Note: The names of kids I will mention will be changed for their privacy, just in case.
To properly celebrate the feast of Santo Niño (the representation of the child Jesus), DLSU kicked off its program For The Kids 2016 where ates/kuyas (big brothers/sisters) volunteer to aid children with special needs in their annual mini-olympics. Over 25 different schools / centers participated with almost 600 different kids.
For The Kids is an annual mini-Olympics for children with special needs organized by the Center for Social Concern and Action (COSCA) of De La Salle University with its volunteer program, Lasallian Outreach & Volunteer Effort (L.O.V.E.).
FTK aims to assist children ages 5-12 years old with physical, emotional, and mental difficulties to achieve self-worth through competitive yet friendly sports and interactive games. It also seeks to provide and opportunity for the DLSU family to have enjoyable social outreach activity.
An average of 600 children with special needs from different schools and centers in Metro Manila gathers every January to play different games and each year around 1000 volunteers varying from students, professors, non-teaching staff and other personnel of the Lasallian community work together to make FTK possible.
— DLSU FTK 2016’s brochure
DLSU started the event with a mass at 7 in the morning. I was with my best friend toward the back of the Henry Sy building and there were two girls almost 7-8 rows from us just looking back at us. We smiled and waved at them and watched their smiles grow even bigger as they waved back. One of them didn’t like it when I waved at her, only when my friend did, but when my friend waved at another kid, she only liked waving at me. She was very playful, it was funny. We asked them to come on over, but only one of them did and gave my friend a hug.
After the mass, we set off to find our assigned partner from a center. Depending on the condition of the kid, you’ll sometimes have their guardian walk with you / help you take care of them or you’ll be a pair or a trio with another volunteer. Since volunteers outnumber these children, some will most likely have more than two ates/kuyas. A lot of the assigned kids don’t get to participate in the event either due to being absent, etc. so I was reassigned a few times, until I met a girl from DLSU-Araneta taking care of Mark with intellectual disability. I love playing with kids but I’m not so good with communicating in Filipino sometimes and I sometimes don’t know how to talk to kids for an extended period of time, so I was thankful for Yana, my “co-ate“. When she introduced Mark to me, Mark immediately smiled at me and gave me a hug.
Intellectual disability is characterized by being slower than the average person in learning certain skills or concepts. They are usually not very adaptive to their surroundings and have a harder time making decisions for themselves. Mark didn’t seem to have any problem fitting in at all. I introduced him to some of the game marshalls that were my friends and he would hug them right away and they all found him so cute. He is very sweet.
Mark liked to pretend that his ID was a cellphone, so we “called” him every now and then, and would also encourage some of the volunteers that helped organize the event to do the same. He would abruptly say goodbye and laugh at our surprised reactions. I wasn’t really able to ask his guardian how old he was, but each time we asked him, he either sounded like he was saying 5 or 9. Yana later told me that he was 8. I tried getting him to read and he had a little trouble pronouncing every syllable right, but he could read nonetheless.
On Mark’s ID, his games were relay, bowling, and ring toss. We first went to the relay where athletes from the swim team of DLSU-Manila were the game marshalls. One of them said hi to Mark and his reaction to her (which was a smile and a hug) attracted the other game marshalls to talk to him, too, and my blockmate even got a photo while hugging him.
It’s either they get 1st, 2nd, or 3rd place and in Mark’s case, he got three gold medals. After getting all his medals, we brought him back to his guardian to show her how well he was doing, and we resumed going around the area. He wanted to jump on the inflatables, and even though the line was super long, Yana and I waited and kept him busy for almost a 30-minute to hour wait because soo many kids also wanted to go on the inflatables. The wait was very much worth it, even though Mark had been smiling almost the whole time, he looked like he really had fun.
Lunch time came so we left him with his guardian for a while and Yana and I agreed to meet up when the lunch period was over. I found two of my other friends and found that they also were paired with a kid with intellectual disability. I went back to my best friend and her boyfriend, Nico, and found them in the line to the photobooth in the arts area. I saw a girl with down syndrome sitting on the bench alone while we were in line, and I decided to sit on the same bench and see if I could talk to her.
She didn’t really mind me, and each time I spoke to her, she didn’t really look at me either until I asked her if the bench was hot, and she told me mainit (it’s hot). Nico sat on her other side and tried talking to her as well. Then she stood and found balloons and suddenly she started noticing us more, and told us to hit the balloon each time she threw it up in the air. Let’s call her Ira.
While we played with her, another girl sat where Ira originally sat, in between Nico and I. She didn’t really respond to me when I said hi or tried talking to her. She wouldn’t look at me either, but when the balloon went near her face, she freaked out and hugged me really tight. I asked Nico to take a photo cause I was honestly so touched; this girl initially didn’t even want to look at me and now she trusted me enough to find comfort in hugging me. I wasn’t sure what her condition was so I just hugged her until she let go. She felt so much better, and gave me kisses on the cheek. I thanked her for each one and she kept smiling and it really made me feel warm. I checked her ID afterward and found out she had autism. Probably the cutest thing she did was point to her cheek twice, signalling me to kiss her cheek, too.
I had to find Mark and Yana again so I said goodbye and went to our meeting place, although I could not find them because there were so many people. I started to walk around the venue seeing if I could find them and instead I found one of my Korean friends! I asked what made her join and she told me she initially thought she wouldn’t have much fun; that she just really tried out for the experience and found that it was more fruitful than she thought. I said, “At least it was okay for you.” and she replied, “It’s more than okay, actually.” and in my head, I was congratulating the organizers of this event. It made me realize how much different it would be to organize an event for an advocacy as personal and hands-on as this. I’ve only handled Muni and Reverb before so it was an interesting thought.
As I was going around, I saw familiar faces! (Flashback) I wondered if Tim and the others would remember me since I was in a completely different get-up with completely different hair, but they remembered me! And I was able to take a photo with them… using their… official camera… I never remember to take photos with my own phone during times like these. They were all so sweet and they all remembered me. So many kids went up to them and took photos with them, as well as their own parents/guardians.
Before the event ended, I watched kids performing in front and one girl even went on stage and sang a set of three songs for everybody. I found Yana again before leaving with my friends.
I’m home now and so tired. I never really expected things would go this way, and I don’t know what I may have done to really give back, but I feel good, and I hope all the kids felt good about today, too.