Australian Ambassador to the Philippines Bill Tweddell visited Cebu in support of the different programs for persons with disabilities (PWDs) here in the province. On July 3, 2012, he went to the Gualandi Mission for the Deaf Center, located at 5 Emerald St. St, Michael Village, Brgy. Kasambagan, Cebu City, to listen to the programs of Gualandi Volunteer Service Programme, Inc. (GVSP).
According to the event press kit, “GVSP was awarded by the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) through the Innovative Philippines Human Rights Initiatives or the Karapatan Sa Malikhaing Paraan (KASAMA) award last December 2011.”
GVSP’s Human Rights Project
After the Ambassador’s short tour in the center, GVSP’s Programme Manager John Paul Maunes discussed the “Break the Silence: A Gualandi Volunteer Service Programme project towards creating a Deaf Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Network in the Philippines.” The project seeks to toughen the advocacy against child sexual abuse and exploitation of Deaf children and women. This can be done through the help of partner organizations, hearing and Deaf volunteers and the Deaf community. These groups of people will go through a series of trainings and publicity, to be provided with the essential skills, knowledge and attitude to avoid these unfortunate events. The community will understand the behavior surrounding the abuse better. Also, they will learn how to appropriately respond to the behavior and better communicate with Deaf victims.
According to the 2005 nationwide survey conducted by the Philippine Deaf Resource Center, 65% to 70% of deaf boys and girls are being molested. GVSP addresses this issue through the help of its network of skilled volunteers who are proficient in sign language. It is affiliated with various organizations and agencies concerned with the welfare of children and women. They also have partner volunteers that facilitate child sexual abuse and exploitation prevention advocacy campaigns.
The main goal of this project is to reach out to at least 2,000 Deaf children and adults, and enlighten them on deaf advocacy and the issues of sexual abuse and exploitation. To attain this, 20 hearing and Deaf scholars will conduct effective advocacy sessions in schools for the Deaf in Central Visayas and other neighboring provinces. They make use of multimedia advocacy materials made by Deaf writers and producers.
Enhancing Skills, Access and Opportunities (ESAO) project for the Deaf
The Enhancing Skills, Access and Opportunities (ESAO) project for the Deaf is directly related to the Fully Abled Project. It is a joint endeavor of GVSP, the Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO)-Bahaginan, the Asia Foundation, and the AusAid. The program aims (1) to encourage PWDs to register and vote in the upcoming Philippine mid-term elections, (2) include Filipino sign language in regional news broadcasts and (3) provide Deaf education in Cebu City, Baguio City, Davao City, and Iloilo City.
In the afternoon of July 3, Twedell went to Mandaue City to join the voters’ education campaign for PWDs. The low turnout of PWD voters in the past elections can be attributed to the lack of accessibility and awareness.
Twedell also met with Mandaue Mayor Jonas Cortes, who has always shown support to the cause of PWDs. PWDs residing in the city receive benefits such as 20 percent hospital discounts and yearend financial assistance of Php500 that may be increased to Php1,000 this year.
VSO-Bahaginan is presently working with the ABS-CBN Regional Office and GVSP to expand the implementation of television news signing in the regional TV Patrol programs. Volunteer interpreters are undergoing capacity building and skills development workshops. They start with short-term workshops, but the project aims to provide “longer-term and holistic approach in equipping skills and capacities that will be responsive to Deaf empowerment and their right to information.”
To assess the effectiveness of TV news signing and the benefits it provides in enhancing Deaf volunteerism and participation, focus group discussions have been organized. However, to fuel long-term volunteerism and project sustainability, “major revisions in the design and engagement systems should be mainstreamed in the four cities.”
Disability-Inclusive Elections: Fully Abled Nation
The Disability –Inclusive Elections: Fully Abled Nation is a three-year program that aims to increase participation of PWDs in the 2013 Philippine midterm elections. This initiative, implemented by The Asia Foundation, is a part of the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID)’s program on Disability-Inclusive Development.TAF will collaborate with the Commission on Elections (COMELEC), the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV), disabled peoples organizations (DPOs), and other non-government organizations (NGOs) to enable PWDs to freely exercise their right to vote. The program aims to convince the COMELEC to increase access of PWDs to registration sites and polling places.
As a result of the different advocacies, the COMELEC will issue a resolution to provide more accessible venues for PWDs during the upcoming elections. They will also arrange more special registration days for PWDs.
Before becoming the Australian Ambassador to the Philippines, Bill Tweddell served as an ambassador to Vietnam, deputy high commissioner to the United Kingdom, consul-general to Hong Kong, and high commissioner to Sri Lanka. He held posts in India, Greece and Bangladesh. He was also chief of staff to Alexander Downer, the former Minister for Foreign Affairs. He is a senior career officer with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Tweddell finished Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Economics degrees at James Cook University (JCU).
A) Barangay Kasambagan, Cebu City
B) Mandaue City