Accessible Transport Begins with the One In-charge of Driving Them

One challenge most PWD have accessing services is the lack of transport and if there are available means, often are not accessible. Most of the time I argue that “in the real world” without external help from NGO people just have to deal with what is there because once they leave, funds run out, people will just have to deal with the reality and make the decision to win over it and access the services or let it win over them and be miserable.

The Philippines one of the first country to have disability law, long before I was born (or maybe I am just a baby), and many other neighboring countries in SEA copied that and adapted in their own culture and context.

But let’s be honest, our respect for people with disabilities still very low. The law does not reflect that in the way our public services are run in this country – people with injuries, disabilities, elderly and other vulnerable groups are second-hand citizens who have to keep pushing and fighting to get to the front of the row and be heard. We’re making some long overdue development but not in the area of public transport.

With my current situation, I am hanging by the “estribo” and observing how a simple visit to the hospital can be a big production.

Before I get carried away, let me re-tell here a little bit of my accessibility and transport challenge and share a few insights on how situations can be improved.

So, when I arrived in the Philippines, coming from a 24-hour journey, around 10,000 kilometers away, I was picked up by a van whose driver doesn’t know how to help me get in from my wheelchair. Which was an insult to the amount of care I had from the hospital to the airport to the plane until I deplane in the Philippine airport.

I just told my sister, 5 weeks post-injury and surgery that no amount of experience in rehabilitation, teaching, demonstrating and grading students prepared me to be a patient but in the case of the last stretch to home – that experience helped a lot!

The airport support staffs are not trained to handle people with disabilities and doesn’t know how to do handling and trasnfers. My teaching skills helped a bit, giving simple instructions how to position the chair when I transfer seats because I don’t want to have more injuries.

Having been pampered from the first and second leg of the journey, my expectations of the third and last leg would be exceptional, simply because it’s home and I pride myself on being Filipino – we go the extra mile! But I was mistaken.

My injury is not life-threatening and I received the best care possible, so there really was no need to be fuzzy and feeling special. But after a long journey, in a cast, I was ready to collapse and be lifted by my family that will receive me at home to bed. Instead, I have to struggle to go in a van using my butt again and endangering my leg hitting the ground in case I lost my grip.

The driver of the van doesn’t know how to help me get in. I was expecting my pick-up to be similar to the ones I had in Tunisia or at least it was meant to pick-up passenger like me and drivers have training on how to handle situation like mine.

Practiced what I preached, I sucked it up and made the situation work for me, anyway in a couple of hours I will be in my family home. In the end, the driver was nice, he drove well and he was not properly briefed, so why shot the messenger.

That experience was a month ago, I am over it but I have to take a cue on my experience to drive a point on the issue of accessible transport at the same time upgrading the skills of our drivers.

I don’t drive myself, but if I do, I would undergo a first-aid training to be prepared in events of an accident and in my case, to at least know how to handle people in delicate situations. If I do a survey now and ask how many of the drivers in my village knows CPR or how to carry someone or what not to do in cases of accident, I will have a lot of success finding how many DO NOT know that those who do.

Proper transfer technique, from the wheelchair or any assistive device to cars, bus, train even plane and in the Philippines to jeepney (that is something to think about) is a good skill to have. One reason why drivers don’t care about PWD and the elderly is that they don’t understand our (the disabled part not the elderly!) situation, we should make them understand by training them simple transfer technique so they will feel useful and helpful.

Last but not least, and the most important is to require drivers to have a mandatory re-examination of the traffic rules and regulations and their driving skills at fairly regular intervals – five years maybe?.

I don’t know if it will increase accessibility to transport but what I do know is that it will increase peoples understanding of disability, increase their compassion towards their fellow-men and appreciate their abilities by providing them the opportunity to be mobile and the road will be safer if drivers are more responsible.

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Key To Happiness In Your Job Is To Work With Passion

I’m officially jobless and at the moment disabled. So you can say I have time on my hands, so I am going to update my blog site.

Actually, I still have work to finish from my last mission, but I am happy to finally break-free from the so-called “cursed” mission and will start fresh as a consultant. I am not at liberty to talk about the mission itself (this being a public platform) nor of the people I worked with. But the reason some of us called it a cursed mission was because of the stings of misfortune it had during the year and of course my unfortunate accident in the place that I had misgivings to move from the moment it was offered to me.

