"Stories of Deaf Benildeans and Friends as they journey forward and face challenges, fulfill commitments, enjoy adventures, celebrate triumphs and live meaningful lives for self, others and God! "

Friday, April 25, 2008

Silent Steps : Dancing Without Hearing to Standing Ovation

To the casual observer, people dance in response apparently to the sound they hear. So, arguably, if a person can’t hear, he or she couldn’t dance! It makes logical sense, right?

Wrong! At DLS-CSB, a group of dancers puts the derogatory argument on its toes. All group members are Deaf--they can’t hear the music--yet their shows attract raves wherever they perform. They have danced their way before appreciative Deaf and hearing audiences.

The group is appropriately named Silent Steps. The members first got together during the first term of 2004 at SDEAS as a group of volunteers in the Deaf Performing Arts Program of the Office of Deaf Esteem and Formation (O-DEAF). They were organized to join a dance contest called Maximum Groovity since the official dance group of CSB was not available to perform at that time. John Baliza, who was then the coordinator of student activities, coined the name “Silent Steps” for the group.

About 20 SDEAS students made it to the seminal group. O-DEAF’s Nicky Templo says, “They were an excitable bunch. They really loved to dance!” The same excitement and love for dancing remain in the current crop of Silent Steps.

But, how could the Deaf dance without hearing a thing? Myra Medrana, faculty at O-DEAF, and veteran theater artist of Teatro Silencio and Dulaang Tahimik, offers a simple technique. She plays the music on a CD player, puts her ears near the speakers and feels the vibration to imagine the dance sequences. This is no different from the process applied by Beethoven, the legendary Deaf pianist, in composing his classical masterpieces.

Myra also takes note of the running time of the music, and if the music come with a lyrics sheet, she calls on an interpreter to sign. She then watches the interpreter and proceeds to design the appropriate dance movements in time with her various cues: the speaker’s vibration, the interpreter’s sign, and the music’s running time.

Myra then gives the cues she has crafted for the Deaf dancers to follow. During a typical performance. Myra takes her place just below the stage holding a cellphone as her timekeeper while the interpreter stands beside her signing the lyrics.

This formula has worked through various incarnations of the Deaf dance ensemble. The group’s performance at their first competition, Maximum Groovity at the Ateneo de Manila University was so moving Silent Steps brought home a trophy for Special Performance. It proved to be an auspicious beginning.

Since then, Silent Steps has performed in Deaf Festivals, DLS Alumni reunion, La Salle Scholarship Campaign, twice outside the campus and other events at CSB. At present, Silent Steps is the only performing group in DLS-CSB SDEAS.

Students 2nd year and up are welcome to join the group. Many apply, but its membership has been maintained at 15 to 20 dancers during the term. “Most applicants can’t cope up with the rigorous practice,” explains Nicky. “And those who stay have to contend with ODEAF meticulously checking their academic standing during the term. A failing mark means the dancer will have to take a leave from the group and concentrate in his studies the following term. The dictum is “You are a student first, a dancer second.””

A number of former Silent Step members have moved on to join Dulaang Tahimik (Deaf theater group). O-DEAF is currently working to integrate Silent Steps into the training program of CSB’s Office of Culture and Arts.

O-DEAF makes it clear to Silent Steps members that dancing may not be the best career option for them since venues for Deaf dancers are hard to come by.

As Nicky Templo tells the dancers, “There is no venue for professional Deaf dancers. Of course, that doesn’t take away the fact that through dancing, they inspire the Deaf community. As a Silent Step, every member takes on the responsibility to advocate, to show that the Deaf can, and if they can dance, the Deaf can do other creative things just as well.”

If only for this, it can be said that Silent Steps serve a higher, more meaningful purpose.

Monday, April 14, 2008

A Story of Perseverance: EVERLINO ALVAREZ

LINO wakes up before dawn to prepare for the day's work.

It's still one o'clock in the morning but the customers will soon start arriving. Lino and his two siblings speed up the cooking of their first batch of omelet and fried rice. They sell breakfast in front of their house.

At around five o'clock, half of their almusal have been sold. By seven or eight, little is left of the morning's offering. They make almost P1,000.

Work doesn't end there; they still have to clean up and prepare for the next day's vending activities. This has become Lino's routine since they opened for business nine months ago.

Lino, whose real name is Everlino Alvarez, is 30 years old. He is the fifth of 10 children. He lives with 17 family members in a small house in Pasay City. With the day's profit, he takes only P100. The rest of the money goes to the schooling of his nieces and nephews and to the electricity and water bills of the family.

Lino's story is common to the hundreds of micro-entrepreneurs who ply the streets of Metro Manila with their instant meals. What is unique about Lino is that he is Deaf. An accident when he was seven affected his hearing.

As he began to lose his hearing, Lino had to face society's prejudice against people with disabilities. In grade 5, he was physically abused by his teacher and classmates who made fun of his disability. He eventually had to stop going to school when he became totally Deaf, forcing him to study on his own.

The taunting went on for five years but Lino took every kick, blow and mockery with patience and humility. He may have been bruised and scarred but he was determined to succeed.
When Lino's sister discovered the Philippine School for the Deaf (PSD), Lino gladly resumed his studies. As a Deaf person, Lino learned sign language and adjusted to his new community. His perseverance and hard work allowed him to graduate with honors in PSD. He eventually received a scholarship at De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde's School of Deaf Education and Applied Studies (DLS-CSB SDEAS). There he took up Bachelor in Applied Deaf Studies and specialized in Business Entrepreneurship.

Lino's father, a jeepney driver, was happy but apprehensive. He wanted Lino to pursue college but he was afraid his meager earnings would not be enough to provide for his son's food and transportation allowance. Often, Lino had to skip meals while in school just so he would have enough money for his trip home. Though his stomach may have grumbled, his list of achievements in school is full to bursting. He was a consistent Dean's Lister, a Service Awardee, a Social Responsibility Awardee and graduated with an Honorable Mention.

In March 2007, Lino applied for a micro-finance loan from the Youth Entreployment Support for the Deaf (YES-Deaf) Project, an entrepreneurial development project for the Deaf of DLS-CSB and the Deaf Benildeans Multi-purpose Cooperative (DBMC). Funded by the Philippines-Australia Community Assistance Program, Lino secured a loan of P2,500 which he paid in full two months ahead of the maturity date.

Honesty is another of Lino's many admirable qualities. While in school, he found a high-end mobile phone and promptly returned it to the owner, notwithstanding the prodding of classmates to keep the prized find for himself. It was through his hard work and budgeting skills that he now owns his own high-end phone. The cell phone is a very important tool for Deaf communication.
All these traits earned him the SDEAS' 2007 YES-Deaf Model Entrepreneur of the Year.

Now, Lino is looking for new opportunities to pour more capital in his business so he can expand it. But he knows he needs to be extra careful now that the business he once monopolized has given rise to copycats that have mushroomed near his place of business.

But given the perseverance and determination Lino has demonstrated throughout his life, he is almost certain to bring his enterprise to another level his competitors can only hope to emulate.
Everlino Alvarez' life story is a testament that though life may throw us obstacles, we have the gifts of strength and wisdom to set us free from fears, hesitations and yes, limitations.

Poverty may temporarily cripple us but it will not permanently disable the creativity of the human spirit in thinking of ways to overcome material restrictions. Society may focus on the minuses of having a disability, but it is ability that really matters.

Lino continues to prove all this and he can proudly say that "Yes, the Deaf can Go Negosyo!"