(Second of three parts)
Here is the continuation of my commencement address to graduates of St. Dominic College of Asia:
Let me tell you the story of Roselle Ambubuyog (who) remains the most inspiring person I have met to this day.
“My parents did not understand why I had bouts of asthma in December 1985,” Roselle says. “Not only was I the youngest of four healthy children but I was the only girl and very much cared for. They took me to a … doctor … who prescribed four types of over-the-counter medications, which I had to take for a week … Twelve days before Christmas, I was back to my old self. But on Christmas night, I was painfully roused from sleep by bouts of coughing and vomiting. By the time we reached the hospital, I was delirious with fever and blisters covered my body.”
Roselle had Stevens-Johnson syndrome, caused by intolerance to the medication. She suffered horribly, bleeding, with a 42-degree-Celsius fever and third-degree burns all over her body. She could not open her eyes because, after they bled, the dried blood fused the lids shut… thankfully, with massive doses of steroids, she was discharged.
Her burnt skin peeled off (and she opened) her eyes to total darkness. She was away from school for two years.
“My family did not neglect me. My siblings took turns reading books to me or narrating my favorite cartoon programs… Yet a question [kept nagging at] me: Will I ever go back to school again?”
She begged her father to let her go to school. He fortunately found the Special Education Center Batino Elementary School in Project 3, Quezon City.
Roselle says: “When the top students for first grade were announced, I ranked first. This was a real surprise for everyone, especially me. I had not been aiming to gain recognition… it was enough for me that most of my classmates not only accepted but befriended me, as well.
“However, others were judgmental. My mother overheard the parent of the No. 2 student remarking that everything was just ‘a matter of luck’ for the blind girl.
“At first, I was furious but then I became challenged. From then on, my goals shifted from mediocrity to… giving my best. I graduated valedictorian of our class.”
To help Roselle, her father inquired about useful tools from Resources of the Blind Inc., a missionary organization that helps the visually impaired. They offered the Cramer Abacus but the family did not know how to use it. “He (her father) bought one abacus, photocopied the instruction manual and painstakingly taught me. Two months later, I was using this new tool in my third-grade math class.”
Roselle graduated at the top of her class again in Ramon Magsaysay High School. She went to Ateneo de Manila University, majoring in perhaps the hardest subject of all—pure mathematics.
Help one another
In 2001, Roselle made history by graduating summa cum laude and valedictorian from Ateneo. In her speech, Roselle credited the people who helped her achieve her dream.
She said: “[Math teachers] surfed the Net to find the appropriate technology and approaches used to effectively educate blind students. Hence, we were able to solve inconveniences like making Braille versions of long and complicated tables, such as those of statistical data and probability values, even the periodic table. [Chemistry teachers] and my father placed Braille labels on the triple beam balance to mark its calibrations so that I could measure masses. Also, for measuring liquid volumes, they made indentations along the side of the plunger of a syringe.
“My instructor in ballroom dancing painstakingly directed me through the cha-cha, boogie and swing. She paid meticulous attention to how my hands and feet should move, to every twist of the body and to the shifting of my weight from one foot to the other. It was the combined creative imagination of my family and teachers that allowed me to visualize the things I needed to see.”
Other students helped, too. “Ria (Cuevas, her best friend and a fellow math major) would be my guide, accompanying me as I moved from one room or building to another. Sitting beside me in every class where we were together, she would read to me the writing on the blackboard or printed materials distributed in class. She would trace graphs on my palm with her finger so I could feel and imagine them. Whenever I had to do research in the library, get something photocopied, have lunch in the cafeteria, sit and listen to films and stage plays—Ria was always there to help… I believe everyone’s life is blessed to have a Ria, a person whose genuine kindness is a human miracle that eases the pain of suffering.”
Roselle gives the biggest credit to her family. “My father decided to leave the job he had for 23 years to concentrate on me when I lost my sight. He drove me to school, picked me up [after] class… accompanied me when I joined interscholastic competitions and always gave me moral support.
“At home, my parents and brothers read to me textbooks and reference materials since they were not always available in Braille… When I had to stay up late to complete a school project or prepare for a test… the whole family was kept awake all night… I am not the only one who is to graduate with honors; my family, especially my father, deserves the recognition… because my achievements are also theirs.”
Roselle has courage. She did not despair and even gives thanks. “Although God took away my pair of eyes, He has definitely given me many pairs of eyes and now I see better. Somehow God has done the same thing for all of us. Everybody experiences disabilities, one way or another; mine is just more obvious [than yours].
“But we are all fortunate to have loved ones who help us bear the burdens brought about by our weaknesses. We may find ourselves in the dark but we should not be afraid to move forward because we have the light of our stars to count on and to be thankful for.”
(To be concluded next week)
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