Through the Eyes of the Child

By  Deacon Erl Dylan J. Tabaco

Newly ordained Deacon Erl Dylan J. Tabaco with Bishop Honesto F. Ongtioco of Cubao

The author became a permanent member of the Missionary Society of St Columban on 29 April and was ordained deacon by Bishop Honesto F. Ongtioco of Cubao the following day in the chapel of the Columban House of Studies, Cubao, Quezon City.  He spent two years, 2014 – 2016, in Peru on his First Mission Assignment (FMA), part of his preparation to be a Columban missionary priest. He is from Holy Rosary Parish, Agusan, Cagayan de Oro City. He is a regular contributor to Here he tells us of his experience in Manuel Duato School for Special Education from March to December 2015.

One of my most memorable experiences in Peru was my ministry in Manuel Duato School for Special Education, which serves young persons with special needs. It was founded on 16 July 1976 by Fr Austin Garvey, an Associate Priest of the Columbans from the Archdiocese of Westminster, England, and Columban Sister Elizabeth Doyle.

The school is located in Los Olivos, Lima, and has 500 students, mostly from poor families. Columban Fr Edward O’Connell, from England, supervises the ministries in the school. With the help of local government it provides integral formation for students with different needs such as learning disabilities and profound deafness. Parents are also involved.

39th Anniversary of Manuel Duato School, 2015

After months of studying Spanish and observing different Columban ministries I chose to get involved in Manuel Duato, in addition to my work in Our Lady of the Mission Parish where I was assigned and where Fr Edward O’Connell is parish priest, and started there in March 2015. I worked on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursday with profoundly deaf children, something I was familiar with since I had been involved in ministry with the Deaf for nearly seven years in my home Parish of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary, Agusan, Cagayan de Oro City, before entering the seminary. So being with profoundly deaf children in Lima would be like encountering persons very dear to me, I thought. And I was excited at being able to use again the Sign Language I had learned in the Philippines.

However, I realized as I introduced myself to the children on my first day in Manuel Duato that they didn’t understand my Sign Language. I lost my nerve and didn’t know what to do. I had thought that there was a universal Sign Language. But their teacher, Ms Guadalupe ‘Lupe’ Jara, who is profoundly deaf, could lip-read and knew what I was saying. She helped me compose myself.

L to R: Ma’am Yolanda, hearing co-teacher, Erl, Ma’am Lupe, deaf teacher

Learning Spanish and Sign Language at the same time drove me crazy. I had to construct my sentences in Spanish first before translating them into Peruvian Sign language. At times I got upset with myself and began to push myself too much. But I learned that there is no shortcut in anything. The reassuring presence of Ma’am Guadalupe gave me the energy to learn a new Sign Language. She told me that in learning the language of the deaf, one has to experience deafness for oneself. We can only appreciate the world of the Deaf if we allow ourselves to be ‘deaf’ in the sense of being in communion with them. Her years of experience had taught her to be in solidarity with her students and her advice inspired me. She even told me to allow the children to teach me and that I would be surprised at how well they could teach.

I enjoyed learning new things from the children. If things started to become mundane, I would recall what Ma’am Lupe said about ministry – that it is not about accomplishing things but rather learning the value of everything that you do. I entered into the world of the Deaf, which made me appreciate the values that they were imparting to me. Their joy was contagious. I realized that teaching is not only about reading, arithmetic, arts, and writing but also about inculcating the values behind the things that you do.

Erl with youngsters in Peru

Time flew very fast and I enjoyed every moment with the Deaf, who have a very special place in my heart. Through the Deaf in my home parish I found my vocation. I learned from the Deaf in the Philippines and in Peru how to stick with the non-negotiables in life such as love, joy and solidarity. My whole experience with them reflects these three essentials elements of Christian life.

I spent Mondays at Manuel Duato School with another group, those who had Down Syndrome, cerebral palsy and multiple disabilities. These were adults, most of them older and bigger than me. They called themselves Club de Amigos. My ministry with them was basically companionship since their teachers were psychologists and occupational therapists. At Manuel Duarto School they learned basic social skills and how to do routine tasks such as eating by themselves, washing their own utensils and taking care of school property.

Erl with deaf students

On occasion some of the Amigos would have a meltdown and it took much effort and experience to calm them down. I was not really prepared to handle this but learned from others how to deal with certain situations. Of all the ministries I have been involved with as a seminarian this was the most challenging and yet very fulfilling. Every time I accompanied the Amigos in manual exercises I felt like one of them. I have my own weaknesses and need the help of others. I saw in their vulnerability my responsibility to help make this world worth living in. I also realized how privileged I was. When I saw them smiling and laughing the joy within me was overflowing. I learned to laugh even when I didn’t see the humor in their jokes.

As with the deaf children, the joy of the Amigos was contagious and every day was a celebration of life. They allowed me to leave my comfort zone. When problems overwhelm me I tend to forget to appreciate the present moment. Looking at them gave me the impression that they had no idea of what their past was or future would be. They lived in the present moment by being grateful for everything they had. They reminded me to be grateful for what the present moment has to offer and taught me many valuable lessons about life that I will always carry with me.

After one year in Peru I was no longer the same person who had left the Philippines. The two different ministries at Manuel Duato School prepared me to be a person with and for others. My experience there helped me appreciate the ‘inner child’ through which we learn the basics in life such as love, joy and solidarity. It was the innocence of the child that really captured my attention. Jesus said, ‘Unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven’ (Matthew 18:3).

I believe that my ministry with these two special groups in Manuel Duato School prepared me for something great in the future. I wish I could have spent more time with them but my mission in Peru had to end. By retelling this story ‘My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord’ (Luke 1:46) for it is God who sent me to Peru not only to do my mission but also to learn its value. Being missionary is more than being about accomplishing many things. It is a vocation. When you love what you are doing because the people whom you are ministering with have instilled in you the value of your ministry your work becomes a vocation. Therefore I would say that ‘through the eyes of the child’ I found where my vocation is, which is to love and serve the Lord in everything.

Feels Like Home – Manuel Duato Project

St Christopher’s Primary School in Airport West, Melbourne, Australia, has a connection with Manuel Duato School and this video is one result of that. You may read about that connection here.