Deep inside every child’s heart is a yearning to fly.
In his mind, chasing birds and soaring to the skies are happiness beyond compare. When he plays, he wants to be the superhero with mighty wings that can make him see the world from above, and bring him to faraway places.
A group of photographers called the Photography With a Difference (PWD) recently made this dream a reality for 39 children with special needs. Through its “Reach for the Sky” project, the children were given a chance to ride a helicopter and ultra-light aircraft in Pampanga. They were escorted by the pilots from the Philippine Air Force and the Angeles City Flying Club, as well as PWD volunteers.
“Our objective is to give kids a fun day na ngayon lang nila mae-experience sa buhay nila. Hopefully, when they go back home, they’ll remember something nice that happened to them,” says PJ Enriquez, team leader of the PWD Core Group.
With the help of volunteers led by ace advertising photographer John Chua, the project has been reaching out to kids for three years now. Other partners are the Canon A Team, SM Cares, AD/HD Society of the Philippines, Autism Society of the Philippines, Down Syndrome Association of the Philippines, Inc., KYTHE Foundation, Parent Advocates for the Visually Impaired Children, Philippine Society for Orphan Disorders, Inc., and the Parent Council for the Welfare of the Hearing Impaired Children, Inc.
This year’s beneficiaries are the children from the Angeles SPED Center, Chosen Children Village Foundation Inc., and the Precious Community of San Fernando de Dilao Parish.
“It is not because they have disabilities that they can no longer achieve bigger things. That’s the message of this project, for these children to know that they could actually reach for the sky,” says Enriquez.
AWARENESS AND UNDERSTANDING
In spite of the growing awareness and understanding for persons with disabilities, Enriquez says that there are still differently abled children who continue to experience discrimination and neglect just because of the way they are. Many are also not given the proper treatment that they need.
He says that the solution for this is early intervention and a deeper awareness about their situation on the part of the people around them.
For this reason, every child was accompanied by a photographer-guide from PWD who also captured their fun moments while in flight. Their photos will be exhibited at SM malls to create awareness and encourage more people to do their share in looking after the welfare of children with special needs.
“We hope that through our photography exhibit, we can create more awareness. And if these kids are brought to organizations that can give help to them early on, they can live a normal life and achieve anything they want,” says Enriquez who also hopes that the project will be able to generate more concern and care for the differently abled.
“These kids are different from each other. Some of them have their own world so we don’t really know what they are thinking. Through this activity, we can observe and see how it affects them, and then we are able to understand them better. Therefore, this is not just for them but also a learning experience for us,” he explains.
JOY BEYOND WORDS
Vincent Cano, a child with a learning disability was at first uncertain about flying. But the unmistakable excitement in his eyes showed that even though he seemed apprehensive in riding the noisy helicopter before him, he was nevertheless, thrilled that one of his dreams would come true.
“Noong sinabi sa aming makakasama kami, sinabi ko sayang naman ‘yung opportunity. Kaya ako ‘yung nag-convince sa kanya na sumakay kahit ayaw niya. Pero sa experience na ito, nawala ‘yung takot niya,” relates Vincent’s mom, Qwinnie Cano.
When the aircraft began to take off, Vincent clung tightly to his mother. But as it went higher and higher, the noise from the rotor was overshadowed by the laughter of Vincent who started to relax and enjoy the magnificent view of Mount Arayat. He took much delight in seeing how the trees and houses looked so tiny.
Enriquez says, “Maybe at first magtataka ka kung bakit, halimbawa, ang isang batang may visual impairment ay sobrang nage-enjoy sa paglipad kahit hindi naman niya nakikita. But for those kids, nararamdaman nila yung paggalaw ng aircraft, naaamoy nila ‘yung jet fuel, at nafe-feel nila ‘yung hangin na umiihip sa kanila. Nakakatuwa because you’ll realize that they are just like any other kid. ”
One of the photographers who accompanied the children was Randolf de Leon. Though visually impaired himself, he still managed to share his talent in photography and be part of a child’s unique experience.
“Very fulfilling na kahit papaano ay nakapagpasaya ako ng bata at nakita ko na nage-enjoy siya. Doon palang masaya na rin ako because it is really a rewarding feeling. Indescribable ‘yung joy na makikita mo sa mukha nila na parang ngayon lang muli sila nakaexperience ng ganong kasiyahan. My message for these kids is to just be positive no matter what disability you have. Just enjoy life dahil minsan lang naman tayo mabubuhay so as much as possible enjoy and be thankful,” he says.