Daisy Omega is a beautiful, bubbly young lady with a strong personality. In a different environment, she would most probably be the life of the party. Life however decided to deal her a difficult card, as she was born with a congenital deformity. Hence, she has had to find creative ways to deal with her situation.
Dexter Crisostomo is a strong-willed young man whose inborn arthritis had left his lower limbs unused since the time he was born. Given this unfortunate disadvantage, he has had difficulty dealing with the outside world. Dexter remained a recluse, shying away from people, and had been staying home most of the time.
Brylle Sangel Arombo was a handsome, promising 19-year old kid with a bright future ahead. All his plans were shattered when he was hit head-on by a wayward Montero last year. Luckily, he survived the accident, but the doctors had to amputate his shattered right leg after 4 days of frantic efforts to salvage it. Depressed and feeling useless, Brylle just stayed home after recuperating from his accident.
What do the three – along with some other Persons With Disabilities (PWDs) in Cebu – have in common?
The three are now proud members of the Philippine Accessible Disability Services (PADS) Dragon Boat Team, the first and only PWD team in the country today. It is composed of amputees, paraplegics, polio survivors, people with congenital deformities, even the deaf and the blind. But make no mistake about it, this is a determined team that will pit paddles against the highly-competitive local and foreign teams in the first-ever Cebu Dragon Boat Fiesta 2017 this coming April 28-30.
The Philippine Accessible Disability Services, Inc. (PADS) is an independent NGO, working to help the PWDs grow and develop as fully integrated and empowered citizens in our society. Their vision is to create ‘A Disability-Inclusive Filipino society.’
Last year, PADS decided to introduce Dragon Boating among the PWDs as they needed sports activities that did not necessitate additional logistics (such as in wheelchair basketball). PADS was looking for a sport that could help develop teamwork, camaraderie and other life skills among the differently-abled; while at the same time allowing for the integration of the individuals seamlessly. Many PWDs had been looking for new sports; where ideally, disabilities are no longer a factor and are never mentioned.
Fortunately, they came across Dragon Boating. The sport was able to provide that. And more.
Dragon Boating is a seated sport that is good for people with certain disabilities. Once seated, PWDs are in an equal platform to compete. And, considering that most of them have developed good upper body muscles, they have easily moved up to earn the respect of the rest of the teams as serious contenders in this colorful sport.
John Paul (JP) Maunes, the head of PADS, is elated over the successes that came by leaps and bounds. JP gushed at how his people have developed their discipline and professionalism. They now have a sense of pride, a sense of belonging, a badge of honor, when they wear the team uniform. With a high self-esteem, his wards have moved up to take leadership roles in different fields, mingling and dealing with people more confidently. “More than being a physical fitness activity, Dragon Boating has transformed them, raising their interpersonal skills, allowing them to be trainors in a sport they have learned to embrace, and even exercising their leadership over the regular paddlers.”
JP arranged the group’s entry into the sport last August. Habagat, one of the pioneering teams in Cebu, opened their arms to the group, patiently teaching them the rudiments, and learning for themselves the strengths and weaknesses of the new group.
Daisy recalls the first awkward moments, particularly in learning how to get in the boat in their own unique way. But the Habagat paddlers helped. Once in the boat, Daisy felt empowered, completely forgetting about the disability that she wanted to erase from her mind.
Dexter joined the group simply to find a way to while away the time. Dexter felt the need for a fitness activity, but soon realized that Dragon Boating was more than that. DB has been a great experience, opening up doors and affording him many opportunities to travel and meet new friends.
Brylle recalls how difficult it was to deal with his new life months after his unfortunate accident. Thru Facebook, he learned about the activity. Joining the team, he found that he could be at par with the other regular paddlers. He felt good, experiencing for the first time the freedom of non-discrimination.
Other members chimed in. “Nawala akong pagka-tapulan.” (I lost my laziness.) “Before, it was wake up, eat, cellphone, sleep. Now I am more productive at home.” “My sister is now proud of me!” “Now, the family welcomes my activities and even join me in our trips.” “Naka-laag pa ko!” (I have been given the opportunity to travel too.)
Two new deaf recruits, Matt Venzell and Miguel Ambrad, noted the camaraderie and pride in the team, and immediately felt a sense of belonging. They found the team to be very strong and competitive, thus the need to train harder to step up.
Soon, word of the program spread around. Coupled with the initial successes of the team, more and more groups and individuals started to support them. This June, the team is scheduled to compete in Hongkong, to proudly represent the country in its first attempt to join the Para-Dragon Championships. Among their top supporters of the team is the US Embassy, with its Global Sports Mentoring Program.
To our PWDs, Dragon Boating has been a great equalizer. Not only have they gained a more healthy lifestyle, our PWDs have regained their dignity and pride with the Dragon, preparing them – as well as everyone else – for a world where disabilities are not a hindrance; a world where there is no discrimination for the differently-abled.
Today, Daisy has decided to go back to school. She intends to take up social works, where she knows there is a whole new frontier ahead for her. Dexter has since acquired a job at the Lapu-Lapu City Hall. More confident now, Dex is on his way to full integration. Brylle is determined to raise enough money so that he could go back to school. The Montero driver had promised to help him finish his studies.Whether he pulls through or not, Brylle knows he will graduate in the future.
This April 28 to 30, at the Cebu Yacht Club, watch your PWDs paddle their way to your hearts.
For comments and queries to support our PADS team, contact JP Maunes at firstname.lastname@example.org.