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SPEAKING OUT

By IGNACIO R. BUNYE

Ignacio R. Bunye

Ignacio R. Bunye

Seven years ago, preschooler Cheska Parabolis was a very quiet and shy child. She did not know how to interact with peers and teachers and struggled a little with kindergarten academic requirements. But under the patient tutelage of her teachers,  she began to blossom.

Cheska gradually became sociable and even achieved honors in class. She loved to sing and dance. This year, she landed the lead role as “Rapunzel” in her school’s annual musical program which I was recently privileged to watch at the RCBC Theater.

Ramizza Reyes also had a bad start. Ramizza suffered  bullying by her former classmates. Some of her former teachers were less-than-patient and even openly expressed their frustration at her communication skills and slow pace.  But later,  in a much different nurturing environment, Ramizza was able to catch up. She eventually finished regular elementary and high school. Recently, she completeda 2-year Associate Degree in Computer Secretarial at St. Jude Institute of Technology and is currently working as a teacher aide to pursue a degree in Special Education.

Josh Raymundo, the first and only deaf student accepted in the University of Santo Tomas,  finished  B.S. Library Science. Immediately after passing the Librarian’s Board Licensure, he was hired as librarian at Letran University in Calamba.

Mary Grace Laus finished computer technology in Miriam College. She is currently a member of the marketing staff at Enchanted Kingdom.

Cheska Parabolis, Ramizza Reyes, Josh Raymundo, and Mary Grace Laus all started  with severe handicaps.

They were born  profoundly deaf. By ordinary norms, they  should have not been able to speak.

Luckily,  their parents  learned about  the Philippine Institute for the Deaf (PID), housed in a two-story building on Nagtahan Road, Pandacan.

At PID, they were taught to speak, to lip read, and to succeed in mainstream school – as Ramizza, Josh, and Mary Grace have already proven.

“Yes, these children are deaf, but they don’t have to be mute,”  Julie G. Esguerra, PID’s founder, said.

Julie, a licensed special education teacher and speech therapist with an MA in Special Education, inspired by her mother’s lifetime work – the late Dr. Sergia Esguerra,  believed firmly: “Instead of sign language, we’d rather help them find their voice and teach them to speak.”

In 1954, Dr. Sergia Esguerra  was sent by the Philippine government to the Central Institute for the Deaf in St. Louis, Missouri, USA, to  study the “oral method” in teaching the deaf. On her return in 1955 , she started the 1st experimental “Oral Program” class at the government School for the Deaf in Pasay.

The success of the six-year oral training class inspired the creation of the Expanded Special Education Programs at DepEd which she headed.  On her retirement from DepEd in 1986, she urged Julie, who was then a speech therapist in California USA, to come home and contribute to the country’s special education programs.

The Julie Esguerra Speech Center was established in 1986 to provide speech rehabilitation programs for all types of speech disorders.  Its success led Julie to found the non-profit Sergia Esguerra Foundation, Inc., in 1988, as a surprise honor gift for her mom’s 50-year dedicated service for special children in the country, and also to celebrate her 70th birth anniversary.

The foundation’s flagship – the Philippine Institute for the Deaf (PID) – thus became  the first oral school for the deaf in the Philippines  accredited by DepEd.   The demise of Dr. Sergia Esguerra  in 1991 led Julie and the board of directors to amend the name of the foundation to Sergia Esguerra Memorial Foundation, Inc.

In 1992, former President Fidel V. Ramos provided PID with a two-story school building in the AFP-PSG Compound beside Nagtahan Bridge near Malacañang via a 25-year lease at P1/year.

The compound is now a fenced secured campus with 16 classrooms, five speech one-on-one cubicles, an occupational room, a library and seminar room, an h.e. room, a science lab, a computer laboratory,  a tech-voc room, a guidance area, a multi-purpose gym with stage, and a small campus for sports activities.

 PID is now home to a hundred deaf students, and other special learners and “miracle worker” special education teachers. Most of the students, like Cheska, belong to very poor families and depend very much on generous sponsors to be able to stay in school.

After 31 years, Julie remains as strongly committed  in transforming  deaf speech-handicapped children to become  regular  productive citizens.

Julie explains:

“Whenever a deaf child comes to us, we’re challenged, because he shouldn’t be mute.  He has a voice, and all we need is…. to look for that voice…..and listen!”

At the Philippine Institute for the Deaf, a deaf child  enrollee  first undergoes hearing and aptitude evaluation.

Then there is the regular 3-times-a-week one-on-one speech therapy. This is supplemented by the K-12 Curricular Programs and activities designed to encourage the students to express themselves such as basic computer skills, home economics, PE and sports, dance and theater arts, painting, gardening, crafts, cooking and baking .

PID also regularly holds an annual musical play where the students are encouraged to participate, as part of their special curriculum, to showcase their speaking skills progress.

Watching this year’s play  “Rapunzel,” I was  amazed to see the students dance in sync with  the music and the beat,  a single note of which they could not hear.

PID believes in a holistic approach so it  conducts workshops for parents, brothers, sisters, yayas, and neighbor peers so everyone will know how to teach and motivate the deaf child even at home and in their social activities.

“With hard work and full cooperation from the communities, these children leave PID ready to enter regular schools, like regular students. …. This is probably what we could call our contribution to the country,” Julie said.

Julie, who has been described by associates  as a “miracle worker,”  can look back with pride at how PID  has transformed lives.

Philip Olivan is now executive manager of the CBD Plaza Hotel in Naga.  Janice Lim owns A&J Café. Kisha Batuigas is Officer II at DFA. Chrissy Camello owns a bakeshop in Australia. Paolo Luciano is a BOH specialist at Apple, Inc.  Mercedez Bone is assistant manager at Walmart. Anna Sarmiento is an IT teacher in Arkansas. Krissie Tan is a supervisor at the IT department in Vancouver International.

You, too,  can be a partner in helping  transform lives.

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