Friday, October 07, 2005

Caring Hands

Rational Technology article for October 9, 2005. Some items rehashed from an earlier post, but largely rewritten and with additional details.

Like most teeners her age, Aries Jane perks up at the mention of the name of her idol Sandara park. Her mother often uses it to gently cajole Aries Jane when she's being a little stubborn. But unlike other teeners her age, she is afflicted with mild autism, which in turn induces gravitation insecurity.

Gravitational insecurity means that Aries Jane has trouble perceiving gravity. In fact, without extensive therapy, she would be unable to walk. Yet these days Aries Jane can, with some guidance, walk some distance. And that's thanks to the therapy that she's undergoing at the Great Physician Rehabilitation Foundation through its CHILD program.

GPRehab, as it is more commonly known, is the brainchild of its executive director, Analou Suan. A physical therapist by training, Analou moved to Dumaguete from Oroquieta City two years ago. She wanted to do something meaningful and along the lines of her profession. And that's when she hit on the idea of helping children with disabilities, in particular, children from poor families.

On the advice of a Norwegian friend, she put together a short proposal and submitted it to the Norwegian Disabled Care Foundation. Within two weeks, her proposal was approved and funding came by way of the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD). All the more surprising, really, because the Philippines is not in NORAD's list of beneficiary countries. GPRehab officially opened its doors in Bagacay on September 10 last year.

CHILD, a catchy acronym for Caring Hands to Inspire and Link with Disabled Children, is GPRehab's flagship program. The program offers physical therapy, occupational therapy, special education, and supplementary feeding for its beneficiaries. It also builds awareness for people with disabilities through community seminars and conducts training for community-based rehabilitation programs in selected communities.

The target group for the CHILD program are children from poor families, between 5 to 18 years of age. This is significant because the type of therapy they provide is normally out of reach of the families of that income level. The children come from as far away as Bayawan and Mabinay. They have twice weekly personalized sessions with a therapist.

CHILD started out with twenty children and have expanded to forty since then. Of these, 13 children have graduated from their special education classes and been integrated into regular classes in their public schools. They continue to come to GPRehab only for their physical therapy.

Working with Analou are physical therapists, teachers, administrators, and volunteers. They are: Girlie de la Plaza (SpEd Teacher), Rima Erames (SpEd teacher/ Process of Inclusive Education [PIE]-in-charge), Cherrilyn Jamora (Occupational Therapist/Wholistic Functional Development Program Coordinator), Anci Lasta (OT), Rey Carreon (Physical Therapist/Workshop in-charge), Annelyn Gador (PT/Community-based Rehabilitation Training In-charge), Celda Dinoy (Community Organizer/ CBR Program Coordinator), and Annabelle Corsame (Social Worker). Volunteer PWDs are Cheryl Diamola, Saturnina Mariano,
Rosalie Calantaol, and Vidal.

By next year, the CHILD program will grow to 100 children, thanks to expanded funding from NORAD. GPRC, of course, continues to welcome donations from various benefactors. It costs P15,000 annually to put a child through their program.

GPRehab also provisions special equipment for the children in the program. In GPRehab's backyard is a workshop where they turn out customized wheelchairs and walkers. The wheelchairs are sized more or less according to the frame of the person using it. The tiniest model, for example, measures a half meter in height and was built for a five-year old with cerebral palsy. As the children grow, they pass on their chairs to younger kids and move up to bigger chairs.

GPRehab doesn't make a business of churning out wheelchairs, though. It's only a side activity, a necessity in their main enterprise. Rey Carreon, physical therapist for GPRehab, was trained by a Norwegian engineer to fabricate the chairs, but they only build as needed. A chair would take two weeks to build if he was working on it full-time; but coupled with his therapist duties, it takes him up to three months to complete a project.

I caught the children of GPRehab last Tuesday when they all gathered for a farewell party for Norwegian visitors who had come to help them design better wheelchairs. They were a jolly, boisterous bunch, ready to sing and dance, and very childlike in their stubbornness. It was a hopeful sight, and an important reminder, I think, that we need not give in to the despair that the newspapers say pervades the country.

A little hope and a little initiative can go a long way.

If you wish to help with GPRehab, send an email to gprehab-at-yahoo-dot-com. I might also add that GPRehab needs hands to help with the manufacture of customized wheelchairs, something that should be right up the alley of Mechanical Engineering departments of the many universities here in Dumaguete.