Baras Persons with Disabilities Affairs Office (PDAO) focal person Leah Mercado has a contagious joy.
The 43-year-old former teacher always finds something to chuckle about – even if you’re discussing serious topics such as her plans for the PDAO in Baras.
“My name spells out my priorities,” she says. “Livelihood, Education, Advocacy, Health!”
Cheerfulness has served Leah well. This is especially true in her early years of service to the disability sector, where one could immediately see various injustices done to people with disabilities.
A year after glaucoma destroyed her sight in 1996, Leah joined the Philippine Blind Union and helped the group in every way she could. She also volunteered in a Community-Based Rehabilitation organization and soon became its treasurer. In 1999 she pursued a yearlong course in massage therapy and baking. And within 10 years, she was elected president of her barangay’s organization for people with disabilities. She also spent a term serving as a barangay councilor.
Today, in Baras, Leah has more reasons to rejoice. As PDAO focal person since January 2013, she has observed the partnership between the Municipality of Baras and the Baras Federation of Persons with Disabilities Associations Inc. (BFPWDAI) grow and gain strength. She witnessed how Handicap International’s REBUILD Project has empowered people with disabilities in Baras, including herself.
“Through REBUILD, I was able to go places to attend various trainings on disabilities,” she says. “We talked in flag ceremonies to express our rights, and the people of Baras became aware that people with disabilities also have rights.”
The REBUILD Project is a livelihoods and inclusive local development project funded by the European Union and Swiss Solidarity. Launched in 2012, it supports various stakeholders — especially people with disabilities — to achieve disability-inclusion in mainstream society.
But Leah is looking forward to a more cheerful future – for herself, her son, and her fellow persons with disabilities. Among her plans is, of course, described by the acronym LEAH. She can’t be stopped. Her spirit is indomitable. Indeed she incarnates the cry of many young people: YOLO – You Only Live Once!