Big victories at Open Hands bazaar
MANILA, Philippines - Sunshine filtered in through the Open Hands Food and Crafts Bazaar last March 23 in Matatag St., Quezon City.
The room was crowded with tables displaying chocolate chip cookies, cupcakes, glistening jars of lemon grass tea, hand-crafted canvas bags and rainbow-colored beaded jewelry. Cartolinas in crayon-writing cheerfully listed down the price of goods.
The bazaar was small but rich with meaning. Every product on sale was crafted, cooked, stitched, painted and baked by the students of Open Hands School of Applied Arts for children with special needs.
A different kind of graduation
Stephanie Salonga, a Special Education (SPED) teacher who works at the school, says the bazaar is their version of graduation for their students.
“Instead of a ‘moving up’ a day, we decided to hold a bazaar. This adds to their experience, takes it up another notch. They did everything. They prepared the food, they did the arts and crafts, they made the bracelets and the bags, the signs. They practiced how to compute for the total and things like that.”
A bazaar for a graduation makes sense for Open Hands, a vocational school for people with autism, ADHD and mental retardation.
The founders and teachers of the school aim for one thing: to teach their students how to be independent despite—or with the help of—their special needs.
According to Steph, parents of children with special needs face the same concern.
“A parent told me before, ‘Kapag wala na ako, paano na siya? (When I am gone, what will happen to him?’). That’s why the goal for them is to not be super dependent on their relatives. Even if their relatives are helping them, they would have something they can do by themselves; something that’s income-generating because it will also give them a sense of accomplishment.”
Entrepreneurship, Steph says, is one way children with autism or mental retardation can carve a path for themselves.
That’s why at Open Hands, students are taught functional skills like Business Math, Arts and Crafts, Cooking and Baking. This summer, they hope to add Carpentry to the fun curriculum.
Rounding up the program are social skills subjects to teach students how to deal with other people, especially future customers and business partners.
But though there are set subjects, Steph says the program is tailor-fit for each student.
“We look at each of them individually so even if they’re in a class, we give them an individual program based on what they need. We look for their interests and that’s what we try to develop.”
For example, 18-year-old student Nicky is good at cooking but loves arts and crafts. The canvas bags with beaded designs of mangoes, swirls and animals are her handiwork.
Bubba, one of the male students, is a cooking whiz who was responsible for the burgers.
Steph shares that after finding out there was no Cajun sauce for the burgers, Bubba began whipping up a substitute concoction using a variety of herbs, eggs and sauces.
“When we told Bubba that we needed to make a quality-control test, we tasted it and it was so good!”
Twenty-year-old Bubba makes his own recipes and can prepare a full-course menu by himself. He makes his own grocery lists and computes for the cost. He is so good at it that his mom asks him to cater for small events.
The only skills Bubba lacks to be a professional caterer are business math skills like crunching numbers to make a profit.
“He’s happy if he makes 500 pesos!” Steph fondly recalls.
But even more amazing is Bubba’s ability to retain information. He knows every street in Metro Manila by heart and can tell you exactly where the street is located, prompting Steph to call him a “walking Google Maps.”
A passionate basketball fan, Bubba lists basketball players according to team and position. He can list down the height and weight of each player from memory and remembers scores and game statistics.
Touring me around the school, Steph also observes that her students have a wonderful knack for aesthetics. Their art works on the wall, full of color and a sense of harmony and wholeness, belie an eye for beauty that most people lack.
The young school was put up only in June 2012 by restaurateur Waya Wijangco who had previously conducted cooking classes for children with special needs when she had her restaurant, Kiss the Cook. She closed down her restaurant to devote all her time and effort to putting up Open Hands.
The school now has 13 students, with the youngest at 12 years old and the oldest at 42. Though they cater to the broad spectrum of “special needs,” their facilities cannot yet accommodate blind students or students with other kinds of disabilities.
But the building is tailor-fit for their students with a speech room reserved especially for one-on-one speech therapy sessions, an art room, a bright and cheery kitchen and a shelf of books that is the beginnings of their library.
“Even the small things are really big victories for us,” says Steph about the joys of being a teacher at Open Hands.
Everything from a student learning to keep an appropriate distance from someone they are conversing with to a student becoming more sociable is celebrated by teachers, parents and fellow students.
Back at the bazaar, I wait for one of the students to compute for my change after buying two glasses of iced lemon grass tea.
It takes a few minutes for him to compute the difference between 100 pesos and 40 pesos but he succeeds in the end, handing me 60 pesos.
All around him, his teachers and classmates cheer.
“Good job Enzo! Nice work!”
At Open Hands, no challenge is too great and no victory too small. - Rappler.com