My special speech is for all of you especially my fellow bloggers, loved ones, family, friends, aspiring artists especially disabled people. Sorry, I disable comments on this special blog entry. Enjoy reading my long speech.
Thank you Ms. Mary Jane Luakin for your generous introduction. Allow me to greet everyone a wonderful morning! I wish to express my sincere gratitude for the honor you have bestowed on me for inviting me to be your speaker today. Thank you very much!
Never in my life have I expected to be invited as a speaker in a group, organization or institution. And most definitely not in La Salle, which is one of the most prestigious schools in our country. For someone like me, this opportunity to speak before you is tantamount to an impossible dream that came true, because I was born with a hearing defect and therefore with a subsequent difficulty in oral communication.
It’s so ironical that my father is an ( EENT ) Eye, Ear, Nose and Throat Specialist, a doctor who treats ear ailments and conditions. Yet, he was not able to cure my condition because it is a congenital problem.
Instead of being frustrated, my parents did all they can to help me cope with my impairment. It took them 4 years before they realized and accepted that their 2nd child is partly deaf. According to my mother, she was very appreciative when as a child I would sleep very soundly despite the noise around me. I was 4 years old when they suspected of my condition. I always sat very near the television and they thought that maybe my eyesight was poor because both my parents wear corrective eyeglasses. It was by coincidence that they found out about my condition. My mother told me that one time when I was still a child, she called me, although I was standing close to her, I did not respond to her call. She tried again but did not get any response because she was calling me behind my back…that’s when they learned that I can hardly hear and that I was only lip-reading. They brought me to Manila for accurate hearing test and diagnosis. It was found out that I have 80% HEARING LOSS and I needed a set of hearing aids. I started wearing hearing aids at 6 years old.
They were devastated! Their immediate reaction was pity for their child and fear for my future. I was enrolled in a special school that handled special children with hearing impairment. However, my parents noticed that since entering SPED, (special education for the disabled) I seldom speak and rely mostly on lip reading and sign languages since most of my classmates were mute and deaf. They did not want that. They believed that I would not be able to learn how to communicate verbally if I would remain in the SPED school and be taught to read lips and do sign language. Instead, they focused on my remaining 20% hearing and enrolled me in a normal school where I was encouraged to develop my verbal faculty in order to communicate my thoughts, ideas and feelings in words. During summer, I was enrolled in a speech clinic, and at home I was encouraged to speak loudly and they patiently corrected my diction and grammar.
They even encouraged me to use a microphone so I would hear how my voice sounds. I was made to watch movies with subtitles. At times my siblings would be a bit irritated at me because I would ask them to explain some words, expressions and scenes from the movies. This, however, did not stop me from asking them to explain. I must admit that I was really “makulit” as a child. To make me understand some terms, my relatives act, make faces, role play, or demonstrate in order to convey the meaning of the words to me. For example, to differentiate between smooth and rough, my mother would let me touch a smooth and rough object to make me understand the words and distinguish smooth from rough. Words pertaining to emotions were conveyed by making facial and body expressions to make me understand the meaning of anger, passion, love etc. Words were spoken slowly and aloud so I could hear them and get the correct pronunciation. It took them a lot of patience, diligence and time to teach me how to speak. Before, the sounds coming from me were murmurs, weird, unrecognizable and could not be understood. That maybe the reason I was called alien by my classmates because when I spoke… all that was coming from me were strange noises. Oral Communication was frustrating because they could not understand a word I said. At least now, I am able to communicate my ideas.
One of my greatest challenges was to be admitted in a normal school. Three of the most reputable schools in our town rejected me because I could not pass their entrance exam. But with my parents’ perseverance and “pakiusap” ( request / beg ), I was finally accepted at Felkris Grade School and CKC ( Christ the King College ) for my secondary education.
Being enrolled in a normal school was a difficult and painful experience for me. During my elementary days, I was laughed at, ridiculed, bullied, and even “hurt” physically by some of my classmates. I was punched and pinched because I was different. I was called monster, ugly, stupid, dumb and I had no friends. People didn’t want to talk to me because they could not understand me so they ignored me. There was a time when a few classmates of mine grabbed my hearing aid thinking that it was a Walkman portable music player. My bloody ears with my hearing aid were also hit by my two male classmates.
Actually I did not know that I was different. I thought I was like the other children because my family treated me like a normal child. I was in all-girls high school when I fully realized that I was disabled. It hurt me so much to know that I was not normal like my classmates. I was depressed and angry at myself and started hating myself. Then I already accepted that my classmates called me some bad names. I was afraid of the future. I prayed to God to make me normal. My grades were so low. I hardly made it through high school. My parents discussed my predicament with the school principal and with my teachers and requested that I would be given some special consideration. As a result of their meeting, Mary Ann Pacquing, the class president and one of the brightest students of the high school was assigned to be my Class Buddy. We always sat together in class and she would patiently explain some difficult topics and test instructions to me during class. She introduced me to areas in school which were previously unfamiliar to me, the canteen, the library and the students’ area. She eventually became my best friend and my only friend.
