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It has always been an interesting experience to hear what children have to say about disability. Their views can be very sincere, authentic, and natural. Last week, when I went to my hometown in Calatrava, Philippines, I grabbed the opportunity to introduce the #DrawDisability initiative in three schools, namely, Pantao Elementary School, Rufino Castellano Elementary School (where I finished my elementary education), and Tanon College (where I finished my secondary education). I must say that it was an enriching and meaningful experience. Here’s why.
My journey started in Pantao Elementary School.
In order to access the school, I had to walk for an hour from the main road. And this was how the road looked like.
It was a tiring process. However, everything turned fine especially when a group of sugarcane farmers greeted me with their smiles and hospitality.
A group of teachers of Pantao Elementary School accompanied me all the way to their school. All of them don’t live in the area, which means that every day they have to take the time out to walk for an hour just to go to the school and teach. Their passion for teaching is absolutely commendable.
As part of the #DrawDisability project, it is important that children first understand the concept of disability before they are asked to draw it. It was interesting to note that the children in this school had consistently associated ‘disability’ with ‘Budoy’, a popular Philippine soap opera that portrays the plight of a child with intellectual disability in society. When asked about their experiences, most children shared that they have had the experience of interacting with persons with visual impairment, hearing impairment, and physical disability in their communities. As the discussion went on, a child brought up the issue of bullying. For him, children with disabilities are at risk of being bullied. As a response, another child added, ‘We should respect children with disabilities, because just like us, they do have feelings and they have emotions’.
After participating actively in the discussion about disability, the children started expressing their views about disability through the creative process of drawing.
It was an overwhelming experience to finally see the #DrawDisability output of the children. The views they expressed were marked with a great variety. Here’s an example.
On the same day, in the afternoon, the journey continued to another elementary school. This time in Rufino Castellano Elementary School, the school where I finished my elementary education. When I reached the school gate, a group of children approached me and asked, ‘Ikaw ang magpa drawing namu, Sir? Excited na kaayo mi’. (Are you the one who will ask us to draw this afternoon, Sir? We are so excited about it.)
A similar process followed – the session started with a discussion on what disability is all about. It was interesting to note that when I started asking the children what they thought about disability, they started sharing words like ‘abnormal’, ‘mini-mini’ (dumb), ‘buang-buang’ (crazy). I listed these words on the board and then I asked them, ‘Unsa man ang masulti ninyu aning mga pinulungana’? (What can you say about these words?) They responded, ‘Negatibo, Sir kay wura man ka ug nag yaga yaga’. (The words have negative meanings, Sir, because they ridicule people.) As a response, I asked, ‘Kay nagtoo man mo nga negatibo ning mga pinulungana, nganung inyuha pa man ni siyang gihapong gigamit’? (If you think that these words have negative meanings, why do you use them?). The children said, ‘Mao man na ang madunggan namo sa among ginikanan ug sa among silingan, Sir’. (That’s what we hear from our parents and neighbors, Sir). This interesting discussion with the children allowed me to discuss with them some of the appropriate terms to use when referring to Persons with Disabilities.
After the discussion, children started to work on their drawings about disability.
And here are their beautiful creations.
I was eager to learn more about what the children meant by their drawings. So I decided to interview some of them. The five children I talked with consistently emphasized friendship in their drawings – children with disabilities deserve to have friends who can help them all the time.
The following day, I continued my #DrawDisability journey by visiting Tanon College, a high school institution where I finished my secondary education. It was time for high school students to have their say about disability. Here we go.
My whole #DrawDisability experience in the Philippines has made me reflect on certain things. First, there is a pressing need to bring the disability advocacy in rural areas. Due to the limited access to information, people in these areas have a low level of awareness about disability. Second, I am convinced that children have to be actively involved in disability advocacy. In doing the #DrawDisability campaign, I consistently saw the eagerness and open-mindedness of the children to learn about disability, which for them was a new concept. Third, I affirm the critical role that arts, especially visual arts, can play in allowing children to understand disability as a concept. This is the reason why I have been passionate to introduce the #DrawDisability initiative to the Philippine schools. I believe that this is a good platform to ensure that Filipino children have the opportunity to truly understand disability. And hopefully, in the future, they themselves will become advocates in bringing the rights of Persons with Disabilities forward.
[Head photo: Drawing by Xian Dairo for #DrawDisability]