Trees and houses blurred to green and brown.
Lean and thirsty for speed, 42-year-old Angelito Donaldo Roxas (also known as Kuya Boy) was zooming on a motorbike across Laguna province one sultry day in March 2008. He was on his annual pilgrimage to the Kamay ni Hesus (Hand of Jesus) shrine in Lucban.
Suddenly he felt he needed to pee. So he thought of stopping by the next gasoline station.
But before he could reach it, the left side of his body lost all sense of feeling. He couldn’t move it. Kuya Boy panicked. His heart was beating fast, his mind reeling. But knew he wouldn’t be able to stop without getting an injury. So he considered colliding to a soft object to avoid a worse way to crash. The speedometer indicated he was fast – there’s a tricycle on the roadside – it must be the least dangerous object to collide on – CRASH!
Now 49, Kuya Boy looks back to that day that could have been his last.
“My heart stopped beating – three times!” he says, recalling his family’s tales from the emergency room. “That’s why I asked God what it was that he wanted me to do…why he still kept me alive.”
A year after he became paralyzed, his question was answered. In 2009, Kuya Boy was invited to become part of the pioneering federation of persons with disabilities associations in his native Baras, Rizal. He was appointed as secretary. It was at this point that Kuya Boy understood that his second life would be dedicated to helping people with disabilities to attain justice, exercising their basic rights as human beings.
“When I became paralyzed, I realized there are people who are weak, whose rights have to be more vigorously asserted,” he says.
The devastation that tropical storm Ondoy (Ketsana) wrought in September 2009 also bolstered Kuya Boy’s resolve. He too was a victim of the freak storm, but he knew other people with disabilities in Baras suffered more – perhaps even died – because a disability-inclusive disaster management was still lacking then.
It was no surprise, then, that in 2010 Kuya Boy was elected to become the first president of the Baras Federation of Persons with Disabilities Associations, Inc. (BFPWDAI). He has since poured all this strength and mind to the task of supporting people with disabilities in the best way he could. He met various obstacles, including insufficient capacity for organizational development, advocacy, and other competencies to push the federation forward.
And then came the REBUILD Project in 2012. Working as collaborators to facilitate access of people with disabilities (and other vulnerable groups) to basic social services and livelihoods – as well as to make organizations of people with disabilities significant in local policy-making – Kuya Boy and the Project worked on laying the groundwork in the first few months. They conducted seminars and focus group sessions to gather preliminary data. They burned midnight candles to live up to the mission of Kuya Boy’s second take on life.
Today, says Kuya Boy, the BFPWDAI has already achieved significant improvement in promoting disability rights in Baras. Thanks to the REBUILD Project’s constant support through seminars and workshops, the federation now has considerable influence even in local government. The Municipality of Baras has formally recognized the federation and has heeded their call for a more accessible municipal hall. (Recently the town hall’s entrance ramp was renovated better to adhere to current standards of accessibility.) The group has also embarked on a continuous awareness campaign around town.
According to Kuya Boy, the biggest difference he sees between Baras before the REBUILD Project came and Baras today is the level of awareness that even remote communities have regarding disability. He also notes that in 2009 only about 360 people with disabilities registered as such in the federation, but today almost 700 are already due to be given ID cards as persons with disabilities.
Truly, life’s great mysteries – such as accident and illness – can only be unraveled when taking the “big picture.” People with disabilities in Baras should be thankful Kuya Boy leapt from feeling sorry for his personal ‘tragedy’ to fulfilling a mission of advancing the rights and welfare of his townspeople, particularly persons with disabilities like himself.
Originally published in the REBUILD Project Newsletter
The REBUILD Project is implemented with financial support from