In fact, the moved to Tunisia made me realized how badly my position and myself was disregarded but I forged ahead because more than myself, the people we help needed better services than the accident that happened and found myself back in my parents home. I remembered something that was told to me last December.

A wise man told me “you deserve to be in an organization that celebrates your achievements and appreciates all that you’ve done”.

I trusted the guy, though we met only a couple of times, the meeting was always very productive. I guess he was able to see the efforts we put into what we were doing, he appreciated me as a person and saw my passion and wit in all the interactions we had and acknowledges what our team had done in the country in spite of the context and the challenges we had to face. While at the same time, my organization has threatened and willing to part with me because I couldn’t accept to live in a house not livable according to my standards and to the cost they are willing to pay.

 

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I don’t mind living in tents when necessary than a house shoved your throat because its procedure

 

There are thankless job around and being a humanitarian aid worker can be one of them. I say that from experience because there are a lot of things that happen within the scope of this work that is hard to explain.

How many of my friends really understand what I do? Unless they worked with me directly, they will know that sometimes I write procedures that nobody would care to follow or give advice that no guarantee will be even considered. We only see the surface of the crisis once reported in the news, but we don’t know the aftermath of it, the effect on the people that before are progressive and because of the war or calamity become vulnerable. They would not know the amount of work needed to get things off the ground, the get services accessible, the number of negotiations and paper works required to get access to funds to keep our work going, and many more.

 

Olive harvest in Gaza is a form of inclusion activities 

 

How many people understand the word vulnerable? Not many, because most of us are consumed with our own problem that we don’t see beyond them and feel for others who have more significant issues than us. We sometimes live in a bubble that when it burst we don’t know what to do next Well the people I encounter didn’t ask to be vulnerable, their situation made them, that’s why I don’t accept the reactions of Europe to the migration crisis happening from the Middle East to Africa and Myanmar.

In my organization, we kept talking about inclusion, in fact, they even changed their name to it because they said it reflects more their values than its current name (which somehow I agree) if only people really understand how inclusion works. How it is translated into viable action, resulting in sustainable change.

It is hard, it is thankless, but in spite of all the nonunderstanding or misunderstanding, I continue to do what I do. Because early in my career, I made a promise to myself that I will do this because I believed that this is what God wants me to do – to build lives including mine, one brick at a time. I also decided to only do my best and with passion even if the best that I know is underappreciated or not even considered at all as long as the end results improvement in the lives of the people that really matter. Passion is another subject hard to measure or quantify. I cannot explain it as clear as I could especially to friends who already told me to quit but I wouldn’t, and I leave it at that.

So even with my current state – being confined to home strapped to my cast, not able to move with our personal assistance, I am happy that I had contributed something to the work done in my last mission. My friends keep telling me it’s a sign that I have to slow down and force myself to rest now that my contracts finish and take time to think about my future.

The day I become a person with injury and disabled

Having settled in my new house, life was beginning to look normal.

Waking up early. preparing my breakfast of either warm chocolate croissant or muesli with freshly brewed coffee. shower and finally getting my nook in the dining area as my makeshift work from home office.

All that has changed on the 7th day! I had an accident and broke my leg.

Emergency room 

I thought I have seen it all with all the beneficiaries I encountered in my work life but not yet. I’ve seen it all when it came full circle and I am in the middle of it.

The nurse came and showed me my radiography plate and a clear spiral break in my fibula and in the tip of the tibia. I was told, I will undergo surgery within the day and need to recover before I could return to my previous life – which was just hours before.

Realization 

I know what to expect but I was still not in touch with my new reality. I was still hoping I am still sleeping and only dreamt I broke my leg. The moment I was transferred to my room and asked to wait for the specialist, the truth is starting to dawn on me. I am feeling all different emotion that goes from the fact that I am going to be operated on alone, the first such surgery in my life and alone for the most part of it after.

I live far from home. With no family to assist me, I am at the mercy of hospital staffs who don’t speak my language and my second language … I am in a francophone country! Why am I here? Well, ask my boss they know how to live my life better than me.

I am officially a PWI 

Soon all different specialist came to visit and interview me. Thanks to my adopted family, they helped translate for me. I understood very much what will happen while they prepare me for the surgery.

