Post-Valentine weekend: Making special children feel they belong
MANILA, Philippines – On Sunday, February 19, about 2,000 children and their parents will kick off a two-day gathering at the Balara Filters Park, Quezon City, but theirs is not the usual post-Valentine camp.
They are children with special needs who will be attending Camp Pag-ibig, the annual activity organized by the Philippine Association for Intellectual Disability (PAFID) with the Quezon City government in celebration of National Intellectual Disability Week.
The special week, by law, is held from February 14 to 20 throughout the country.
“[Camp Pag-ibig] is celebrated every Sunday nearest to Valentine's day, because this day touches the heart.... Valentine's day gives emphasis on love,” PAFID president and Camp Pag-Ibig director Jorge Banal Sr told Rappler this week.
This year's camp has the theme "Pantay-pantay na karapatan at pagkakataon para sa lahat (Equal rights and opportunities for all)." As in the past years, it will feature games and performances for children with special needs.
According to the Philippine Statistics Authority, 16 out of 1,000 Filipino households have persons with special needs. In Quezon City, there are 4,952 children enrolled in the Special Education (SPED) program, according to Quezon City Social Welfare Officer Luz Cabawatan.
Through Camp Pag-ibig, she said, children get a feeling of belongingness. “They feel that they are not alone."
At the camp, children are made to participate in activities like swimming, painting, nature and lore study, outdoor games, cooking, arts and crafts, tree planting, and survival skills training. This year, the camp will also have magic shows and a pageant for the children.
More than 60 volunteers and teachers– screened and trained since October 2016 – will facilitate the program and its activities.
Parallel to the children’s camp is a camp for the parents of the children. It features seminars and a symposium.
The program aims to teach the parents proper care for their children. It also seeks to teach parents about proper care and nutrition for themselves.
“We focus on the family, to make them understand children with special needs,” Cabawatan said. “Some of the families are not supportive of their children, so we enter [the picture], so the government and the family [become] partners in the rehabilitation of the child. We believe in that.”
Former education assistant secretary Teresita Inciong told Rappler that parents face two challenges: it is "expensive," both in terms of money and time, to have a child with special needs, so parents become either “over-negligent” or “overprotective.”
Inciong said that in her work in the sector for more than 30 years, she has encountered parents who do not see the point in enrolling their children in school, and parents who treat their children as “lucky charms” to their family business, not letting them walk even.
“Children with special needs are just like any other children,” said Inciong. “Given the proper opportunity, the support of the parents, the support of the government, they will be productive in their adult life, and they can be contributing members of society.”
This is but a small contribution to the cause, Cabawatan said. “Truth be told, this is a small thing compared to the needs of persons with disabilities. This activity is mainly for advocacy only, there are many other things that need to be addressed," she said in a mix of English and Filipino.
Beyond Camp Pag-ibig, the Quezon City government has initiated community-based rehabilitation (CBR). It has built facilities in 4 barangays, where children can go for needed rehabilitation. They are in San Antonio, Balara, Commonwealth, and Payatas. They need more equipment, however.
The city government's social services department also recently acquired approval for the scholarship of 200 special children.
“We are still aiming to target more children. More children need this because their number one problem is sustenance in going to school. We believe that rehabilitation starts from childhood,” said Cabawatan.
Challenges remain. While children with special needs are given opportunities for education, it remains difficult for them to get or keep jobs after. The Department of Health has been aggressively promoting mental health care, but Congress has yet to pass a mental health law. The Magna Carta for Disabled Persons has long been in place, but the challenges it has sought to curtail continue.
Admittedly, there are more needs that both government and the public have to address after Camp Pag-ibig. But it's definitely a good start. – Rappler.com