The organizations I work with through Best Buddies, have given me the opportunity to meet many people who do the same work that I do. As an advocate of children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, I know that the work we do as a collective is more important than anything I can do on my own.
Being part of the yearly symposium of Association for Adults with Autism Philippines was an honor. I was able to present the work we do with Best Buddies Philippines, and I was able to learn of the work that others like me, are doing in their schools in the Metro and the work that they do collaboratively.
Lirio Covey started The Association for Adults with Autism about six years ago, when she realized there was a need for parents of adult children with autism to connect with one another as their parenting concerns were shifting. When our children are young, we are focused on therapies, socialization, and reaching milestones. As our children become adults, the concerns shift to care after we are gone, and sustainability of the resources we may have set aside for them to continue to live productive and meaningful lives.
The flagship project of AAAP is “A Special Place.” A Special Place will be a residential community consisting of individual homes for adults with autism and facilities for work, education, therapy and recreation in Tagaytay. I am familiar with these kinds of establishments from back home in NY, because I volunteered for many of the group homes near where I lived.
I recall a moment that Nino and I had with Tony Pasia 5 years ago when we attended the Early Intervention Seminar after Gelli was first born. I asked about group homes and the services that we receive for our children, and the opportunities that the government provides for families like ours. I was shocked at his answers to our questions.
What I realized then, (and it is the reason why I work so hard now) is that we get very little support for our children currently from the government. I realized that if anything was going to happen for my daughter with Down Syndrome, I would have to put in the effort with the help of other parents like Tony Pasia and Lirio Covey.
These people are people a like me. They want to see change for the better that includes children of all abilities. Teachers, School Administrators and Organizations inciting change, fostering acceptance, and awareness are key players in the movement for inclusion. My conversation with Tony all those years ago led me to believe that I would need to be the change that I wanted to see for my daughter and for my family.
People just like Lirio in 2010, and just like Tony and Dottie Pasia, twenty-five years ago when their daughter Vicky Lou was born are the people that I refer to when I speak of these magic makers.
So every year, the Association for Adults with Autism Philippines puts together leaders in the special needs community to share their insights with parents, therapists, teachers, and school administrators hoping to create and foster the sense of community that we know we need to support us, while we are raising our children in today’s ever changing environment and social landscape.
This year I was asked to present Best Buddies to the symposium attendants.
Here is the line up of all of the speakers who shared what they are doing in their own schools, sped centers, and organizations.
Unfortunately, I was a bit late to the event, so I was only able to catch the tail end of my friend Ericson’s talk.
But, I can share with you some of the things that I did learn from the speakers that I was able to listen to, and post my take aways.
I first met Ericson a few years ago when Anj Onrubia was the Country Director for Best Buddies Philippines. She hosted an Open House for Best Buddies Philippines to create an awareness in the special needs community for the then new, organization that she brought to Manila.
During the event, I was introduced to Ericson by Best Buddies Ambassador Jessica Malca and her mom Fiona. I remember wishing that One World School wasn’t in Makati. I live in Alabang, and from my discussion with Ericson, I realized that One World is the kind of school I would like to send my Gellibean to for her primary education.
As fate would have it, I have been blessed to work closely with Ericson for some time now. He has generously sponsored the venue for our ADULT DANCE NIGHT we have once a month for our Best Buddies, and he also chairs SENIA. I feel like Ericson and I have the same vision for the work we do. We both know that we can multiply our efforts when we collaborate with other people who have the same passion for inclusion.
Through Ericson’s presentation, he shared Six Ways to Build Capacity for Sustainable and Meaningful Inclusion of Adults with Special Needs in the Community.
Teacher Bunny heads SHINE SPECIAL EDUCATION CENTER in Pasig. I was so pleased to finally meet her in person, as we have communicated a few times via email for various activities within the special needs community.
I found Teacher Bunny’s presentation, eye opening and extremely informative. While, I think I have a pretty good understanding of what it is like for children and adults with autism, I realized how little I knew. She focused on the things that we can do as parents and educators to help our children who have limited verbal communication skills communicate their needs.
One thing that struck a chord for me, were the videos of a young lady who learned to communicate late in life with the assistance of technology. For so many years this young lady was trapped without the ability to communicate her needs, and when she finally broke free from her silent prison, she was empowered and able to show the world what it was like for her growing up. Her story was inspiring and heart warming to say the least.
Leny Ochoa has been working with children for many years. Her presentation on Anima Christi Center for Learning and Human Development enlightened me on other ways I can combine Eastern philosophies to my care and parenting Gellibean. Incidentally, I remember contacting her many years ago, when I first started teaching yoga for children. I learned later that she is also certified in Brain Gym.
