“It’s the repetition of affirmations that leads to believe. And once that belief becomes a deep conviction, things begin to happen.” – Muhammad Ali
These words of legendary boxer Muhammad Ali became even more relevant as we endeavored to share our thoughts on inclusion to the children of Castellano, a remote village of Calatrava, Negros Occidental, Philippines. It was initially a challenge primarily rooted in two questions: How do we effectively drive the point of inclusion home to more than a hundred six to ten-year-old children? Will they be able to appreciate the beauty of an inclusive society even at the face of other concerns such as poverty and lack of resources that continue to abound in their community?
In order to address the first question, we made sure that we had the right strategy. We decided to do a storytelling session with the children. We chose a story that they could relate to, a storyline that was familiar to them. Since Castellano is a farming community, we selected a story about a chicken who did not have the ability to crow but because of a supportive and affirming family and group of friends, he found a way to overcome such a situation. We then connected that story to children who may be considered “different”, children who are said to have “special needs.” In our consequent discussion, we talked about what the chicken needed to find the strength to overcome. Judging from the answers of the children, they truly got the whole point of the story. A supportive, affirming society that does not exclude those who are “different” or those who have “special needs” can inspire people to overcome whatever difficulty and, in extension, disability. That is what inclusion is all about — providing a safe environment so that all children, including those with disabilities, can be respected and appreciated as valuable members of the community.
The second came more of a surprise. While the outcome of the first question was something we could more or less predict, the second one really had to come from the children. We asked the children to draw how they imagined an inclusive society to be. The responses were truly touching because they were reflections of inclusion based on their personal context. There were drawings of kids helping other children read and write in rundown classrooms. There were illustrations of children fetching water from the river and delivering them to the homes of children who did not have the ability to fetch water for themselves. There were pictures of children with smiles on their faces while they were pushing other children on wheelchairs; of children, both regular and with disabilities, side-by-side cleaning a jeepney, a popular means of public transportation unique to the Philippines; of children, both regular and with disabilities, reading a book together and sharing a meal. In their simple art works, they showed the beauty of inclusion, that poverty is not a hindrance to be kind and accepting of others whether society brands them as different or not.
It was a meaningful day spent with the children of Calatrava. It is my hope that they and their families will continue to share in our belief that inclusion can be possible across communities and cultures so that, as Muhammad Ali said, “…once that belief becomes a deep conviction, things begin to happen.”