My attending came last, luckily he speaks English and his pep talk was not foreign to me — it was more a review of all the training I provided to my staffs back in the days. I know I will be out of commission for almost 3 months and the first 2 will be the most crucial — the healing of the bone without stress meaning I cannot put weight on my left leg. My right leg will do all the standing, hoping and balancing for me.

I will have to use assistive devices with at least one minimum personal assistance. My functional independence score is low!

Angel in our midst 

What will happen to me now? I need help.

That’s when I realized all through this ordeal I have met people that extended their support to me willingly. They made me feel I was not alone, held my hand when I was feeling nervous before I go to surgery, was there when I am out of it. Visited me and kept me company while I was confined and people that helped arranged my new future, keep my stuff to go with me when I was ready to leave to go home to the Philippines.

I am very grateful in spite of my new reality, that I’ve met these people that I considered angels in my midsts.

Now I am home, I experienced how a person with a disability experienced when traveling. The inaccessibility of simply going to the toilet, or ordering food, or climbing stairs or simply changing seats from wheelchairs.

I was lucky to have had the help all through my journey across three continents, but not every person with a disability has the same support as  I did especially those in the war-torn countries I was tasked to help before I become one with them (at least for the time being).

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An Appeal for Help

There is this little girl in my neighborhood that was born without an esophagus. She’s fed via a PEG directly to her stomach by a diet meant to let her gain weight and be healthier. Her neck has a hole to help with breathing and speaking.

She’s seven years old and in grade one. She’s always teased and felt deprived of the food she sees in people’s table and the stores. But in spite of she’s a lovely and lively little girl.

I sought help from friends on how to help her until I landed support from a local television to showcase her story and let people know about her condition and eventually appeal for help. The local charity office funded by lottery gains acknowledged her situation and offered to foot the bill for the initial hospitalization and surgery to reverse her condition (called Esophageal Atresia). But the family will have to raise funds to support costs for medicines and other needs during hospitalization and recovery.

The surgery was successful, but she’s still in ICU and battling complications of bacterial infections and fluid in her lungs. The doctors are doing their best, and now she’s stable and hopefully recover fully.

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I appeal for two things, first to think of this girl Sharie and include her in your prayers or utter a short prayer of healing and second, for your money. I am not asking a lot, though; any amount will help but we are raising close to $900 per set of medicine, and I don’t know how much more sets she needs to recover fully. 

I hope I can count on you …

To find out more about her story and update on her conditions and on how to donate, please visit Sharie’s Operation Fund page.

You can also watch the video of her appeal (in Tagalog) here 

“Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.” 2 Cor 9:7

Indifference

“One person’s craziness is another person’s reality.” Tim Burton

That is very much the situation in my country now.

Before I left home again in 2015, I made some mental conclusion that the childhood place we grew up and spent summer as a child was gone. With it was replaced by destitute image of mediocre life lived by people with either no dream or no opportunity to dream.

People had grown indifferent to the ills of the society, in this case, drugs.

I grew up knowing the lords in our village, they have a name – a name that was spoken openly and sort of like revered because the name equates to beautiful life that many people admire. Regardless of where the money came from, all they see are the beautiful houses, big cards and free flow of cash.

The easy life imagery is what makes many get into the business selling and getting hooked – one cannot be one without being the other.

One has to try their goods, and before they knew it, they are also both dealing and using at the same time. The line in between became blurred making the person crave for more – more money means more buyer, more buyer means more income to support the addiction and the cycle goes round and round, until it’s too late to put a stop to it.

I remember back in the days; I had a boyfriend who told me his story of addiction.

Chiolo (an alias) said being the eldest in the sibling of 3 boys, he has to look after his brothers because their parents both died of cancer when they were young and was raised by their grandmother. They inherited sizable amount and big beautiful old house in the old city. They were considered bratty middle class kids.

Raising three rowdy boys, the grandmother was very considerate. Letting them roam around and meet all kinds of people, bringing friends over and living THE life of teenagers. Chiolo said they are all A students, bright kids but experimental and with that started his brothers addiction to methamphetamine (street name: shabu) drugs. He didn’t know at first until he saw changes in his brother’s attitude and grades in school are all spiraling downwards.

