The challenge to love them as they are

Columban Sr Cecilia Cuizon and staff at the Community of Hope Special Education Centre. -Photo:St Columbans Mission Society
Columban Sr Cecilia Cuizon and staff at the Community of Hope Special Education Centre. - Photo:St Columbans Mission Society

The Community of Hope Special Education Centre is a religious and charitable organisation run by the Columban Sisters. It delivers services aimed at making a difference to the lives of children and young adults with disabilities in Ozamiz City, the Philippines, and its neighbouring 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 has a potassium deficiency. Eating bananas and getting more exposure to the sun are no longer a sufficient antidote, but the medication she receives at the Centre 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 Centre 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 distain 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.

The youngest in the family of four children, Leslie suffered intensely after her mother’s death. Shunted around from 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.

Leslie’s behaviour 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 aunt, the Centre is carrying out a rehabilitation process.

A social worker from the Centre drew up a rehabilitation plan for Leslie. The intervention includes pre-academic, one-to-one intervention and activities for daily living, which covers simple, practical and appropriate livelihood skills training. Socialisation among her peer group has helped her develop her self-confidence.

Every year, the Centre organises a Youth Summer Camp. It is the one time of the year that Leslie experiences psychological and emotional security. During this event, some 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.

At present, the Centre is serving 125 children and young adults with disabilities. They receive physiotherapy and other rehabilitation services. Their smiles reflect the compassionate love of God for all people without distinction. I believe it is our call and challenge to love the children and young adults as they are and act according to what is appropriate.

Over the years, the Centre 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 programmes run by the Centre, some participants have been able to find work in the local community.

Sr Sophia, who manages the livelihood skills training programme 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 is indeed good!”

Columban Sr Cecilia Cuizon is the Director of the Community of Hope Special Education Centre in Ozamiz City, the Philippines.

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