What. A. Week. It was all about Best Buddies. Dan and I attended trainings for Best Buddies beginning Thursday but before that was a mad rush of preps for the open house which happened yesterday. The events were all well-attended. The Forum at the Open House was packed! We had volunteers, school administrators, families and sponsors all mingling and talking about Best Buddies. The air was filled with hope and positive energy.
The highlight of the Open House definitely was Jessica and Vico. They are the first Best Buddies Manila ambassadors. Jess works as a teacher’s assistant at One World while Vico is with Unilab Foundation as part of their admin staff and of Unilab Foundation’s Project Inclusion. I can’t help but imagine that maybe a decade ago that Jess and Vico might have been easily dismissed by a society that probably did not know what to do with them. Their talents and obviously wonderful qualities were not easily measurable. Hiring them for jobs was probably unheard of. They are certainly high risk investments with very unsure returns.
It’s easy to dismiss these two young adults with learning disabilities because our eyes have all been trained from the get-go to zone in on those who are different. It’s probably a primal survival thing. To see what is different forces us to reexamine and to reassess. And it’s actually not a bad thing in itself but if our reaction to the one that is different is to turn a blind eye — then that needs a lot of changing.
Because you see, we all miss out on people like Jess and Vico if we look past them. I’ve met them both and they are so EAGER to go out into the world to make a difference just by being themselves. They break barriers. One World and Unilab foundation took the risk and they’re setting such a brave precedent. It was Rhodora Fresnedi, Executive Director of Unilab Foundation who insisted that if they wanted to change the workplace, if they wanted to be inclusive then they have to take the first step. Fresnedi also commissioned a study from the DLSU quantifying that hiring PWAs (people with autism) and PWDs boosted team morale and productivity, which ultimately lead to a healthier bottomline.
Fresnedi recounted the first time they hired Vico, a kid who is so used to structure and order and assigned him to a boss who is creative but works fluidly sans structure. The first week was stressful for both Vico and his boss. But they soon worked things out because they all took the time to understand Vico. It would have been so easy to give up on him, to tell him that the work is not for him. But they persevered and saw that Vico had a photographic memory and that he was so good at spotting discrepancies that they found out the perfect position for him — as a staff auditor. Imagine that!!! Who knew? But because they invested in Vico and looked at his abilities and not his disabilities, the team and Vico are both thriving and happy. Vico has been much more social that in fact he has been on two company outings since last year. He was unchaperoned mind you, much to the worry of his mom but Vico was just fine!
Vico is mentored by Grant, who has a son with autism. I can’t imagine how hopeful Grant must feel after seeing Vico thriving in his role. Grant is so lucky to be working for a company that fully support inclusion.
I saw fellow parents during the Open House who were wiping tears and nodding heads. THIS is what is needed and we all agreed. For us parents with children with special needs, one of our major concerns (among so many) is how society has always been so cruel and indifferent to those who have special needs. Our children are not invisible and they deserve to be seen \. Our eyes have all been trained to focus on the different, to see what stands out. Our kids stand out. Vico stands out just like Noah stands out. We don’t want them to hide, we just want to society to embrace them and to see them. My dream is of a society that embraces all kids regardless of abilities. A society that celebrates all children BECAUSE they are different.
That’s why I believe in Best Buddies. These social changes happen small and you can’t get any smaller than two guys hanging out at the mall or two girls at a coffee shop giggling over a silly joke. A group of kids, both buddies and peers in a tree planting project in their barangay. Small but significant.
I see you Jess. I see you Vico. Now it’s time for everyone to see you both! I am so proud and in awe of you two!