Mark is now part of mainstream schooling. He has a best friend and is one of the top students of his class. He also won a math contest and has the medal to show for it.

The community of Barangay Central Signal doesn’t have much. People live in tiny homes with barely a bathroom and live every day hand-to-mouth. When they said that we would be having lunch with them, I expected that we would be the ones to provide the food. Maybe some takeout from a local fast food chain. However, upon entering the room where we were supposed to eat, I was surprised to see an incredible spread. The community gave up their time and whole lot of effort to provide lunch for us. Even their local village leaders helped in arranging the food and even taught us how to eat with our hands.

Because of all your hard work at IKEA, this community of Barangay Central Signal has been educated about children with disabilities and now includes them in this kind of love and generosity.

A lot still needs to be done to help these children and the community they live in. But because of all of you, they can get their happy ending.

    Diana Atienza