Monday, October 03, 2005

Great Physician Rehabilitation Center

This afternoon, I joined Danah on a visit to the Great Physician Rehabilitation Center (GPRC) in Calindagan. My original purpose was to gather information for a wheelchair article I was planning to write. Along the way, the scope broadened somewhat, something for which I am thankful. GPRC, I learned, is really more than just about wheelchairs.

Fair warning: as I am poor with names, I shall have to leave surnames out and substitute descriptions where I cannot even remember the given names. This is just an outline, after all, to help me write the real thing.

The GRPC is the brainchild of its director, Analou. 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 NORAD, a Norwegian aid agency. Within two weeks, her proposal was approved. All the more surprising, really, because the Philippines is not in NORAD's list of beneficiary countries. GPRC officially opened its doors on September 10 last year.

GPRC aims to provide physical therapy, occupation therapy, and special education to children with disabilities. Target age range 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. A number have cerebral palsy which seriously affects their mobility. Some have more specialized cases. The girl I met this afternoon, for example, had a mild form of autism which resulted in gravitational insecurity: she could not feel herself walking.

GRPC started out with 20 children and have expanded to 40 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 GPRC only for their physical therapy.

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

In GPRC's backyard is a workshop where they turn out customized wheelchairs, the original reason that I paid the center a visit. The wheelchairs are sized more or less according to the frame of the person using it. The model which immediately caught my eye was a tiny one, 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.

GPRC doesn't make a business of churning out wheelchairs, though. It's only a side activity, a necessity in their main enterprise. Rey, a physical therapist for GPRC, was a 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 suggested to Analou that they work with the Mechanical Engineering departments of the universities in Dumaguete to manufacture the wheelchairs. I also offered to put up a web site for them.

I'm invited to the farewell party for their Norwegian visitors tomorrow. I'll have more stories by then.