The Autism Society Philippines (ASP) is a national, non-profit organization dedicated to the well-being of persons with autism spectrum disorder. The ASP has been in the forefront of providing services and training to families living with autism.

31 May 2013

My Brunei Experience




By Thara Marie Santiago, Adolescent with Autism

It was April 25, 2013 at 11:40pm when Charlene Danica Escasinas and I, Thara Marie Santiago, better known as ASP Dream Girls, together with my mom, Geeta Santiago, Danica's mom, Christine Escasinas, my Personal Assistant, Estirlina Andres, and some members of ASP’s Board of Trustees boarded Cebu Pacific flight 4J409 for Brunei Darussalam.  Danica and I were given a remarkable opportunity to represent the Philippines to the 1st ASEAN Autism Youth Camp! The feeling was indescribable as we boarded the plane and headed to a country far different from our customs and traditions. Upon arrival, we were met by Mr. Kamal, vice president of SMARTER Brunei,   the host of the 1st ASEAN Autism Youth camp and the 2nd ASEAN Autism Network (AAN) Congress.  We were then brought to the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization or SEAMEO Voctech Building, the venue for the accommodations of representatives from different countries such as the Philippines, Myanmar, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Laos and Vietnam.

By 2pm, we were on our way to Berakas Reserve Forest, the venue of the youth camp.  We were warmly met by Teacher Loraine, a Filipino special education teacher in Brunei. She was assigned to take care of the Philippine delegation.  Danica and I headed to our chalet, a nipa hut like house but made of wood.  Teacher Loraine explained that the chalet represented the beautiful Philippines so we had to decorate the place as to how we wanted others see our country. We had to do our best since it was a contest! Danika started doing a poster portraying the following trademarks of the Philippines namely: Tamarraw, coconut trees, nipa hut, shells, pearls, Sampaguita flower and our famous mango fruit.  A heart was drawn also to relay the message of our deep love for our country.  On my end, Teacher Loraine helped me in cutting out “triangles” of different colors and stuck these to a rope to show people we were in a fiesta! To add to the festive atmosphere, we made curtains out of abaca ropes and 20 peso bills. My mom also thought of using Philippine coins and 20 peso bills so we gathered these together with plastics and ropes. Viola! We had a flag! The flag of the Philippines was so unique that everyone was so amazed with our creativity!  At 7pm, delegates from the conference came to visit and view all the chalets. People were impressed with the extensive explanations Danica and I gave to all their questions in relation to our decorations, traditions, and culture. It was so fun to talk to the judges and all the people who visited our chalet.  It was interesting too to learn about the other countries, their traditions and culture as seen on their respective chalets. The most awaited part of the camp was the talent show wherein each ASEAN country was called to give a presentation.  Danica and I gave our best when we sang "Imagine" by John Lenon and “Angels Brought Me Here”.  Everyone was listening intently and at the end of our performance, we were very much applauded for our stellar rendition of the two songs! Humility aside but everyone was very impressed and amazed with our perfect tune and combination.

With our outstanding performance, our fellow campers and the audience could not believe that both Danica and I have autism.  As a result, we bagged the “Best in Talent" as well as the “Best Chalet " awards!  It only proved that our condition has not been a hindrance in developing and honing our talents and skills in music and art!  And showcasing our talent did not stop here because during the Gala Night of the 2nd AAN Conference, Danica and I confidently and proudly sang in front of approximately 1,000 participants.  My mom and Tita Christine reminded us to leave a mark that persons with disability could make a difference. If we have been able to inspire and give hope to our country then we could leave that mark in Brunei.  It was heartwarming to see the audience, including the waiters and waitresses, enjoying every number we delivered! As we sang, we saw people dancing and singing, and at the same time, crying because the people were very touched and amazed with our talent despite our condition. They definitely saw our ability more than our disability!

Danica and I felt that we made our fellow Filipinos and our country proud because we were able to give HOPE to a multitude of people with disabilities and their families through our talents.  Truly, our Brunei experience made a mark that would forever live in the memories of those who witness our disABILITY in the camp and in the congress!


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