In the Philippines and much of the world, persons with disabilities (PWDs) are unfortunately considered inferior human beings and a burden on society. Disabled people, of which this author is one, know that this kind of ableist mentality is dangerous as it strips PWDs of rights and freedoms readily available to their able-bodied counterparts, and also deprives society as a whole of members who can actively contribute to its growth. This is something Richard Arceno knows all too well.
Arceno is the former Sectoral Representative of Persons with Disabilities of the National Anti-poverty Commission (NAPC), former country director of UK-based NGO Muslim Aid International, and the founder of the Bigay Buhay Multipurpose Cooperative (BBMC), which is housed in the Livelihood Education and Rehabilitation Center (LERC) in Caloocan City, near the border of Bulacan.
He was born with congenital deformity. He wanted to be a teacher, but quit after three years to focus on community development. BBMC employs PWDs as workers, building desk chairs for public and private schools and engaging in bag and t-shirt production, among others. Their sources of income dried up during the pandemic, forcing them to pivot to urban agriculture.
From a place of fear to one of hope
LERC is housed in what was formerly a malaria center during World War II. Abandoned after the war, Arceno requested from then president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2003 that it be assigned to BBMC. She agreed. The building’s name was changed to the LERC. Arceno lists three important elements in the empowerment of a PWD: education, livelihood, and rehabilitation. The Center offers all three. There is an inclusive early-childhood education and a technical vocational program for learners, as well as a rehabilitation program that includes doctor consultations and physical and occupational therapy, which are important for PWDs to thrive.
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