THE CHALLENGE TO LOVE THEM AS THEY ARE
By Sr. Cecilia Cuizon
Columban Sr Cecilia Cuizon is the Director of the Community of Hope Special Education Center in Ozamiz City, the Philippines.
The Community of Hope Special Education Center is a community-based charitable organization run by the Missionary Sisters of St Columban (commonly referred to as the Columban Sisters). Its services aim to make a difference to the lives of children and young adults with disabilities in Ozamiz City, the Philippines, and its neighboring towns in Misamis Occidental. The love of God becomes a reality for them as they see their own transformation.
Leslie is a student with autism and an intellectual disability. She also suffers from potassium deficiency. Aside from eating bananas and getting more exposure to the sun, the medication she receives at the Center strengthens her muscles and enables her to stand and walk.
She was only 10 years old when she was given a referral to The Community of Hope Special Education Center by the principal of her school. She hated school and had a history of defiance and disobedience. She was also bullied both at school and in the wider community. The bullies held a disdain for her disability, as they saw her as being different from them.
Her mother wanted to give her a good education in preparation for her future. She worked hard selling cakes to add to her husband’s meagre income. However, he was an alcoholic with no regular job, and later died of depression. The older children were married with families of their own and the mother, who had her own health problems, died when Leslie was only 13 years old.
As the youngest in the family Leslie suffered intensely after her mother’s death. Shunted by one relative to another, she stayed for a short time with her married sister, but she had three children of her own and a husband with no regular income. It did not work.
Because of her circumstances, Leslie’s behavior returned to its old problematic ways. However, God is rich in mercy and compassion, and touched the heart of a married aunt, who decided to take her in as part of her family. Her aunt has become her legal guardian, and together with the Center, a rehabilitation process took place.
A social worker from the Center drew up a rehabilitation plan for Leslie. The intervention includes pre-academic, one-on-one intervention and daily activities, which covers simple, practical and appropriate livelihood skills training.
Every year, the Center organizes a Youth Summer Camp. It is the one time of the year that Leslie experiences psychological and emotional security. During this event, young people volunteer to accompany our students and show them care and appreciation for their gifts and talents. Our students feel that they are loved and appreciated, which gives them a sense of empowerment. Socialization among her peer group has greatly developed Leslie’s self-confidence.
Over the years, the Center has served more than 1,000 children and young adults suffering from autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, clubfoot, cleft palate, hearing impairments and intellectual disabilities. Thanks to the various programs run by the Center, some participants have been able to find work in the local community.
Sr Sofia Natama, who manages the livelihood skills training program says, “With faith and trust in God, we are deeply grateful that we can continue to offer these services. Thank you, God, for choosing and giving us the privilege to love, cherish and journey with these students. God