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Friday, February 21, 2014

BECAUSE no one could understand her, teenager Rica Montero and her brothers Rex and Arvin lost their lives and home to a fire in Purok Kawayanan 2, Barangay Handumanan.

They were allegedly locked up by their grandmother Estelita Montero inside their home when the fire broke out. She tried to enter the house but got second degree burns instead.

Rica, a hearing impaired teen, managed to get out of the house but failed to get help from their neighbors since none of them could understand her.


Yes, the fire killed them. Maybe Estelita is accountable for leaving the kids alone, locked up in a home that turned out to be a fire trap.

But society could also be held accountable. It failed her and her brothers because they failed to understand her because she communicates differently from the rest of us. And it seems from the rest of the deaf community.

The deaf who has undergone Special Education can communicate with one another or their family but not with others in their own communities.

Social prejudices and walls hinder the deaf from enjoying full human rights. The major obstacle for them is the lack of recognition, acceptance and use of sign language in all areas of life as well as lack of respect for deaf people’s cultural and linguistic identity.

I see Rica as the teen version of Gaia Tyrin B. Panlilio, the apple of the family’s eye. Tyrin studies at the Welcome Home Foundation in Calle de Mercedes, Villa Valderrama Subdivision Bacolod City. Simply called the Foundation, the school is a special ministry for the deaf.

Her Mom Josa “Coco” Berona is also a teacher at the Foundation. Resigning from a corporate job, Coco learned sign language and joined WHF so she can help the linguistically challenged deaf orphans and impoverished kids. It’s her way of human rights advocacy to make the deaf socially inclusive in mainstream society.

“It is also a way of welcoming our deaf brothers and sisters back into the society. For such a long time, they have been pitied instead of being respected and accepted. In ‘Welcome Home’ we have deaf children and youth who help each other overcome their handicap,” so says WHF in its website.

“It is a home away from home whose doors are open to deaf children who live outside the city and given a chance to study in Special Education schools here in Bacolod and even in Mindanao Island. At present, Welcome Residence houses Pre-school, Elementary and High School deaf students.”

I see that as a novel way of ensuring the deaf’s social inclusion and integration into the mainstream of society, where they can study and learn, and eventually achieve meaningful employment, and get accepted by society.

I checked WHF. No one remembers Rica. If she had been able to learn sign language, could she have saved herself and her brothers from the fire?

It’s horrifying to note that according to the World Federation of the Deaf, most of the deaf people do not get any education in developing countries and approximately 80 percent of the world’s 70 million deaf do not have any access to education. Only about 1-2 percent of the deaf get education in sign language.


Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on February 21, 2014.


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