by Marlon Fulo
Crisostomo Jardeliza or Cris is 17 years old and could not speak clearly. His mother, Rosa, describes his behavior as odd, atypical of a 17-year old. He frequents the nearby river in his barangay or village in Bagong Silang, collecting “kalakal” or garbage. He looks for used platic bottles, iron scraps or electric cables, and other reusable materials and sells them to the nearby junkshop to earn an average of fifty pesos a day (or US$1).
Cris never experienced going to school. His father, Vicente, recalls that his son’s first attempt to enter school was frustrating. Pag-asa Elementary School which was the nearest school to their house rejected his son’s enrolment saying Cris was a “special child”, and had to be referred to another school with a special education program. They were referring to Bagong Silang Elementary School which was a few kilometers away from their house. Cris’ father feared that the tedious commute may aggravate his son’s condition anddecided not to pursue his education. Cris resorted to scavenging and collecting garbage. He did so for over ten years.
He set foot on Pag-asa Elementary School one fateful night in September 2009. It was the height of typhoon Ondoy or Ketsana and his family was among the evacuees that sought shelter in the school when their house was literally engulfed by floodwaters. The Philippine Council of Cheshire Homes for the Disabled (PhilCOCHED) which was then undertaking relief operations met Cris and his family in the evacuation site.
In October 2009, the Leonard Cheshire Disability Philippines Foundation, then PhilCOCHED, invited Cris to the Inclusive Education Early Learning Center (IEELC) in Phase 7, Bagong Silang, Caloocan City. IEELC is a community-based learning center for both disabled and non-disabled children managed by parents, local volunteers, and local health workers, who were trained by PhilCOCHED on Inclusive Education. Disabled children like Cris are given education along their non-disabled peers in the IEELC. This is also a place where poor children with disabilities are assessed and provided therapy, referral or medical assistance, as needed.
Cris was found to have speech impairment and mild intellectual disability. There was no speech therapist in IEELC but his teachers managed to provide a conducive environment for Cris. He attended the learning center for six months and graduated in March 2010.
While Cris was at the learning center, PhilCOCHED was already coordinating with Pag-asa Elementary School to open its doors for Inclusive Education. PhilCOCHED invited selected teacher
Today, Cris is one of the 11 disabled children newly enrolled in Pag-asa Elementary School.