LAST Wednesday, my daughter Frannie and I watched a stage musical adaptation of "The Lion King" at the Carlos P. Romulo auditorium at the RCBC Plaza. The musical ran for more than three hours but we thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. What truly amazed us was that all the student participants -- coming from pre-school to Grade 12 -- are deaf. By ordinary norms, none of the stage players should have been able to sing and deliver their lines. But deliver they did. And they should not have been able to dance in sync to the beat which they could not hear. But they did.

This year's presentation is a continuation of an annual recital program initiated by the Philippine Institute for the Deaf (PID) where the students are encouraged to participate, as part of their special curriculum, to showcase their speaking skills progress.

Headed by Executive Director Julie G. Esguerra, the PID is the first oral school for the deaf recognized by the Department of Education. At PID, the emphasis is learning to speak and learning to lip read as preparation for mainstream school.

"Yes, these children are deaf, but they don't have to be mute," Ms. Esguerra said. "Whenever a deaf child comes to us, we're challenged, because he shouldn't be mute. He has a voice, and all we need is.... to look for that voice.....and listen!"

At the Philippine Institute for the Deaf, a deaf child enrollee first undergoes hearing and aptitude evaluation. Then there is the regular three times a week one-on-one speech therapy. This is supplemented by the K-12 curricular programs and activities designed to encourage the students to express themselves such as basic computer skills, home economics, P.E. and sports, dance and theater arts, painting, gardening, crafts, cooking and baking.

PID believes in a holistic approach so it also conducts workshops for parents, brothers, sisters, yayas and neighbor peers so everyone will know how to teach and motivate the deaf child even at home and in their social activities.

"With hard work and full cooperation from the communities, these children leave PID ready to enter regular schools. This is probably what we could call our contribution to the country," Esguerra said.

PID commenced operations in 1986 and, in 1988, was placed under the umbrella of a non-stock, non-profit organization named Sergia Esguerra Memorial Foundation. The foundation was named to honor the memory of Esguerra's mother who pioneered in the oral method of teaching in the Philippines.

In 1992, former President Fidel V. Ramos provided PID with a two-storey school building located at the AFP-PSG Compound beside Nagtahan Bridge near Malacañan via a 25-year lease at P1/year. The compound is now a fenced secured campus furnished with 16 classrooms, five speech one-on-one cubicles, an occupational room, a library and seminar room, a home economics room, a science laboratory, a computer laboratory, a technical-vocational room, a guidance area, a multi-purpose gym with stage, and a small campus for sports activities. Pagcor recently approved a sizeable grant for the purchase of computers for the use of the students.

PID is home to a hundred deaf students, and other special learners and their special education teachers. Most of the students belong to very poor families and depend very much on generous sponsors to be able to stay in school.

Esguerra, who has been described by associates as a "miracle worker," can look back with justifiable pride at how PID has transformed lives.

Ramizza Reyeg suffered bullying by her former classmates. Some of her former teachers were less-than-patient and even openly expressed their frustration at her communication skills and slow pace. But later, in a much different nurturing environment, Ramizza was able to catch up. She eventually finished regular elementary and high school. Recently, she completed a two-year Associate Degree in Computer Secretarial at St. Jude Institute of Technology. She became a teacher aide in PID but is now on leave to pursue a degree in Special Education.

Josh Raymundo, the first and only deaf student accepted at the University of Santo Tomas, finished BS Library Science. Immediately after passing the Librarian's Board Licensure, he was hired as a librarian at Letran University in Calamba. He now attends the meetings of the board of Sergia V. Esguerra Memorial Foundation as the alumni representative.

Steven Josh Quinao, formerly an introvert, shone as one of the stars in Lion King, portraying the role of young Simba.

Recently, Conrad Hotel opened its doors to apprentices from PID, who will eventually be gainfully employed in the Sy-owned luxury hotel.

The following attend the board of Sergia Esguerra Memorial Foundation: Ofelia M. Caraque, honorary chairman; Cynthia R. Mamon, chairman; Cesar V. Campos, past chairman; Julie G. Esguerra, executive director; Evelyn S. Catagas, assistant director; Cynthia E. De La Cruz, Baby Luat, Maria FeN. Ferriols, Manette M. Inocencio, Ramon E. Rodrigo, Manny Castañeda, Maricor Akol, and this writer, directors; MelissaQuinao, PTA representative, and Josh Raymundo, alumni representative.

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