Despite the difficulties I encountered in my studies, it never entered my mind to give up my schooling and the dream of becoming somebody someday. Instead of being hurt by criticism… Instead of being weakened by frustration. I focused in believing in myself, and depended on the love, care and encouragement of my family and lived by my faith in God!
My mother told me that I learned to draw before I learned to write. My sketched lines and circles were good and I draw anywhere even on the walls and our sofa so my father bought me some coloring and drawing books so I can draw. They noticed that I was very good at it and encouraged me to continue practicing my skills using proper materials. My parents and siblings encouraged the development of my drawing skills by providing me with art materials.
At an early age (3 years old) I found solace in drawing because it’s a world where I can convey my ideas. My first recognition for my drawing happened during my pre-school days. My teachers would ask me to draw Christmas cards. They were unable to distinguish it from the original! When I graduated from Kindergarten, I was awarded “Best in Creative Arts”. In high school, I started using charcoal, oils and pastels for my paintings. I was motivated to improve my craft through constant practice. As the saying goes “practice makes perfect”.
In 1997, I was the Grand Prize Winner of the On-the Spot Drawing Contest during the vocational Diocese week, in San Fernando City, La Union.
After graduating from High School, I took the entrance examination for Architecture at St. Louis University, Baguio City and I passed the entrance examination. However, a friend of mine told me that UP Baguio is offering a course Certificate in Fine Arts so I went there to apply for the course. The entrance examination at the UP Baguio Fine Arts, centered on actual drawing and abstract reasoning. Applicants were asked to draw a statue and I passed the examination and was accepted at UP Baguio. We were very happy and my parents were very proud at me.
Life was better at UP Baguio because I was accepted by my peers and teachers and was treated as an equal. Sometime, they would joke about my conditions but it was okay for me. I gained more friends. My art professors, art classmates / friends truly helped me alot. I received College Scholar. After graduation in 2001, I asked my parents to allow me to earned my Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts / Master in Fine Arts at UP Diliman, Manila but their fear of my safety made them decline my request.
In 2001 - 2002, To earn some money, I painted face / body painting, henna tattoos, gave tutorial classes in painting to a few kids, made props for the theater stages, did mural painting jobs and others.
In 2003, I was hired as a textile designer at PEZA ( Philippines Economic Zone Authority) in Baguio City for 6 months with a salary of 5,600 pesos ( US $115 ) a month, doing 20-70 designs per day. It was a very tiring job. But my experience at PEZA has further enhanced my skill in drawing and illustration. Our supervisor, Kuya Robert was a very meticulous and a perfectionist boss. He constantly pushed me to improve my designs by adding more texture and giving special attention to details. He also taught me how to select the best colors for a design and theme. He trained me to give my best in all of my drawings and illustration and not be satisfied with mediocre work. My diligence paid off because after 4 months I was given a 5 peso ( like US cent 0.1 ) increase in my salary per day. He also told me that I was the most industrious worker of the company. Nevertheless the hard work took its tool and I lose weight. This alarmed my parents and asked me to resign from PEZA. After all these years I am still grateful to Kuya Robert for all the values he taught me. He has greatly influenced my style and attitude toward work.
In 2004, I started working as a freelance artist accepting commission work such as mural painting, logo making, making props and streamers, joined art contests, etc. I realized that it was true that artists are underpaid and underemployed. They are usually hired to make props, movie streamers, etc. I came face to face with the bleak prospect of being an artist. Then I discovered DeviantArt in the internet. DeviantArt is an art community where artists from around the world can show their work. Through the website I discovered a bigger world where I can freely express my talent and display my drawings and illustrations. I met new friends from around the world who shared my passion. Their arts also exposed me to different styles, concepts and new ideas related to colors, background, texture and more. People who are interested in arts saw my work in the internet and I started receiving praises and then commission work like the CD cover for the music album of Wickermoss. The positive outcome of my connection in the internet inspired me to open a website. I learned web site production and design through the internet tutorial program. I also took up short term computer course and Adobe photoshop at Lorma Colleges computer department for 2 months. This maybe one of the best decision I made in my life. The internet allowed me to show my art work all around the world. Then my art commissions increased from 3 to 4 commissions per year to an average 5 to 10 per month now.
My first national award was the PBBY (Philippine Board on Books for Young People) – Alcala Illustrators’ Prize held in 2003 where I won 3rd Place. I felt proud and very happy for my achievement. I did not expect to win in the competition because it was an open category illustrator contest where any artist can join including the professional painters and illustrators. I surprised a lot of people for winning the award.
Illustration was taught to us in college but I gave no interest on it. Earljohn, a bestfriend, ex-boyfriend and former art classmate in college, convinced me to try illustration when he observed that I was starting to become frustrated with realism painting, which was my initial style. He also believed that I am good in illustration. To learn more about illustration, I searched the internet and visited book stores and viewed at illustrated books. I studied how the illustrator interpreted the story and expressed the characters’ emotion through illustration. I also studied the different styles of famous Filipino illustrators like Beth Parrocha, Mark Salvatus, and Jomike Tejido. My interest in illustration was stimulated.
