To love them as they are

Missionary Sister of St. Columban, Sr. Cecilia Cuizon is the Director of the Hope Special Education Centre in Ozamiz, the Philippines and explains a little more about the centre and its purpose in supporting local families.

The Community of Hope Special Education Centre is a religious and charitable organization run by the Columban Sisters. It delivers services to children and young adults with disabilities in Ozamiz City, Philippines, and its neighbouring towns in Misamis Occidental aimed at making a difference to their lives. The love of God becomes a reality for them as they see their own transformation.

Leslie is a student with autism and an intellectual disability. She also has a potassium deficiency. Eating bananas and more exposure to the sun are not enough anymore. The medication she gets at the centre strengthens her muscles to enable her to stand and walk. She was only ten years old when she was referred to The Community of Hope Special Education Centre by the principal of her school. She was defiant and disobedient with her teachers as she hated school. She was being bullied both in school and in the community. The bullies felt that she was different from them.

Her mother wanted to give her a good education in preparation for her future. She worked hard selling cakes to add to her husband’s meagre income. He was an alcoholic and had no regular job. Later he died of depression. Her older children got married and had families of their own. Leslie’s mom was sickly and died when Leslie was only thirteen years old. Leslie was the youngest in the family of four.

With her parent’s death, Leslie suffered intensely. She was moved from one relative to another. At one time she stayed with her older married sister who has three children and whose husband did not have a definite income. It did not work. Leslie was back to her old problematic behaviour. God, who is rich in mercy and compassion, touched the heart of her paternal married aunt who decided to take her as part of her family. At present, she is living with them. Her aunt has become her legal guardian, and it is with Leslie’s aunt that we are carrying out the rehabilitation process.

The centre’s social worker drew up a rehabilitation plan for Leslie. The intervention includes pre-academic, one-to-one intervention and Activities for Daily Living (ADL) which covers simple, practical and appropriate livelihood skills training. Socialization among her peer group has helped her develop her self-confidence.

Every year, the centre organizes a Youth Summer Camp. It is the one time of the year that Leslie experiences psychological and emotional security. During this event, some young people volunteer to accompany our students. They accompany our students and show them care and appreciation for their gifts and talents. Our students feel that they are loved, appreciated and have a sense of empowerment.

Their smiles reflect the compassionate love of God for all people without distinction. At present, the centre is serving 125 children and young adults with disabilities. They receive physiotherapy and other rehabilitation services. Their smiles reflect the compassionate love of God for all people without distinction. Sr. Cecilia says, “Our call and challenge is to love them as they are and to act according to what is appropriate.”

The Community of Hope Center had been under the administration of the Missionary Sisters of St. Columban since 1985. And to date it has served more than a thousand children and young adults with autism, cerebral palsy, down syndrome, club foot cleft lip and palate, hearing impairment and intellectual disabilities. Thanks to the programs at the centre, some participants have been able to find work in the local community. Sr. Sophia, who manages the livelihood skills training program says, “With faith and trust in God, we are very grateful that we can continue to offer these services. Thank you, God, for choosing and giving us the privilege to love, cherish and journey with these students. God is indeed good!”

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