MUSIC TO THEIR EARS — This group of musicians (above) may look ordinary but they are all deaf.
MANILA, Philippines — After almost 25 years, Maria Lena Buhay Memorial Foundation, Inc. (MLBMFI) founder and executive director Leticia Buhay proudly says that the school’s graduates are now productive citizens of society, despite their hearing impairment.
“We have a graduate who is now an entrepreneur and owns a chain of coffee shops. Another one, who graduated as valedictorian, now teaches at a prestigious school. Another one has his own graphic design company,” Buhay shares.
This success, Mrs. Buhay says, can be attributed to the fact that they have taught their hearing-impaired students how to speak. MLBMFI is the first oral school in the country for the hearing impaired.
“We believe that every hearing impaired child has the capacity to learn how to talk. We already have proven that in our 25 years of service,” she says. “For me, it is harder to teach a class of five hearing impaired students than 40 hearing students. Mas mahirap kasi, you have to keep on repeating they only hear the word for the first time, especially the younger level. But as a speech therapist, the moment a hearing impaired utter a word, umaapaw ang aking kaligayahan. That’s what gratifies us all.”
Today, the non-profit, non-stock school has become one of the most valuable institutions in the field of special education.
MLBMFI was founded in June 1987 in honor of Mrs. Buhay’s daughter, Maria Lena or Lenlen, a Psychology student of Ateneo de Manila University who passed away due to cancer.
A speech therapist, Buhay gave in to the request of her patients’ parents to put up a school where their children could learn how to speak.
“The parents felt that since natututo na ‘yung anak nila how to speak, ayaw na nila sa sign school. Ayaw din naman nila sa regular school kasi there are 40 or so students baka mag lag behind. So they needed something special for them,” she recalls.
After planning, the school initially had 10 students and three teachers, including Mrs. Buhay. But by the end of the school year, the school already had a total of 26 students. Year after year, they added grade levels until they completed all levels from pre-school to high school. Since it was a non-profit school, they had to rely on sponsorships, donations and the tuition fees from students. Those who couldn’t GARCIAafford receive tuition subsidy.
When things became too busy and the responsibility too heavy for her, Buhay started getting sick. She was advised to close the school if she wanted to live longer.
“My children asked me to stop. But no, my commitment is there and I enjoy what I was doing. So I resigned from my job as a university professor to devote my time to these children. I was 50 then. I bargained with my children, we could open the preschool and grade school and call off the high school. Kasi the time when they reach Grade 6, nakakapagsalita na sila, many of them were mainstreamable. So lumiit na enrolment namin,” she recalls.
Today, the school caters to only 25 students from preschool to Grade 7 since they limit the number of students per level. They also accept full and partial scholarships, depending on the available sponsorship.
OPTION TO TALK
Mrs. Buhay says that one of the school’s main accomplishments is that they have shown parents of children with hearing impairment that there is another option other than just sign language.
“We made people aware that there is another option to help hearing-impaired children and not just to help them how to sign. In other words, there is an option to learn how to talk,” Mrs. Buhay explains.
She says that it is important that when a child is diagnosed with hearing impairment, he or she should immediately undergo speech therapy. The first five years of a child’s life is the most important period in speech and language acquisition.
“Normally a child at six months can already babble. But if after that period, the child has not spoken, there is a cause for alarm already. Speech is talking by ear. If the sounds do not enter your ear, if you do not hear anything, you will not be able to speak. That is why the children have hearing aids to magnify the sound. So parents can bring the child to a diagnostician for immediate intervention,” she advises.
Since MLBMFI students know how to speak they are able to communicate properly and they can do almost everything a hearing child can do. In fact, the school has its own rhythm band. A group of hearing impaired students can play different music instruments!
“We develop them holistically. We develop them socially, we bring them around town. We teach them basic skills like cooking. And they enjoy other activities like playing and listening to music,” she says.
MORE OPPORTUNITIES IN THE TALKING WORLD
Mrs. Buhay says that although the students may not speak clearly like hearing people can, the important thing is that they can be understood. One of the advantages of a speaking person with hearing impairment is gaining employment. Since they can communicate, they have bigger chances of being employed.
“If a hearing impaired person is able to talk, his chances of being employed will be greater. There are certain organizations and companies that employ hearing impaired,” she says.
“We have to accept it that this is a talking world. A great majority of us talk, only a few sign. If they are able to talk, it is easier for them to be mainstreamed and take their place, normally, in society where everybody talks. Your chances will be greater,” she says.
She admits that she doesn’t know what the future holds for them but because of her dedicated teachers and staff, she is sure that MLBMFI’s legacy will continue, even for the next 25 years.