Feeling responsible he told himself he’ll figure out what made his brothers addicted to “shabu” and got introduced to the same friends and eventually to the same drugs. Before he knew it him too was snorting them up his nose and getting the high like his other siblings. Throwing away their inheritance and ignoring the wisdom imparted by their grandmother. 

When I met him, he was the habit, although I knew about it and was even warned by his friend dealer trying to protect me I went along the relationship. He even had a kid from a woman who jammed with his addiction, but at that time the mom was nowhere to be found. I was young and naive but not without values. 

I introduced a more polished Chiolo to my family. Making sure he’s on his best behavior in our house, around my family and friends and he struggled. Having been hooked for years, having no fix anytime he wants was difficult – he was difficult. When he’s at home all he do was stay in the room and sleep, his skin developed bad case of acne and he was always sweating – he was undergoing withdrawal unintentionally (but actually being together almost all the time sort of like kicked start the process). 

I showed him the good side of life – having good time without so much spending 10K to get high or to eat proper meals at the right time of the day. Having family time and structure which he and his brother didn’t have when their parents passed away. He saw that fun doesn’t have to be expensive and you can get high without even using drugs. 

But our story does not have a happy ending.

The pressure from friends and the mother of his child were stronger than the bond we had created in a short time we were together. Chiolo disappeared and was taken back by the system that eventually destroyed him and his brothers.

That made me realize that addiction and getting out of it is a personal choice. A choice no one can take for you.

But that realization is not known to many in my village. Their reality is money and drugs – I need to sell to get money to buy me my addiction! Not caring if they destroy other people in the process.

Now with the new administration hell bent on killing drug pushers and user (only) – I say only because if you’re the “drug lord” you get an invitation to meet the president to get a slap on the wrist while a destitute member of the club gets a bullet in the head, they forgot the most important element in the fight against drugs – an appeal to the self, to the humanity of the addict themselves. 

Easier said than done, I know, so I believe we need to appeal first to the compassion of the government – that life is more important to preserve in spite of who own it or how it is lived.

When that happens, the measure of success would be a different reality to the craziness we have now in the Philippines.

It is the job of thinking people not to be on the side of the executioners.

                                                                                                            ~ Albert Camus

Date with Time

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Dad in VSU high school building Baybay Leyte, Philippines

Dad went back to visit his elementary and high school in his hometown – Baybay, Leyte. He graduated in the early 50’s and moved to the capital city of Manila by mid 60’s where he started a new life with us in it.

When I arrived from my last work related trip, we received news that his older brother passed away, at the prime age of 90, a good time to rest. Dad is 82, one of the 4 remaining siblings and the trip we had last November was a good time to go back and have a date with time — the time he left behind.

 

Interpreting Lent In My Life

Kept telling myself I will try to keep up with the times and update my blog while at the same time looking back at the good memories few decades back and writing about it.

Was I able to accomplish that?

Well not really but I did find the time to go through the life I had way way back, when I turned my room upside down trying to find more space for the stuff I recently accumulated. Spring cleaning came early in my room even though we don’t have spring weather here literally 🙂

You imagine the surprised looks I received from my family when I asked for cleaning materials — they asked if I am sick because I said I will clean my room. Actually my family attributes my desire to clean only when I am sick because it rarely happens. They let me.

I had blasts from the past during that week.  I am never good at cleaning, at putting back what I took the same way I took it. That’s why I can never be a thief, I am noisy and I am forgetful how the place look like before I started moving things around — not that I have plans to be one in the future, but I had a good time with my accomplishments that week.

What I found in my cupboard …

Anyway, as I go through the tasks at hand I found in the deep recesses of my cupboard box full of computer discs and readers I had during the first part of Y2K. I forgot all about those and I have no opportunity to see what I had kept in those discs, so I guess that would be a mystery left to be discovered by e-wall.

Then I found all my university and early travel photos – printed in 3R and 5R sizes. Raking my brain to remember all the names of the people in each photo while a smile was plastered on my face all the time. I am one of those people who is good in remembering images like faces and good at reading maps so I don’t forget places but I am very bad with names.

Did you experience riding in a public transport or walking in busy streets or mall and someone called you and started talking to you about your history together and you just kept on smiling and uttering “uh-u” but trying hard to remember who the person is in front of you? 

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