It was during my visit at National Book Store, that I came across a children’s illustration book published by Adarna Publishing House and there I found out about the PBBY – Alcala Illustrators’ Prize.
Two years later, I again joined the contest and won the National Grand Prize of the PBBY- Alcala Illustrators’ Prize. The title of the book was “The Yellow Paperclip with Bright Purple Spots”. That same year the book also won the National Book Award for Children’s Literature, Manila Critics Circle.
In 2004 I was granted the Encouragement Prize, 14th Noma Concours for Picture Book Illustrations for my paintings of my mother’s story “The Boy From Cotabato”, in Japan.
Last August 2008, I was unexpectedly contacted by BBDO Guerrero an Advertising Agency about a project proposal. I was selected as 1 of the 3 Filipino artists to make print ad for the Philippines Department of Tourism .The print ad was used for posters, billboards in different countries and was also published in Forbes and Fortune Magazines. I also did the illustrations used in the animated TV commercial of the Philippine Department of Tourism Project, "Live Your Dreams”. The TV commercial was shown in ANC, CNBC, CNN and in other few countries.
Moreover, the Preview Magazine chose me as one of the 24 most creative Pinoys for 2008. When I learned about it, I was in total euphoria especially when we had the photo shoot with the other winners. Recently I was selected, Best 200 Illustrators Worldwide for 2009 by Luerzer's Archive in Austria for my black and white illustration about my life entitled “Confusion”.
As I mentioned earlier, one important factor that contribute to my growth as an illustrator was the internet. It gave me access to various opportunities that enable me learn more about illustration. It also allows me to study the works of foreign as well as local illustrators and gave me a chance to market and advertised my work locally and internationally. Through the internet I was able to join art exhibits in several Galleries in Manila, United States (thanks to Nucleus Gallery and Bear+Bird Gallery), France (thanks to my wonderful talented friend Nicolas Gouny), Japan, and London (thanks to Darren Di Lieto).
Last December 2008, my sister Erica and I created the Kirkus Shop at Etsy.com. We sell handmade items like bracelets, coin purses, etc. My specialized hand-carved rubber stamps and small paintings are in demand. So far the shop is doing well and I have some good customers.
Reflecting on my past experiences I can honestly say that I am very grateful for what I have become. Looking back, it seems unexpected that I will attain success in life because of my disability. But now I believed that anything is possible if you and OTHERS believe that you can. Allow me to enumerate some of the factors that made me reach my present situation.
First of all, the love, care and support of my parents and relatives inspired me so much. Despite many attempts of our society to make the life of the special individuals better, the stigma attached to us remains obvious. To many people, being disabled equates failure. Because to them being disabled is in itself failure. And since they accept us as failure, some don’t attempt to help us improve and develop because they believe that we are disabled then there is nothing they can do to help us grow. So they just make our life better. But I believe that we can improve the quality of our life by developing our knowledge, skills and character. All that is needed is for US and OTHERS to believe that we can. We should never give up because we are disabled. People, most specially the parents and relative should not just accept us for what we are. It’s more important for them to help us discover and develop our talents nurtured with love, care and patience. It may take some time but we have a lifetime to discover and develop our talents. Just like what my parents did to me. They focused on my 20% hearing and skill in illustration and developed it through love and care. We should not remain as disabled but we should aspire to become a productive and able members of the society.
Secondly, to the schools which accepted me in spite of the disability – I’m indebted to all of you. Schools must open their doors to students with disabilities. They should offer courses and trainings to empower students like us. Although I wanted to be treated equally… a little discrimination is okay. We must accept that we are different and have special needs. There should be a department or council that will look into the needs of disabled. The Buddy System designed for me was vital in helping survive my High School days.
Finally, we should develop the Strength of Character. People like us must develop a strong character. My condition has exposed me to ridicule, unequal treatment and even harassment, but I never allowed those painful experiences weaken my character. I did not believe people who told me that I am dumb or monster. I told myself that it’s not true and that I am better and I can do things that normal children do. I never stop learning. I constantly look for ways to learn and grow mentally and search for other sources of knowledge. I didn’t limit my learning inside the classroom. I explore opportunities available to me in order to learn and grow professionally. We must believe in our capabilities for this is essential to success.
According to HELEN KELLER, an American blind and deaf writer/lecturer: "Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved."
At this stage in my life I know that still have a lot of this to do to fully realized my dreams of becoming a successful artist. I constantly improve my skill through practice, benchmarking and consciously exploring opportunities to grow and improve my skills. I dreamed of becoming an animator someday... I also dreamed of having a solo art show.
My hearing may be impaired by 80% but I lived life a hundred percent. According to Steven Covey, we do not have any control of 10% of what happen in life, however, 90% of our life depend on how we react to what we cannot control. I do not have any control of the fact that I was born with hearing impairment, but my reaction to it got me to where I am today. This is the message that I would like to share to everyone. It’s how we look at life, it’s how we take life, and it’s how we live life that matter the most! As one of the ads say, “IMPOSSIBLE IS NOTHING!”
A pleasant morning to all...