I was truly impressed with the different techniques that Leny incorporates in the education of her students. Her primary goal in the education of individuals with autism is to make sure that her students are PROTECTED and RESPECTED.
In her center (which is just a stone’s throw from my home) she uses the art of Jin Shin Jyutsu, Reiki, Brain Gym, and more traditional forms of therapy and movement therapy to help her students achieve their potential.
Landa from The Learning Center shared the many programs that they conduct for their students of all abilities.
I first heard about TLC from my friend Roan. Her brother attends school at TLC and she told me about the sustainable projects that the teenage and adult students participate in as part of their education.
If you are thinking of buying Christmas gifts and trinkets for the holidays, I would love to suggest the baked items and handmade goods from The Learning Center. Purchasing these items serves our cause and allows the recipient to know that there is a meaning and a person behind each present. You can check out more about their Proudly Pinoy goods by visiting their Facebook page.
Dayal Nandwani heads Stepping Stone with two locations in Makati and Sukat. I have visited the campus in Sukat and am excited for the work that Dayal does in coordination with TESDA.
Aside from being a one stop shop for parents of children with special needs for both schooling and therapy, he has TESDA accredited and certified programs which enable adults with autism (and other special needs) to find their way in society with meaningful work and careers.
With donations and grants from various donors, Dayal has been able to put together wonderful programs for his students to excel. Stepping Stone is the only SPED center I know of that has a laundry facility and water refilling station on premises for students to run and operate. In fact, they even have a hydroponic garden where the students care for vegetables and herbs (althought admittedly the herbs do a little better than the veggies) and can be used
But the fact that Stepping Stone already provides certification in two courses for our kids in conjunction with TESDA is what I find most amazing. Students can learn housekeeping skills in their simulated hotel facilities, and they can also study how to become a barista who can serve up tasty coffee in any coffee shop. Both these programs have students finish with a certificate leaving them ready for immediate employment in an inclusive company.
Have you seen the YouTube video the Dancing Barista? Can you imagine if the coffee shops here in Manila were ready to employ our young adults and Buddies?
Rhodora Palomar Fresnedi is an amazing person to be around. Whenever I am with her, I leaver her company awe inspired. She heads Unilab Foundation which employs our Best Buddies Philippines Ambassador, Vico Cham. Through Project Inclusion, Unilab has spearheaded EQUAL OPPORTUNITY EMPLOYMENT by including people with autism in their offices and as part of their staff. These individuals contribute to the greater good of the company, and to the office culture in a way that NO ONE could have predicted.
I could go on and on about Rhodora and her many accolades and the work that she does through the CSR arm of Unilab. But I won’t gush. I will just share with you that she is doing amazing work and I am happy that I have the opportunity to work with her and call her my friend as well.
Her constant support of Best Buddies Philippines has been pivotal in helping our foundation grow and put into place the programs, events, and activities we can provide for our Buddies all around the metro.
I too, was given the opportunity to share the work that we do with Best Buddies Philippines. I am grateful to have been given the chance to express the importance of social inclusion through friendship.
All of the speakers who came before me are making magic happen in education. They are helping their students reach each of their potentials. They teach to reach each student. They meet their needs. They encourage students’ and parents to find and nurture each of their gifts. They make a difference in lives simply because they teach.
“To teach is to touch a life forever.”
However, there are other aspects of our children’s lives and their education, that can sometimes go unadressed.
We all need a friend. A buddy. Someone to talk to. Someone to lean on. Someone to share our hopes and dreams with who understand us.
Best Buddies addresses the idea of inclusion “One Friendship at at time,” and I am so happy that I was able to share what we do as one of the smaller organizations her in the Manila landscape for children and adults with special needs.
Thanks Lirio for asking me to present!
Cathy Cham is a dear friend of mine. She not only heads our Best Buddies Citizen program, she is also the mom of Vico and Carlos. As many of you know, Vico is one of our ambassadors and he is one amazing individual. He has traveled the world and receiving awards for his accomplishments in art and in the special needs community.
Together with her husband Jun, and her sons Vico and Carlos, she opened up Vico’s Artism Gallery. Cathy provides art lessons and art therapy for individuals with autism. She conducts workshops by connecting art students with teachers who can help bring out their creativity and artistic skills. She does this because she saw the clear connection that Vico has with his creativity in his art and his accomplishments.
She does this because she also appreciates beautiful art created by beautiful people.
To learn more about Vico’s Artism Gallery check out their Facebook page for upcoming workshops.
When we share what we are doing in our small communities, I realize that there is so much more inspiration that can come from this sharing. It’s real, it’s genuine, it’s authentic, and it propels the progress we make to a place where we can learn from one another. We can collaborate on events, projects, and in our work to help not just our own children, but the other children in our community who can find success and gratification and lead more productive lives.