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December 3, 2003

Keeping our ears open to the deaf

From: Manila Times, Philippines (Opinion) - Dec 3, 2003

By Harvey S. Keh
Keeping our ears open to the deaf

Last Sunday while attending Mass, I was disturbed by what the priest mentioned in his homily. He mentioned that just by looking at the events that are happenning in our country right now, we can already see that we are headed for a very gloomy Christmas. The current spate of kidnappings, the recent fall of the peso and FPJ's declaration have spurred widespread panic among our countrymen so much so that I have several friends whom I have known to be die-hard nationalists but are now considering leaving our country if and when FPJ wins.

Most of us have actually become blind and deaf to these problems and have just chosen to be indifferent to our current plight. Is there truly no more hope for our country right now? Is this the kind of country that we want our children to inherit? As I try to search for a glimmer of hope in a seemingly endless pit of problems, I look back at some groups and institutions that are trying to help in their own small way address the needs of those who are truly blind and deaf.

One of them is the Department of Education's Special Education (SpEd) Unit where­by students with physical and mental handicaps are provided with the opportunities to finish their elementary and secondary education. What even surprised me was that in some public high schools, these students actually join the regular classes and after each class the teacher just asks the student whether or not he understood the lesson. However, one major problem that usually arises is the fact that although they are able to finish with their secondary education, they are not anymore provided with an appropriate venue to continue to college.

Last Saturday night during our weekly education-oriented radio program aired over Radyo Veritas 846, I was fortunate enough to get to talk with Mr. Eric Soriano, one of the coordinators for De La Salle University-College of St. Benilde's School of Deaf Education and Applied Studies. The center, which had its humble beginnings in 1991, provides tertiary level education for the deaf to enable them to become more productive members of our society. Its current programs include a Certificate course in Computer Graphics, a Certificate course in Administrative Support for Business Operations and a Bachelors Degree in Applied Deaf Studies. Moreover, the center also helps prepare the students for these certificate and degree programs by providing them with a Pre-College Program that focuses on building their basic language competencies. This program has two major stages: the strengthening of the Deaf students' thinking skills through the use and appreciation of the Filipino Sign Language and the promotion of in-depth awareness, understanding and use of the English language as a second language. The end goal of this preparatory program is to be able hone the skills of the student in reading and writing. Currently, most of the graduates of their programs are employed as office assistants, encoders, multimedia designers and teachers.

As good as the program looks, I asked Eric whether or not poor students can actually enroll in such a program knowing fully well that the De La Salle University-College of St. Benilde's Tuition and Fees is certainly not small change. I was pleasantly surprised with his reply when he told me that almost 90 percent of their students are actually scholars who come from different public schools. This just goes to show their commitment to not only help the physically handicapped but also those who are financially handicapped. Right now, Eric is looking for people, organizations and companies who may want to give their students a chance to work and lead a more meaningful and productive life.

In these times of despair, it is good to know that there are still some groups who still continue to fight the good fight. Yet, not all is well with our country's Special Education programs since the government hasn't really given much priority to enhancing their skills and providing opportunities to these physically and mentally handicapped individuals. By just looking at the inspiring story of Ateneo de Manila's blind valedictorian, Roselle Ambubuyog, would show us that given the proper education and attention, these individuals can certainly make a big impact in our society. For those who may not have heard, Roselle is a product of our public school system and graduated two years ago summa cum laude with a BS Mathematics degree. Here's hoping that our government and each of us will not be blind or deaf to the plight of our handicapped brothers and sisters.

For more information about the DLSU-CSB School of Deaf Education and Applied Studies, you may call 526-7441 loc. 131.

Copyright (c) 2001 The Manila Times