One Sunday ride
It was getting dark when my bus arrived at the Avenida Terminal one Sunday. As I stepped out, I knew another challenging week awaited me as a college student. I hurried along, knowing I needed to review once I arrived at my dorm.
Even on a Sunday night, the streets were filled with people. Some were on their way to Mass, some to dinner, while some were trying to make the most of what remained of their weekend.
Finally, I got seated inside a jeep; it was half full. A mother and her young daughter, maybe around 6, were seated in front of me. The two piqued my interest. The mom carried a plastic bag with some fish and vegetables while the child held her own bag of mandarin oranges.
I was amused with the girl, who was wearing matching pants and top. Her facial features reminded me of my favorite anime character, Cardcaptor Sakura. She had short brown hair, her eyes were round and glowing, and her lips were bright red just like Sakura’s. So I decided to call her “Sakura” in my mind.
I sensed something was different with Sakura. She tapped her mother’s elbow and her hands danced as if they were speaking, in the same way that lady on the bottom right corner of Sunday TV Mass did her hand movements. I realized Sakura was using sign language.
During the ride, Sakura was restless. She constantly looked outside and tried to entertain herself. When another mother and daughter got in, her eyes were glued on them as the pair talked.
When I arrived at my destination, I alighted the jeepney and took one last look at Sakura. Unexpectedly, she and her mother got off as well. The three of us waited for the light to turn green so we could cross the adjacent street. I could not miss this chance; I had to interact with her.
As an occupational therapy student, encountering people like Sakura was something familiar. In the future, part of my job would entail working with pediatric patients just like Sakura. Next semester, I will start my internship, and having a firsthand encounter with them would help me understand their needs better.
I took the chance and politely asked the mother, “Hi po ’Nay. What’s her name?” The mother smiled and didn’t hesitate to give her daughter’s name — Jessa. I smiled at Jessa and waved my hands to say hello. She returned it with a sheepish smile, a sign that she may not be used to interacting with other people.
Through asking Nanay Minda, her mother, I confirmed that Jessa is deaf — a condition that limits the person’s ability to hear and, sometimes, speak. At school, I learned that disabilities such as Jessa’s should not be a barrier to achieving the highest quality of life possible.
“Sometimes, kids include her in the game. But most times, her playmates would push her off. They don’t want to play with her because she’s deaf,” Nanay shared in Tagalog. Jessa would then go home crying. To calm her down, Nanay would give Jessa her only doll, which was given by a nonprofit organization three years ago.
“It’s challenging to have a child like her. When she cries or she needs something, I need to stop what I’m doing and attend to her. But it’s okay. I care for Jessa and I’ll do everything to give her the best,” Nanay said. “So my husband and I attend sign language and free workshops so we can teach her how to communicate easier.”
I asked Nanay if Jessa can do things expected of her age. “Yes, we need to teach her. She’s our only child. When we grow older, Jessa must know how to stand on her own and mingle with people. Just like earlier, I told her not to be shy when passing our fare to people inside the jeep. Jessa did so after I said ‘bayad po’ and gave her the signal.”
Nanay also shared that Jessa, like any other child, has dreams of her own. “She wants to go to a regular school and be a doctor someday. But because she’s deaf, she can only go to a special education center that’s far from our school.” This somehow limits Jessa from interacting with many people, because the only friends she knows are those from her school.
I agreed with Nanay Minda that people in our country tend to undermine the abilities of persons with disabilities (PWDs). This, in turn, can limit the opportunities available for them, especially when they are in the working class. However, I told her that it felt reassuring that there are supportive mothers like her who believe in their child’s abilities and support them all the way.
Nanay smiled and said it might still take a long time for people to be educated and accepting of PWDs. She hopes that when Jessa grows up and needs to commute on her own, the public system would be more inclusive and provide her the means to be better understood, “like in passing the fare or telling the MRT ticket person where she’s going. Simple things like that are a daily challenge for deaf people like my daughter. Accepting and respecting PWDs doesn’t make us any less of a person. It even makes us more human,” she said.
I looked into Nanay’s eyes and saw hope radiating from within. I couldn’t agree more.
As I reached the street heading to my dorm, I had to say goodbye to my two new friends.
Before leaving, I asked Nanay Minda to teach me how to say goodbye through sign language. She gladly demonstrated the sign. I then knelt down and faced Jessa, my hands telling her “goodbye.” She responded with a smile.
I arrived at my dorm feeling blessed to have met the two of them. Indeed, we still have a lot to work on in terms of creating a more PWD-friendly environment. At the very least, we should be more sensitive to their needs. If the key to seeing a shy girl like Jessa smile is to have an effective way of communicating with them, I hope we can take the effort to learn how best to understand and interact with them with compassion.
I opened my reviewers. A challenging week awaited me. But I also knew that, through my degree, I can help advocate for equal opportunities for our PWD brothers and sisters someday.
I am more inspired to learn. To Nanay Minda and Jessa, wherever you are, I can’t thank you enough, and I hope to meet you again on my next Sunday ride.
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Joseph Mary P. Balbuena, 21, is a third year occupational therapy student at the University of the Philippines Manila.
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