16 May 2006
Special kids need special moms.
The Katipunan ng mga Magulang ng mga Batang May Kapansanan (KMBK) is a volunteer group of some 20 women who take care of special children and, sometimes, even their parents.
The women themselves are moms to differently abled children (the politically correct term for the disabled).
For the past four years, they have been quietly knocking on doors of households in Mandaluyong City to find special children who are neglected due to either the indifference or poverty of their parents.
“It’s in our hearts to help because our children are also disabled. We know how it feels,” volunteer mother Gilda Mendoza says. Her 15-year-old daughter is deaf and they communicate by sign language.
Mendoza shares with the Inquirer her shock, despair and, eventually, her coming to terms with the reality that her child is not like the others.
KMBK president Jean Gonzales recalls the day at the Philippine General Hospital the doctor confirmed that her son Paolo was autistic.
Autism is a developmental disability which affects verbal and nonverbal communication and social interaction, generally evident before age 3.
Earlier, Gonzales had been told by her husband’s aunt from Canada -- who had twins with autism -- that Paolo exhibited similar symptoms.
When she found out that Paolo would not be like his siblings, what kept Gonzales going was the thought that her child was not alone, that there were others like him, and that he had a chance of blending in society.
“I thought, if other people could accept that their children were special, so could I. If I do not accept my own child, who will?” Gonzales says.
Journey of love
Paolo’s plight has since become a journey of love for Gonzales -- a daily lesson on how to embrace people for who they are and help them be what they can be.
Eleven years later, the mother of six is not only raising and teaching Paolo. She has also extended the boundaries of her love to other special children and their parents who, after all these years, still have not been able to cope.
Every week, the KMBK gives free therapy to around 50 special children. The young ones get physical therapy as well as informal reading and writing sessions.
Every day, mothers from the KMBK go around the 11 barangays of Mandaluyong to pick up the special children and take them to the day care center. They start out as early as 8:30 a.m., walking house-to-house because the women do not have money for the P12 tricycle ride or P7.50 jeepney fare.
The KMBK has a small fund, but it is for the snacks of the kids and the therapist-trainer from Reach Foundation, a nongovernment organization that trains volunteer mothers in therapy.
Most of the women barely have enough money for their own families.
Gonzales’ husband, for example, is a parking valet who works three days a week with a take-home pay of P300 a day. Gonzales herself cannot work since she devotes her time to her six children and the KMBK’s special wards.
The KMBK volunteers, however, forget their problems when they pick up the special children. When they arrive at their homes, they usually find the special child huddled in a corner, almost nonexistent to the other family members.
“Most parents focus on their normal children and tend to ignore the disabled one. It really makes me cry sometimes,” Gonzales says.
Love and acceptance
Marieta Cruz, whose 13-year-old son has cerebral palsy, is only too familiar with the ill-treatment received by special children. Her son, a fourth grader in a regular public school, has been called pilay (crippled) and bading (homosexual) because of how he walks.
Despite the taunts, Cruz knows her son is still more fortunate than others because he is loved and accepted by his family. Cruz herself diligently teaches him so he can catch up in school.
“Some people have told me not to send him to school because he would be useless anyway. Some are afraid to go near him because they think special kids could turn violent and hurt them,” she says.
Of the volunteer moms, Cruz is known to be an enthusiastic and patient teacher. She revels at seeing special kids learn to hold pencils and memorize numbers and the alphabet.
It’s little things like this that make a difference for mothers like Norma Veruna, 39, who has spent the past 10 years attending to her 11-year-old son Norman.
The boy suffers from a still unknown developmental disorder that prevents him from speaking whole words. He lacks the liveliness of kids his age and spends his days just sitting or lying in bed.
Norma learned of KMBK through a neighbor and visited the day care center for the first time last week. She says she has always been the lone caregiver of Norman, feeding him, massaging him and responding to his cries.
While she does not yet know what to expect from the organization, she is positive that it would be good for her family. Her husband, a construction worker, can barely provide for their needs. It means a lot that Norman can avail himself of therapy and classes for free.
“Some parents eventually come to terms with the condition of their special children when they see how other people care for them. Sometimes, it’s out of shame that they do not give as much attention -- being the parents. But most of the time, it’s because they see that the children are loved,” Gonzales says.