One’s first visit to the idyllic municipality of Arakan can give the person an inkling that perhaps the small, mountainous town is the dead end of North Cotabato: a few more meters from the town’s poblacion, and you’ll end up in some virgin forest teeming with strange animals.
But if you ask 42-year-old Mila Barreto, it’s not so.
Referring to how high up in the mountains and far from Arakan’s town proper her home is, she says: “Just pay one more peso, and you’ll end up in heaven.”
Which leaves one in wonder at the daring and commitment of this woman who has been to 20 out of 28 barangays of the town, all in the name of promoting the welfare of her fellow persons with disabilities. Indeed her leg impairment does not prevent Barreto from serving others, sometimes even at her own expense.
From the time she became involved in the Scale Up Build Up (SUBU) Project, Barreto strove to record all persons with disabilities in the municipality, assessing their needs and giving them encouragement to shun all sense of shame about their impairments. She may not have been able to visit all barangays (because they were either too far or entailed too dangerous a trek), her accomplishment is nevertheless noteworthy. She has recorded more than 750 persons with disabilities in a span of four months.
Barreto has also become a focal person for all things “inclusive DRR” (disaster risk reduction) in Arakan. Having attended trainings on the subject with the SUBU Project, Barreto is now herself a speaker in awareness sessions. Usually her part is that of encouraging persons with disabilities to be active in asserting their rights.
Today Barreto’s goal as president of the local group of persons with disabilities is that of helping them get livelihood opportunities, while her campaign for inclusive DRRM continues with the local government units.
Definitely, with Barreto’s zeal, good things can happen and people can go far.