I have shared so much of myself, my hopes, my fears, and my joys the past couple of weeks through this personal challenge of posting every day for #29DaysofAwareness of February.
I have sat at my computer almost every morning thinking of the different things that I can share about Down Syndrome, Special Needs, and inclusion, to give everyone who visits my blog an idea of what runs through my mind on a deeply personal level because I want the parent who visits with me here, to understand that my life as Gellibean’s mom is not wrought with tears and worry.
For that I know I am lucky.
While Gelli has had a few physical challenges in her life and in her healthcare, we have been blessed that she is relatively healthy, mobile, and reaching her milestones on her own time. I believe that choosing to be positive in any kind of child rearing is half the battle, but I also have to be honest with these challenges that are often overcome in raising Gelli.
These small victories make my journey with Gellibean all the more rich and loving.
Today, I would like to share a little bit about how I know culture and media can shape our perceptions, too. I want to explore how one popular tv show can aid in understanding and acceptance, and how supporting positive role models in a reality show can further inclusion, here in the Philippines.
I have been working with Best Buddies for more than 2 years.
In fact, it was almost 3 years ago, when my friend Neva invited me to join a Best Buddies training at the Bayanihan Center of Unilab Foundation. During this training I would learn about the Best Buddies Mission, where it started, and how it began. I would continue to build on the online friendship that Anj Onrubia and I nurtured through our blogs even after that training day. After all, it was Anj who took the initiative to bring Best Buddies here to Manila.
Since then, I found my footing in starting a Best Buddies chapter in my children’s school. I recall the moment I committed in my heart to Best Buddies. It was when my son came home one day, emotional and angry, that one of his classmates was using the “R-word” in a cruel and insensitive way. He shared with me how frustrated he was that none of his classmates understood how hurtful this word is, for our family, and for someone like Gelli. It was during that exact moment, that I decided maybe DLSZ would be ready to learn more about Best Buddies and individuals with IDD.
Brother Bernie welcomed Anj and I into his office, after I pitched him the idea of having such an organization in his school. He was excited with the possibilities of hosting a “Field Day” where individuals of all abilities could compete in a friendly environment. This type of activity has been one of his initiatives in DLSU and we explored the idea of whether or not we could do the same once Best Buddies was firmly rooted on the DLSZ campus.
Fast forward to our DLSZ Chapter receiving the highest honor we could from Best Buddies International in July of 2015.
Being awarded The Most OUTSTANDING Promoter Chapter of the year in 2015, deepened my commitment to the organization and what Best Buddies stands for. I remember when I heard the news of the awarding, of my scholar student, Andie, on stage with Anthony Kennedy Shriver, receiving this honor, I stopped dead in my tracks at the market. It was a productive Saturday morning for me, working, and exploring the BF Saturday Market, but I had to sit down, show my husband the photos sent through Viber and wipe my tears of joy, gratitude, and happiness.
Best Buddies works with other organizations worldwide to promote and further inclusion through 8 programs that involve children from age 13 and up. We do this through the service of our volunteers, and through the kindness and often time innovative, inspired individuals who believe that children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities have the right to a place in society, the workforce, and schools.
We do this because we know that inclusion is good for EVERYONE.
Last year, the producers of the first ever reality show “The Real World,” (remember that show?) launched the FIRST reality show in the United States featuring a cast of three men and three women, all of whom have Down Syndrome. BORN THIS WAY has a cast full of colorful individuals all with their own hopes and dreams exemplifying the NDSS tagline of “We are more alike than different.”
The cast of this reality tv show pulls no punches in portraying the depth of relationships and realizations they experience with each other, and with their families. The level of honesty is so refreshing in this show. That same honesty has since been lost in other reality tv shows that are often scripted and even staged.
Because their parents are part of the cast, the viewers have an opportunity to see and learn from a parental perspective and watch how they continue (try) to guide their adult children in the pursuit of their dreams and goals in life. It’s honest. It’s sometimes emotional. But most of it is real.
I tried to follow the show through the A & E website. Unfortunately, I was unable view the links posted of the full episodes because I live in a country where the viewing was limited. I followed the bloggers and advocates of individuals with special needs and their thoughts on social media about this ground breaking show in the hopes that I would get a glimpse of what they had the chance to watch in their homes, and on their own televisions. I viewed all the coming attractions, and after each 30 second bit, I was thirsty for more of the cast of seven, and their personal stories.
And then I called my Best Buddies Regional Director, Sue Trone. I asked her if she had seen the show, and I asked her how I could get my hands on the show. In that conversation she explained how Best Buddies was involved with the show, and days later, she sent the premier episode to my inbox, along with some talking points and guidelines, should I be so inclined to show it in a public forum.
Which leads me to why I post today.
Together with the Down Syndrome Association of the Philippines, Best Buddies Philippines will have a viewing of the first episode of Born This Way in College of Saint Benilde on February 27th at 9:30am in celebration of Down Syndrome Consciousness Month.
Dr. Catherine Deen, director of the Center for Inclusive Studies, and Brother Dennis Magbanua, Brother President, have graciously sponsored the use of the Augusto-Rosario Gonzalez Theater so that the special needs community can view this first episode together. Both Dr. Deen and Bro Den are innovators in education. From their vision of bringing technology into the classroom, and the newest center (of which I think it is the first of its kind on a college campus) where students with special needs, who are attending CSB can go to for assistance throughout their college careers, they have done amazing work together.
In fact, the Center for Inclusive Studies has just signed an MOU with Unilab Foundation which will help facilitate placement CSB (CIE) graduates in places of employment within the Unilab umbrella of companies.
After the viewing, we hope to open a discussion between leaders in education, and the special needs community who further inclusion on a daily basis. I am already looking forward to the reaction of the audience and the experts that will share their knowledge and advice.
We are so far behind when it comes to futhering inclusion. I guess that’s why I pour so much of myself into Best Buddies, and into the relationships with people who are doing the same work. I feel like every little step we take towards a more inclusive society truly makes the world a better place for my Gellibean.
I have a dream for Gellibean to go to college, if that’s her wish. Until I met Dr. Deen, I didn’t think that option would exist for my daughter here in the Philippines. Through our planning meeting with Dr. Catherine Deen for the CSB Best Buddies Chapter, I realized all the wonderful work that she is doing to make going to college a reality for my daughter, if she chose that path.
I know that like every other parent who has a child with special needs, we have dreams for them. We have ideas of what we would like for them. Watching Born This Way, actually makes me feel as if some of my dreams for Gelli can come to fruition here in the Philippines.