A journey to a thousand miles may not necessarily just start with the proverbial one step, but with a strong supportive touch from a loved one, like a parent or a mentor. Maribeth was a young girl when she first took to the art brush in elementary school; throughout the initial stumbling efforts, she was encouraged by her teachers. Wackie loved the colors of paint and was always eager to bring to creative life the people and places around him. And, as with all young artists, when the vision was not forthcoming on the canvas, his mother would gently prod him to believe in himself. Juan used to be impatient with his own paintings, withdrawing when he did not the results he wanted. This time, it was a father, Gavin, who showed him what he had done, and what he could still do.
Maribeth, Wackie, and Juan are all artists now. Their oil portraits of animals, Mother Nature, and happy families continue to capture the sight — and the patronage — of the art lovers and the curious public who see them. Maribeth has become a breadwinner through her paintings. What makes their achievements all the more impressive is that all three artists are Persons with Disabilities. Maribeth is deaf, and both Wackie and Juan have been diagnosed with autism.
Their artistic capabilities are solid, first-hand evidence that supports the current advocacy of Southstar Drug (SSD) to “drop the prefix” as far as Persons with Disabilities are concerned. As SSD General Manager Christine Tueres describes this campaign, “It is time to remove the prefix ‘dis—’ and focus on the abilities.”
Established in partnership with the Project Inclusion Network (PIN), the “Drop the Prefix” campaign aptly and eloquently makes its case right before Christmas. Maribeth, Juan, and Wackie are a few of the Persons with Disabilities who have found a new calling and new life as artists. PIN spotted their talents in that area, trained and nurtured them, and supported their development. As the year ends, their artworks will be made available to the public as illustrations for calendars and bags. Gift-givers looking for holiday giveaways can find and buy them from SSD branches all over the Philippines.
Every peso that is earned through that avenue will go into the pockets of the Persons with Disabilities. Maribeth could not be happier. As she said in Filipino in sign language, “I am grateful for this opportunity. The money I make pays for household expenses like the electric bills. Doing artwork that people love and are willing to pay for shows that I can help my family and fulfill their needs.” Maribeth has not forgotten the teacher who first inspired her to paint. She exhorts her peers, “To other Persons with Disabilities who want to become productive, it can be done. Just go through the training your circle of support gives you. Do the hard work— and follow your teacher.”
Wackie’s exposure to the art came through his mother who started taking him to various activities that she thought he might enjoy. Sports and play were on the list, but it was art that captured the attention and devotion of the autistic boy. During the past two years that Wackie has been growing his skills, his attention span has become longer and more focused. Patience also replaced frustration as he succeeded in drawing and fleshing out the images of his favorite animals. His mother said that Wackie’s journey is just beginning. “He’s still enjoying the art and discovering his forte. Because he’s using his gifts, my son realizes that he can function in and contribute to society, instead of becoming a ‘burden’ to it.”
Gavin de Guzman, Juan’s father, would certainly agree. His 25-year-old son may have become adept in naturalistic painting, but other gifts had come out as well. The autistic artist has been certified as an animator. Gavin discloses that Juan at one time was an employee in a corporate setting, and hints that, given the right opportunity, he can be employed as one again. But for now, Juan is focused singularly on his art, which is something he clearly loves. Gavin shares to other parents of Persons with Disabilities that their own children can discover their own unique path and find fulfillment in it. He tells them, “Take time to see what your Persons with Disability child really likes to do. It can be art or it can be something different, like cooking. But discover his or her talent, encourage it, and stay with your child as he or she masters it. You will be surprised at the results!”
For the coming Christmas season, Southstar Drug branches are selling bags that have been designed by selected artists with disability that are part of Project Inclusion Network’s pool. The artworks will also be produced as desk and wall calendars as giveaways this Christmas. These uniquely designed bags are produced by Persons with Disability through Goodwill Industries of the Philippines, a civic organization whose main purpose is to provide “skill empowerment” to Persons with Disability so they will be able to reach their full potential as individuals and as contributing members of society. This is also in line with SSD’s mission, and so Goodwill is the perfect partner for this campaign.
With the Drop the Prefix campaign, Southstar Drug, Project Inclusion Network and Goodwill Industries have joined forces to help create a space for Persons with Disability to realize their potential, earn a living, and enhance their skills by providing them with educational opportunities. These organizations are partners and advocates in educating people in treating Persons with Disability with the respect, dignity, and care that they deserve.