Hansel and Gretel had finally been lured by the witch. They entered a pretentious ginger bread house with fancy windows and lovely doors. They drowned in pleasure on food served in abundance. They marvel on the sweetest extract of juice that swept down their throats. They were happy. Finally, as the witches plan come into fruition, Hansel and Gretel realized the impending danger that ensues a perfect supper. They awoke in front of a boiling pot with their hands tied to their back. In their head a picture was painted in vivid description – they are going to be cooked – alive. The fear of death gave a massive strength to break the chain that binds them. With stealth they ran into the dark and escaped the dreaded witch.
Some fairy tales are metaphoric of somebody’s life. The seemingly easy task of loosening tied hands and escaping from a witch sounds easy. In reality there are people who have hands and feet firmly tied to an invisible knot. Escaping is never an option. Such is the condition for Ismael and Ilyn Regla – siblings bounded by inability to walk. They were handicapped from birth.
The struggle to fit
Ilyn, 32, looks emaciated. Her hair was loosely tied to her back with her bangs sweeping to the side covering half of her face. She had brought two of her paintings that she held in each hand. One of the images depicted a group of ladies spending a lazy afternoon on a picnic under a tree. The other was a lone woman picking fully bloomed flowers in a garden beside a lake. She said coyly “ako yung mag-isang babae na namimitas ng bulaklak” followed by a pit of laughter.
She joked, in between telling stories about how her life had been. Ilyn recalled the pain of having to quit school due to the struggle of travelling to and from her house. She had someone who used to religiously push her wheelchair and carry her to a tricycle to send her to school. But when her aid, finally decided to move out of town, she had no one to replace her. Her father did not agree to having a male as a replacement so she had to stop school altogether. She was in second year highschool.
“Pero hindi yun ang pinakapanget kong experience nung highschool,” Ilyn said. She struggled to fit in and did not feel she belonged to any group. She recalled having been treated condescendingly by group of girls. She had practically been bullied all throughout her stay in highschool. “Mabuti nga ngayon meron ng batas na pwedeng magparusa sa mga nangungutya sayo, dati kasi parang wala ka naman pwedeng masumbungan,” she said. Ilyn felt like the best thing at the time was to quit school and just stay at home.
The case was different for Ismael, 31, Ilyn’s younger brother. His welcoming smile gave the impression of a man who had it easy. Though inevitably shrunken by his disability, he sat proudly on his wheelchair. “Madami akong kaibigan, at meron akong bestfriend na syang nagtutulak saken hanggang school,“ Ismael recalled. He was very thankful for having a group of friends who took turns sending him to school. Ismael is naturally friendly giving him a greater edge from his sister who is shy and timid. It worked to his advantage and gave him courage to come to his sister’s rescue. “Minsan ako talaga nagtatanggol sa kapatid ko nung highschool, ako at ang mga kabarkada ko,” Ismael added.
He finished highschool and eventually tried to pursue a job. Given his inability to take on jobs that require full physical function, he was disheartened and eventually gave up looking for work. “Mahirap makahanap ng trabaho kasi karamihan kelangan talaga na nakakatayo ka man lang, eh wala eh, mahirap ang kalagayan ko kasi nga lumpo ako,” Ismael remarked.
Life took an interesting turn when his then girlfriend gave birth to his daughter. Ismael felt the hard pinch of the need to earn for child support. He started taking on part-time job as a commentator to their barangay’s Liga during summer. He has been accepting mobile phone repair services to make ends meet. But nothing stretches his financial stick to meet the demands of raising a child and a family altogether. His wife left with his daughter, and he settled for a mutual visitation agreement between him and his then wife. Ismael only gets to see his daughter on specific occasions. “Pero syempre kelangan pa din kumayod para pang suporta sa bata, kapag wala talagang kita eh pasensyahan na muna”, said Ismael.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development recognizes the struggle and hardships that a person with disability had to go through. There are various developmental programs that benefit the interest of the PWD sector. The Regla siblings were fortunate to have been able to become a beneficiary to these programs.
Ilyn was sitting on her newly donated wheelchair from the Municipal Social Welfare Department of Romblon, Romblon. She gushed about the ease in process she had to go through to request for a wheelchair. She even excitedly shared how the LGU of their town agreed to customize a wheelchair for his brother, Ismael. She further spoke of the overwhelming gratitude she has for DSWD and their LGU for having granted a wheelchair.
They were doubly thankful as they also benefited from the Sustainable Livelihood Program of DSWD. Ilyn put up a small sari-sari store with the financial assistance she got from SLP. “Hindi na ako mahihirapan maghanap ng trabaho kasi ako na mismo ang gumawa ng sarili kong pagkakakitaan,” she said thankfully.
Ismael on the other hand built a small-scale poultry business. It wasn’t as successful as he imagined it to be but he is positive that it will flourish one day. “Kulang lang siguro ako sa training at pagma-manage ng maayos kaya kelangan ko pang ayusin, pero natututo naman din ako aayos din naman ito,” hoped Ismael.
The sibling’s optimism was strengthened as they learned of DSWD’s Social Technology Bureau’s plan to replicate Sheltered Workshop for PWDs and Senior Citizens Program in the town of Romblon. Ismael became interested to the program as it aims to provide livelihood training for PWDs. “Kung may bago man silang klase ng kabuhayan na ipapakita sa amin, gusto ko talagang makasali,” he said.
Assurance of Protection
Gone are the days when people are able to throw harsh words to persons with disability without being punished. The government clenched its fist in protection of the PWDs through passing RA 9442, commonly known as the Magna Carta for Persons with Disability. The Act gives all PWDs the right to sue a person who will treat them with disrespect and condescendence.
It also obliged various government agencies to provide an environment that is PWD friendly. From commercial building structures to hospital premises, from discounts at drugstores, groceries, amusement parks and other commercial establishments, the government has to ensure that PWDs’needs are met.
Building a Non-Handicapping Environment
A fairy tale always ends in a widely-known punctuation that is happily ever after. The struggle of the characters in the story is similar to that of people in actual world. The difference however is that, they are assured of a happy ending and actual human beings are not.
The dragons, the witches, the poisoned apple are the fairy tale equivalent of the societal judgments towards PWDs. Some of the abusive words said to a PWD are more handicapping than the disability itself. “Minsan ayaw ko na lang lumabas kasi nahihiya ako kapag andami tayo sa paligid ko feeling ko lahat sila nakatingin saken tapos pinaguusapan ako,” said, Ilyn.
Ilyn and Ismael, have no option to escape from the harsh reality brought about by their condition. But the world can still be a fairy tale to them. The government is their knight in shining armor. He is the prince, wearing a battle gear riding a white horse galloping across the sea of enemies killing each one that hurt the princess. The society is their wonderland, full of pleasant talking flowers, showered with kind words from a caterpillar atop a mushroom smoking a hookah. A disability is only physical. The society and the government can compensate to the physical incapacity of a PWD to make them whole to make their fairy tale a happily-ever-after-worthy of an ending.
Source: DSWD Field Office MIMAROPA