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ALYANA in Iligan City, Lanao

THE POWER OF COLLABORATION (Full version)

by
Vincent S. Soriano
Lead Organizer
Autism Awareness Project In Iligan City

I not only use all the brains I have, but all I can borrow.
– Woodrow Wilson

For the first time Autism Society Philippines – Iligan City Chapter, Societas Fidei, Inc. –Center For The Education of Children With Special Needs, and Kiwanis International –Kiwanis Club of Iligan Bay collaborated and initiated an autism awareness campaign last October 3-5, 2008 in the City of Iligan seizing opportunity to educate the public about autism and issues within the autism community.

One of the highlights was the staging of Alyana – A Study of Autism in the Philippines. Introduced as the Philippines’ first feature-length digital documentary film on autism, Alyana captured the hearts of almost a total of 2,700 audiences set in different venues and viewing time slots. Alyana was well received and highly appreciated as students and their respective school heads and instructors from the High School and Education Departments of Iligan Capitol College; Nursing, Education, and Psychology Departments of St. Michael’s College; Nursing and Special Education Departments of Iligan Medical Center College; Nursing Departments of Mindanao State University – Iligan Institute of Technology, and Mindanao Sanitarium & Hospital College respectively, flocked and flooded their schools’ auditoriums and social halls.

Iligan Medical Center CollegeA special screening of Alyana held at the Elena Tower Inn was also organized and intended for a set of viewers not part of the pre-arranged school-based film showing that includes parents, sponsors, donors and invited guests. This served as the culminating activity of the 3-day special event. The function room was filled with a mixed group of medical practitioners, regular and special educators, physical and occupational therapists, religious and lay people, business owners, corporate executives, professionals of varying fields, parents, students, and other interested people.

Everyone cheerfully welcomed the guests from the National Office of Autism Society Philippines. The entourage came all the way from Manila and was headed by their bubbly and energetic President, Ms. Erlinda Koe better known as Dang. Together with her was Mr. Ranil Sorongon, the Executive Director; Ms. Evelyn Go, the Treasurer; and Ms. Miranamedina who is the film maker and the intellect behind the success of Alyana.

Before each start of the film showing, Miranamedina welcomed everyone and provided a brief introduction and on what to expect from a film of documentary in nature. She likewise shared a bit of history on how she got interested on autism, the idea of putting all the necessary ingredients into one film, and the challenges she faced and conquered during filming. She cautioned the audience to really pay attention and for an hour and a half encouraged them to set an atmosphere of silence and respect to better understand and get a clearer picture on the message of the film documentary.

As the film begun to roll, all geared up front on the screen as they cooperated and patiently studied the vast information about autism, its possible symptoms, implications, and the importance of appropriate intervention unfolded right before their eyes.

A mixed-feeling of emotions among the viewers emerged after having witnessed the plight and struggle of persons with autism, and their families, the different accounts of experts and perspectives in the field of medical profession, special education, and other related institutions such as schools and special services both from the private and public sectors. For some students they just smiled and kept mum about what they have seen and heard.

Perhaps with the sensitivity of such information they have received others left with startling faces and seemed shocked and distressed. But there were students, instructors, and parents who were able to relate and shared their experiences with children, relatives, friends and even patients diagnosed or suspected with autism. Keen participants raised certain questions especially on how to address the needs of persons with autism and how to help their families.

The guests from the ASP National Office also took part in answering and sharing key points from the film, the current activities of ASP and other related issues as they mingled with the viewers. Generally, Alyana served as an eye opener to the reality that people with autism exist and that they share the same enviroment with other people around them.

At the special film screening, all guests were treated with a special dinner and the evening was also filled with a lot of sharing, exchange of ideas, rallying concerns, and chunks of information on children with autism and their families. Another highlight was the induction of the new set of officers of ASP – Iligan City Chapter for the period 2008-2009. It was a very significant moment for the chapter as no other than Ms. Dang Koe formally inducted the officers and introduced them to the crowd. Inducted were Miguel Lasala III, Chapter President; Judy Manginsay, Vice President; Ma. Antonia Lasala, Secretary; Emelyn Orong, Treasurer; Emma Concepcion Soriano, Auditor; and Lea Alagar, PIO. Guests also got a time to be oriented with the current thrusts and mission of ASP as students, parents, professionals, and institutions were highly encouraged to become members and rally behind the cause of ASP. Membership forms were distributed and some have signed up at that very instant.

Equally important was the seminar on TEACCH (Treatment and Education of Autistic and Related Communication-Handicapped Children) and was presented at Elena Tower Inn prior to the special screening of Alyana. Ms. Dang Koe was the guest speaker and everyone was delighted to see her. For three hours the venue was packed with about 150 participants composed of parents, educators, therapists, medical practitioners, and students as everyone got a dose with structured teaching as an effective teaching strategy for children with autism and related Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDD). With her organized presentation and real-life examples the participants were also introduced on the basic applications, at home and in school, of physical structure, schedules, work systems, and task organization. Keen participants also shared their thoughts and experiences and some even enthusiastic in implementing the strategies in their own homes on their children. For her part, Ms. Dang thanked the audience for their attentiveness and active participation in the discussions and that she was given the opportunity to be able to share her time, expertise and experiences especially on how she was able to facilitate structured teaching at home for her son with autism.

A night of dinner and fellowship among the organizers with their respective team members and the guests from Manila was organized as a way of getting to know each other and foster group cohesiveness. The brief introduction and sharing moments proved very beneficial and inspiring because all were able to reveal something about the self and share positive and challenging experiences with children with special needs. The guests’ stay in Iligan would not be complete without the tour to some of the beautiful and exotic spots like the majestic Ma. Cristina Falls and the treaky trail towards Tinago Falls.

MM in front of Maria Cristina Falls

MM in front of Maria Cristina Falls

With a short span of time, they were also able to spend some time touring the city, got a taste of locally produced products, a fit of custom-crafted Muslim get-ups and accessories, and most importantly experienced seeing the peaceful co-existence of and mutual respect among Christians and Muslims in business, education, religious life and civic culture.

The 3-day autism awareness campaign ended with high hopes and a growth mindset that through increased awareness of autism, early intervention and appropriate treatments, people with autism will lead fuller, more complete lives.

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