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.

11 February 2014

Capturing the colors of cadets

This article appeared on 10 February 2014 in the print and on-line versions of Manila Bulletin's "Angels Talk", edited by Dang U. Koe, ASP Chair Emeritus.

In the past, most children with autism were not allowed to even touch a camera for fear that they would toss or break the gadget. It never occurred to most people that photography is something they can learn and which can serve as a means of expressing their perception of the world as they see it.

The Autism Society Philippines(ASP) – Baguio Chapter, in collaboration with some of Baguio’s photography clubs and photo hobbyists, conducted 2014 Colors of ‘A’ Spectrum photo-workshop last January 26. Former Baguio City Mayor Peter Rey Bautista, a photo enthusiast who has mentored autism kids in past workshops, said, “Flowers and horses took us places with new found faces during past workshops. This year, it is with cadets in the Philippine Military Academy.”

Our Angel Talker this week is a founding member and current vice president of ASP Baguio Chapter, Belette N. Vizcocho. Belette is also the proud mother of Josef, 21, a fourth year Hotel, Resort,- and Restaurant Management student at St Louis University and happily living with autism.

Canon Ambassador John Chua conceptualized The Colors of “A” Spectrum photo-workshop with the idea that children with special needs are capable of venturing into the realm of photography. In 2009, John encouraged and influenced Ompong Tan, one of Baguio’s most distinguished and respected photographers, to conduct a workshop for children with autism and other learning difficulties. That workshop led to an SM mall exhibit in time for Autism Consciousness Week. Ompong and his photographer friends have become certified autism angels as a result of that while the project is already on its sixth consecutive year.

The cadets from the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) are more than willing to teach photography to children with autism.
ASP Baguio now awaits the opening of 2014 Colors of ‘A’ Photo Exhibit on February 13 at the Lower Basement Gallery of SM City Baguio. Participants for this year are 22 junior photographers with ages ranging from 5 to 26. Eight of them are from ASP Baguio and four are from ASP Dagupan.

Former Mayor Bautista said, “The kids have now taken the art! Onel Gundran, 17, has even won first place in the 2010 Baguio Photo Walk and in other competitions participated in by professionals and amateurs alike, while others have had exhibits in many places. That’s how good these kids are!

Through the efforts of ASP parents, Major Paolo and Jane Teodoro, the Philippine Military Academy opened its doors to the workshop, a special privilege granted by Vice Admiral Edgar L. Abogado, superintendent of the country’s premier military institution. The participants used a variety of cameras ranging from point and shoot to DSLRs, with the PMA Camera Club acting as mentors to some of the kids.

Participants and mentors from the Baguio Photographers Club, Mukha ng Baguio, La Trinidad Shutterbugs, and the Pangasinan Photographers Club, were warmly met by the PMA cadets headed by Major Concepcion Reaño, who guided and toured their special guests. Each participant – with his family, mentor, and a documenter- had the freedom to capture photos of whatever object, subject, or activity that caught his interest, from the Relics Point, the Simulation Room, to the Tree House, and every other nook and cranny within the compound.

A usual sight during the workshops would either be fast-paced shoots, with the mentor running after or alongside the child, teaching him/her the basics of photography, introducing new techniques to former participants. The newer participants had slower paced shoots, taking time to adjust to the new surroundings, new teachers, and new activities.

At mid-morning, the entire party moved to the grandstand to witness the Silent Drill at the Borromeo Field, where the cadet corps underwent outdoor inspection in ranks and marched with precision. It was a sight to behold. The kids sat still and enjoyed the impressive spectacle, taking more shots from this angle, with their mentors by their side. After the drill, more photo ops of participants with the cadet corps ensued.

Before each meal, the common practice for the cadet corps is to assemble and march into the Mess hall, providing another opportunity to take photos of the cadets in their daily routine. The group joined the cadets for lunch which was another new and special experience for the children to enjoy.

After the good meal and pleasant interaction with the cadets, it was time to move on to another exciting activity – the obstacle course situated down the stretch. Normally off limits to outsiders, some of the more adventurous kids and mentors were allowed to experience hurdling through logs at the mountain side, crawling through concrete culverts, and climbing and descending ropes, all within reach of the watchful cadets who assisted the kids and ensured safety. The rest of the group enjoyed watching the bonding of kids with the cadets in this hideaway amid the tall trees, with the refreshing scent of pines filling the air.

“Families living with autism in Baguio have gained new friends in the photographers and photo hobbyists who mentored our kids. In the past, we admired the bigwigs in photography from a distance. Now, we regard them as allies and friends on a more personal level, helping us in our advocacy of promoting better awareness, understanding, and acceptance of autism in the community. Why, even 17-year-old Ven Wanchakan now includes ‘Sir Ompong’ and former Mayor Peter Rey in his daily prayers,” shared ASP Baguio chapter president Jenny Gundran.

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