Giving heart to push ahead

When Fr Fintan Murtagh met Melody he was inspired to set up of a Community-Based Rehabilitation programme for people with disabilities.

On arriving in the Philippines in 1964 I was assigned to work in parishes in Zambales province. In 1972 I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis but was able to deal with the illness and continue working in parish mission.  

In 1985 I developed a systematic approach to the disabled where I was working. I had previously seen the need but didn’t advert to the possibility that I might be able to do something. I had always helped the needy in a piecemeal way, but had not tried to work out a more effective response.

Melody got me moving. She was 13 and paralysed from polio from the waist down. Meeting her was like a new beginning for me. Her father made a side-car attached to his bicycle to take her to school. I then helped make a tricycle that Melody could propel. She helped me see a world of struggle, pain and endurance that had been hidden from me.

Maybe my interest was also stimulated in part by own experience of sickness but, in my case, I feel I was lucky to be able to call on medical attention, which these people didn’t have.

I began the Community-Based Rehabilitation (CBR) project in Candelaria Parish in 1985. On hearing about the priest who was showing interest in the disabled, so many made themselves known to me. They had been hidden away in the family home because their families didn’t know what to do with them.

I had heard about a programme for helping the disabled that was running in Malate Parish in Manila. I contacted the organiser, Barney McGlade, an Irish psychologist. He assisted me to set up the programme in Candelaria Parish and another in Santa Cruz Parish and the ball began to roll.

Facts and figures may not be the best way of describing a project but in this case such an approach will help you appreciate how that initial insight has grown in to a continually growing service that is now bringing help and joy to lives of over 1,000 disabled people.

Community-Based Rehabilitation (CBR) for People with Disabilities and Families (PWD) is presently serving 13 parishes of the diocese of Iba. It has grown steadily since its foundation. In 2009 there were 1037 members in a broad variety of programmes for people with disabilities, 315 in the 13-21 years of age group, 234 in the 7-12 years of age group, 169 in the 0-6 years of age group and 159 in the 36-70 years of age group.

Our programmes aim to help members achieve as much personal development and independence as possible. We have 161 members on scholarships in public schools which provides for school fees, books and other equipment. We have four members in a vocational school where they learn basic skills to help them earn a living. We have 11 in kindergarten, 90 in primary school and 39 in high school.

We have 120 children in our home and centre based programme, where parents learn to work with their disabled child. Medical assistance and massage therapies are available.  

We are not alone in this work with disabled people. Willing helpers, professionals, local government units, private and public agencies, non-government organisation (NGOs) and a variety of institutions lend a hand where needed. We are never short of support for social and religious activities. We have been duly accredited by the relevant government agencies and recently received a Certificate of Accreditation recognising the CBR Foundation as a NGO at the service of people with disabilities.

Our members are not simply beneficiaries of free services. They are required to do their bit in so far as they are able. They help out by paying some of the costs of services by collecting empty bottles for recycling, cleaning the centre or office, paying membership fees, volunteering in activities, attending meetings and training seminars, they help out in any way they can.

Our members and networks generate much of our funding. However, we do rely to a certain extent on outside help. Price increases, which are always a part of life, have put us under pressure, especially regarding much needed medicines.

However, seeing more members gradually learning to deal with their disabilities gives all of us on the team the heart and will to push ahead.

Fr Fintan Murtagh has worked in the Philippines since 1964.

Read more from The Far East, November/December 2010