INQUIRER SOUTHERN LUZON

A ‘beautiful moment’ in Legazpi read-along

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BISHOP Joel Baylon reads “Ang Huling Puno” to special children of Harong Kan Sagrada Familia in Barangay Bogtong, Legazpi City, during the Inquirer Read-Along. JOANNA LOS BAÑOS

A man with an axe wanted to chop the last remaining tree in the city to give way to the construction of a new building, but animals dwelling in the tree—an owl, monkey, butterfly, rabbit, monitor lizard and cat—pulled a stunt to scare him away and protect their only home.

The story of “Ang Huling Puno” (The Last Tree), written by Richard Reynante and illustrated by Arnold Nuestro, was narrated by Bishop Joel Baylon of the Diocese of Legazpi during the Inquirer Read-Along held on Nov. 16 at Harong Kan Sagrada Familia (House for the Holy Family) in Barangay Bogtong in Albay’s capital.

It was the first session conducted by the Inquirer Southern Luzon for children and adults with special needs.

‘Listening’

Twenty-five “children,” as they were fondly called by their teachers, came with their parents and caregivers to “listen” to Bishop Baylon at the Special Education Therapy Program (Step) facility run by Sagrada. Aged 2-30 years old, they have autism, cerebral palsy and other developmental disorders.

Seated with the children on mats spread on the floor, Baylon recounted how Kuwagong Kulit, Matsing Valentin, Kikong Bayawak, Lala Paruparo, Connie Kuneho and Minyang Pusa (the animals in the story) were able to drive away the stranger who wanted to chop down the tree.

Asked by the storyteller which animals fascinated them, Kevin, 19, said monkey, while Mabel, 24, answered butterfly. For Justin, 12, who sang “Our Father” at the start of the read-along, it was the owl.

Teacher Mercy Moyano read “Tiktaktok and Pikpakbum,” a story written by Rene Villanueva and illustrated by Renato Gamus.

Three of the children showed they understood the story of the two dogs, who are brothers—one kind and well-behaved while the other was naughty and troublesome.

Extraordinary

Riza, 24, Toton, 29, and Monica, 13, said they remembered “Tok” and “Pik” and how Pikpakbum ran away with the spoiled “meat” from the slaughterhouse.

“The read-along was an extraordinary activity which gave the special children the opportunity to enjoy what other children enjoy,” said Fr. Battista Omodei of Servants of Charity, the congregation which runs the facility and its Step for the special children and adults.

Founded by Italian St. Louis Guanella, who was canonized in October last year, Servants of Charity put up mission homes in 19 countries to fulfill their vow of serving the handicapped children and elderly. In the Philippines, the group’s homes are found in Legazpi and Quezon City.

“God is father of all. Nobody must be put aside,” said Omodei, who quoted the group’s founder in explaining the goals of the program for special children.

Most of the Step students come from poor families in Legazpi and neighboring towns in Albay. Their parents pay as little as P100 a month to as much as P2,000 for the Monday-to-Friday SPED classes and physical therapy sessions.

From 4 to 54

Omodei said that when the program began in Legazpi 13 years ago, there were only four to five children. This year, the number has grown to 54.

The Guanellan priests are supported by donations from individuals and organizations from the Philippines and overseas. The donations included special equipment for the physical and occupational therapy needs of the children.

Yearly, the priests organize fundraising events in the host communities to sustain the program.

“Mass media changes the world. We come here to change the world, especially of special children,” said Fr. Chandre Davies, spiritual director of Harong Kan Sagrada Familia, in a message before the read-along started.

He said it was the first storytelling session for their children, most of whom have utmost difficulty integrating the sensual functions of sight, smell, taste, hearing and touch. “It was a beautiful moment,” he said.

Fr. Robert Victor Raj, Step director, and Evanjelin Ante or “Teacher Ofel,” who supervises the program’s staff of eight teachers and physical therapists, agreed. In their hearts, they knew the children were able to make big strides that Friday morning. With a report from Reynard Magtoto

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