The Challenge

A Columban Sister speaks to a group at the Community of Hope Special Education Center in Ozamiz City, Philippines
To Love Them as They Are

Sr. Cecilia Cuizon

The Community of Hope Special Education Center is a religious and charitable organization run by the Columban Sisters. It delivers services to children and young adults with disabilities in Ozamiz City, Philippines, and its neighboring towns in Misamis Occidental aimed at making a difference to their lives. The love of God becomes a reality for them as they see their own transformation.

A child playing on the floorLeslie is a student with autism and an intellectual disability. She also has a potassium deficiency. Eating bananas and more exposure to the sun are not enough anymore. The medication she gets at the center strengthens her muscles to enable her to stand and walk. She was only ten years old when she was referred to The Community of Hope Special Education Center by the principal of her school. She was defiant and disobedient with her teachers as she hated school. She was being bullied both in school and in the community. The bullies felt that she was different from them.

Her mother wanted to give her a good education in preparation for her future. She worked hard selling cakes to add to her husband’s meager income. He was an alcoholic and had no regular job. Later he died of depression. Her older children got married and had families of their own. Leslie’s mom was sickly and died when Leslie was only thirteen years old. Leslie was the youngest in the family of four.

With her parent’s death, Leslie suffered intensely. She was moved from one relative to another. At one time she stayed with her older married sister who has three children and whose husband did not have a definite income. It did not work. Leslie was back to her old problematic behavior. God, who is rich in mercy and compassion, touched the heart of her paternal married aunt who decided to take her as part of her family. At present, she is living with them. Her aunt has become her legal guardian, and it is with Leslie’s aunt that we are carrying out the rehabilitation process.

The center’s social worker drew up a rehabilitation plan for Leslie. The intervention includes pre-academic, one-to-one intervention and Activities for Daily Living (ADL) which covers simple, practical and appropriate livelihood skills training. Socialization among her peer group has helped her develop her self-confidence.

Their smiles reflect the compassionate love of God for all people without distinction.

Every year, the center organizes a Youth Summer Camp. It is the one time of the year that Leslie experiences psychological and emotional security. During this event, some young people volunteer to accompany our students. They accompany our students and show them care and appreciation for their gifts and talents. Our students feel that they are loved, appreciated and have a sense of empowerment.

Their smiles reflect the compassionate love of God for all people without distinction. At present, the center is serving 125 children and young adults with disabilities. They receive physiotherapy and other rehabilitation services. Their smiles reflect the compassionate love of God for all people without distinction. Sr. Cecilia says, “Our call and challenge is to love them as they are and to act according to what is appropriate.”

Over the years the center has served more than 1,000 children and young adults who suffer from autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, club foot, cleft palate, hearing impairments and intellectual disabilities. Thanks to the programs at the center, some participants have been able to find work in the local community. Sr. Sophia, who manages the livelihood skills training program says, “With faith and trust in God, we are very grateful that we can continue to offer these services. Thank you, God, for choosing and giving us the privilege to love, cherish and journey with these students. God is indeed good!”

Columban Missionary Sr. Cecilia Cuizon is the Director of the Hope Special Education Center in Ozamiz, the Philippines.