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Inclusivity and pure abilities

There is so much buzz about the 36th Negros Trade Fair because it is an event that everyone from all corners of the Philippines, and even those from outside the country, look forward to. It is a tourism and economic event popular for showcasing great finds – from sumptuous delicacies meticulously prepared by Negrenses and Bacolodnons, to export quality products.

The yearly holding of the trade fair is always a huge success. But this year’s staging of the Negros Trade Fair dubbed, “Hidlaw” in Glorietta in Makati is extra special because aside from the fact that the long-running trade fair returned after three years, it also gave differently-abled students a platform to flex their gifts. Yasss! For the first time, the Association of Negros Producers (ANP) integrated the students with special needs to mainstream by involving them in the fair.

Jessa Marie Gustilo, John Romeo Dela Torre (School Principal), Former House Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr., Joemel Bernard Arroyo, Wendy Arroyo, Brent Nighel Anzano and Manay Gina de Venecia (l-r)*
Hand-painted native bags and native photo frames are among the students’ best-selling products at the ongoing trade fair.*

Brent Nighel Anzano and JB Arroyo flew to Manila for the first time, to be part of the famous fair. JB showed guests how he creatively paints banig bags while Brent demonstrated how to trays and photo frames from wood, coconut and capiz shells. And in the morning of the first day of the fair, all handcrafted photo frames on display at the fair were sold out! A balikbayan bought everything that the Transition Class made and brought to the fair. The buyer returned the following day and bought hand-painted banig bags. Bottles of sandwich spread on display were also wiped out. More customers came in and placed advance orders for October and November.

JB the painter got a customer and fan – no other than former COMELEC Commissioner and now Rep. Rowena Guanzon who champions the cause of PWDs! While going live on Facebook, Cong. Bing brought her viewers to the booth where the boys were doing the demo and showed her followers on social media how gifted the two adolescents are. She asked JB to make her a customized hand-painted banig bag and was game for photo ops with the boys, the school staff and teachers.

“I am happy that our children with learning disabilities are participating in the Negros Trade Fair. They are our pride and joy, and must be included in social and economic activities,” stressed Guanzon, who represents P3PWD in the House of Representatives.

Cong. Bing Guanzon with the management, faculty and parents of students with special needs of Happy Beginners School of Learning at the 36th Negros Trade Fair.*
JB Arroyo busy painting the native bag ordered by Cong. Guanzon while Brent Nighel Anzano is working on a native tray made of wooden board, capiz and coconut shells.*

Cong. Bing also promised the students, their parents and whole faculty and staff that she will be coming home to Bacolod in November to join the kids in their Friendship Games.

The following day, no other than former Speaker of the House of Representatives Jose de Venecia, Jr. and his wife, Manay Gina, visited the booth where the products of students under the Pre-Vocational Program of Happy Beginners School of Learning are displayed. The couple placed an advance order of banig bags for October.

The teenagers became an instant hit when they’re talents were showcased at the trade fair. Guests who visit their booth never fail to spend a moment just watching them meticulously make handicrafts using their bare hands. JB’s mother Wendy, posted on her social media page how thankful she is for the community’s appreciation and support.  Her photo and video posts show how busy her son is painting native bags in the condominium where they are staying in Makati because they’ve been receiving a lot of orders of customized hand-painted native bags since the fair opened.

To refresh your memories, these two boys who are currently making history by being part of the Negros Trade Fair, belong to the Transition Class that earlier showcased their skills in the Department of Trade and Industry’s One Town One Province (OTOP) Provincial Trade Fair Center in a shopping mall in Bacolod in July.

ANP Vice President for Advocacy Mary Ann Colmenares said inclusivity is a priority of ANP. “When Jojie Locsin of Tumandok Crafts asked me if she can bring the children to our national media launch, I thought it was a brilliant idea to share with our media friends. We welcome the many opportunities that should be available to the kids so they feel empowered and productive,” said Colmenares.

Colmenares said it is Tumandok Crafts that gives the students a chance to work with things they process.

Locsin on the other hand, shared that at first, she was not appreciative of persons with disabilities as she had no exposure to them. “But being in a group that visits the school for value transformation activities with their teachers, I learned that these children have special skills and talents. That’s when I was moved and decided to help them. I do look forward to these kids growing and becoming full-fledged entrepreneurs someday with the encouragement they will be getting from their families and the communities,” she said.

She believes allowing them to participate in the trade fair will give the public a chance to see what the children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) like Brent and JB can do, and will help open the minds especially of families with members with special needs, to give them their needed support.

Prior to the break given to the students in a number of exhibits that featured their skills and products, Anne Marie Makilan, one of the stakeholders of the school, has introduced a program that aims to equip the students with the necessary life skills like cooking, doing chores, doing clerical work, handicraft making, food processing, among others. She recently launched a pre-vocational program in Special Education which she calls, “Pure Abilities”. It is specifically designed for children with special needs ages 10 to 18 years old.

“Being a mother to a son with special needs, I believe a program that focuses on addressing the challenges faced by adolescents when it comes to performing chores and acquiring life skills must be made available to help prepare them for life after they leave school,” said Makilan. 

She stressed these children, differently-abled they may be, possess gifts that must be tapped and harnessed to make them productive citizens who can later earn from what they are good at like handicraft making and painting.

“These are pure abilities! Pure abilities of students with special needs but who act no different from children their age when it comes to doing chores and performing life skills. They may be differently-abled but they are capable and able,” emphasized Makilan.

This is also the reason why Makilan never stops looking for partners that are willing to help empower the students.

Meanwhile, Colmenares of ANP hopes the media will feature these children and their gifts so that the community will be educated about differently-able individuals as members of the community who also possess certain skills and can be productive individuals too.

When asked if ANP is open to the possibility of helping sharpen the skills of the students, she quickly replied, “I have a ceramic factory which I am renovating now to be able to give people the chance to express their creativity through ceramic and clay. Once I open, I would like to invite the kids to play and work with clay. I promise you, it will be an advocacy that we will adopt in ANP.”  Isn’t that great news?

Kudos to Tumandok Crafts, ANP, P3PWD and to all partners in this advocacy that aims to help children with special needs be part of mainstream! God bless your hearts and may we all be one in pushing for inclusivity not just for the differently-abled but for all sectors that are rarely given a platform to be seen, heard and appreciated.*

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