Just a few days ago I received my Christmas mail from the Philippines. Among the mail was a newsletter from COHSEC, which is an acrostic for Community of Hope Special Education Center.
The Center came about as the result of a survey conducted by the Missionary Sisters of Saint Columban in Ozamis in Mindanao in the Southern Philippines. The survey revealed that there were many children with physical and mental disabilities who were kept in their homes all day because there were no facilities for their education.
In response to this need, the Sisters founded the Community of Hope in 1993. The Community provides a place where the children, and some adults, can come each day and participate in educational and developmental programs designed to meet their special needs.
I became interested in the Community of Hope through the Administrator, Sister Cecilia, who had been on mission with me in Chile. I was also interested because I had spent some time in Ozamis City during my first mission, and I was familiar with the location of the Center and the local situation.
In the Center the children are taught reading and writing, and are helped to develop literacy skills. They are also trained in vocational skills, such as gardening, sewing, card-making, carpentry, cooking and catering. In this way they become more independent and self-reliant.
Rowena, a twelve-year old who has a congenital fracture affecting her left leg, learned to make her best-selling twisted doughnuts and other tasty fare. She is already earning on her own through the orders she gets, and she can now buy her own school supplies.
March 15, 2008 was a special day for the Community of Hope. It was the day the first batch of hearing-impaired students from the Center received their diplomas as High School graduates at the near-by La Salle University in Ozamis City. Their schooling began in Grade 1 when they had learned to communicate through Sign Language in 1996. It reached its high point when they received their High School diplomas, with hopes of proceeding to higher studies.
The sight-impaired are also helped by eye care Awareness and Protection programs, and are taught skills to help them navigate through the world around them.
In addition to the literacy and vocational skills the children develop at the Center, they are also given a world-view and an example of faith in action. The Sisters and staff are continuing the mission of the Master who said he was sent “to bring the good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind” (Luke 4, 18)
These little ones were captives of their physical and psychological limitations, and without outside help would be prisoners for life. The Sisters help to set them free by teaching them how to become self-reliant and independent. The children know that they have limitations, but they also have abilities. That is why they appreciate that the Sisters and staff are working hard not just to treat their ills, but also to help them develop their skills.
They know that all this is happening to them simply because of love, “Since God has loved us so much, so we ought to love one another” (1 John 4, 11)