By SYRAH VIVIEN J. INOCENCIO and LORRAINE B. LAZARO
BEYOND the pristine and lovely neighborhood of Blue Ridge B, Quezon City is a sanctuary for life-changing miracles: Maria Lena Buhay Memorial Foundation Inc., the country’s first oral school for the deaf.
Every day, the foundation’s cherished schoolchildren with bright smiles and big ambitions are given a chance to experience the world better through a rekindling of their God-given gifts. Each day is another opportunity to maximize their potentials through the caring efforts of motivators who believe in and never give up on them.
Heading the school is a teacher and a mother who embraces each child with love. Leticia Buhay talks with the students while noticeably pronouncing every single word correctly. Whenever one child is unable to respond, the understanding mentor would smile and patiently repeat what she said in order to be understood.
Leticia wakes up every day in anticipation to meet with the children who seek her genuine care and love. Instead of just thinking about herself, she tries to ease other families’ plights by blessing them with her gift: giving a voice to the voiceless.
The foundation offers speech therapy to tend to the needs of the children. Through oral exercises, the kids slowly begin to manage minute utterances. Just like a bird watching her chicks fly, Leticia relishes in the sight of a child given an opportunity to grow and become the person he or she wishes to be.
Her smile exudes patience and compassion that speaks louder than words. For more than three decades, Leticia has been running the foundation that has given a lot of deaf children a chance to talk and be heard. This is all thanks to her fascination with speech and love for children, specifically her late daughter, Lenlen.
Honoring Maria Lena
With a smile on her face, the caring mother’s eyes followed the students who reminded her of Maria Lena or Lenlen, who also had an encompassing love for deaf children.
“She would go with me every time I see my patients here. We converted this into a small room first before the school. I would bring her with me because she was so interested in my work,” Leticia shares.
Teacher Mom, as she is fondly called, remembers her daughter wanting to take up a speech therapy program after bagging a psychology degree, but in April 1986, tragedy struck the family when Lenlen succumbed to leukemia.
“It became more meaningful that we open a school in her memory,” she says, reminiscing how her daughter would tell her about her hopes of opening her own school for the deaf and hard of hearing.
Leticia went inside her office and walked across a wall full of books that were donated during their annual garage sale to help with the expenses of the foundation. Also on the wall, besides posters of numbers and the alphabet, are the certificates she had accumulated throughout her career.
The young Leticia was always so mesmerized by the power of speech that she took up a master’s degree in English at the University and pursued further studies abroad after finishing philosophy. She then came back to the country and immediately grabbed the teaching position for public speaking at then Faculty of Philosophy and Letters.
Nostalgia caused Teacher Mom to grab an album full of mementos. She shared the story of the foundation’s birth with the staff. Leticia flips a page and sees photos of her patients who pushed her to establish an oral school, alongside Lenlen who was her inspiration.
“I said, ‘I have been teaching for 28 years or so. I have helped a lot of students so it’s time naman to help those who have less in life like the hearing impaired’,” she recalls.
The staff were awestruck. They realized that the time and effort to help their students achieve their dreams is the greatest act of love that they can do.
Teachers Manet Lopez and Norman Lopez have dedicated long years of service to watching the kids grow. They, too, have learned and reaped rewarding accomplishments from teaching their students.
“Minsan ‘di ba ‘yung iba hindi talaga nakapagsasalita. Dapat patient ka kasi talagang paulit-ulit ‘yung mga sasabihin mo sa kanila,” Teacher Manet says. “Tapos ‘yung mga batang ito, visual din sila sa lip-reading. Overall, patience talaga.”
“Mas madaling magturo doon sa regular school. Siyempre, [ang] perception ng tao, bingi sila. Challenge ‘yung maturuan sila. Kung ‘yung hearing ‘yung naturuan mo at natuto, masaya ka, pero what more kung sa hearing-impaired? Iba ‘yung feeling,” Teacher Norman also shares.
Listening through the heart
With the advocacy to help children who are deaf or hard of hearing, Leticia has proven that, with the burning desire to help these children, nothing is impossible to those who believe.
“It is something that money can’t pay [for]. It is something different that it is so very satisfying that no amount of money can pay [for] what you feel. I suppose I was meant for that: to help people with deficiency,” she expresses.
The 86-year-old speech teacher has offered all her life for the foundation and, despite the fact that her health is waning, she still goes on with her day and watches these children’s journeys to a well-lived life.
Seeing the children speak and live colorful lives is something that the foundation and Leticia is proud of. This work has helped her realize her purpose in life.
“It changed me in a way that I’m not thinking about myself anymore. I’m thinking about helping people,” she shares. “We believe that, given the time, they will be able to do what we can do and be welcome in our talking world.” F
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in Vol. 54, Issue No. 3 of the Flame. View the entire issue through this link: https://issuu.com/abtheflame/docs/pages_-_the_flame_issue_3