Her calligraphy will shame a regular person’s handwriting skills. The sense of style she pours into her work belies the fact that she was born with a condition such that her hands did not develop as they should, a disease called syndactyly.
She is otherwise any student’s ordinary teacher. Except that Kayla Erika Juanzo or simply Teacher Kay, a bubbly 27-year-old former librarian, is especially driven at making her mark on educating the youth and her determined advocacy to empower persons with disabilities.
“Ang pinakalaban ng persons with disability ay hindi actually ang society kung hindi ang kanilang mga sarili. They need to overcome themselves first, their inner bullies. Kailangan nila labanan kasi more than anything is ourselves that we need to overcome,” Teacher Kay told Palawan News.
“With the thing I’m doing now, I mean I’m trying to model the way, I want them to see na meron kaming kaya gawin, to realize na hindi hadlang ang kapansanan to be successful, to be seen, para may marating sa buhay,” she said.
A tough beginning
Teacher Kay was born with syndactyly condition that her fingers are joined or fused together. She narrates that her mother had a urinary tract infection (UTI) during the early months of her pregnancy and that she was at the same time taking antibiotics. She was also born tongue-tied, which she managed to overcome as she grew.
“Nag-take siya ng antibiotics noon kasi ang sabi hindi naman daw ako maaapektuhan, during three months, very critical iyan kasi formation ng fingers and teeth. So yong nanay ko, dahil doctor in practice and matagal na rin, veteran na sa profession, so nagtiwala. Pag-take niya, if sa name pa lang ng gamot, antibiotic, anti-life, paglabas ko ganito na ako,” she said.
What she lacked in limbs, she made up in determination. As a teacher, she does her board work using her two hands to hold the chalk. It’s the same technique she would use to write using a pen. Her deliberate strokes and fluid handwriting style is an amazing skill she learned from a young age.
“Hindi naman ako napadpad na ganito na agad. Yung challenges ng life ko, in-overcome ko rin ‘yan that’s why I’m here. At yong mga katulad ko na may kapansan, yan din ang gusto ko makita nila na kung saan man sila. Yan din ang need na ma-overcome nila to reach a certain area sa buhay nila. Hindi iyan imposible,” she said.
After finishing her degree in Bachelor of Library and Information Science at the University of Sto. Tomas (UST), she worked as an archivist with the Philippine Educational Theatre Association (PETA), then as a librarian in an international school, and as an assistant faculty member and a librarian in Ateneo de Manila University. In 2017, she decided to return to Palawan.
Advocacy to empower PWDs
It was only during the quarantine period that Teacher Kay decided to carry her advocacy through social media, by creating her account on Facebook
“Naisip ko na siya since nag-start ako mag-masters year 2013 pero wala ako makitang strategy kung paano. Until nitong nagka-pandemic, naglabasan ‘yong mga page ng mga friend ko kaya na-encourage ako na why not, doon ko simulan,” she said.
At the same time, Teacher Kay is joining a radio program, which her segment feeds learnings and trivia. She believes that what she shares on-air are also posted on her page as daily content. She said that people from all walks of life would get learnings from her page.
She even got a sponsor for her literacy program through her Teacher Kay page which is seeing rapid growth in followers.
She is also part of a literacy program of Life College and Life Church Champion Youth Philippines to be rolled out in January, which aims to help high school students who are members of the Tagbanua tribes in Puerto Princesa City.
Kayla also believes that her information literacy campaign must not be limited to her fellow PWD but should also be extended to individuals with less access to learning such as IP members.
“Nagkataon talaga na aligned siya kasi I learned this literacy project a week after ko i-launch yong Teacher Kay na Facebook page. Noong nakita ko na somehow magswa-swak, I approached our principal and nakisama na ako sa kanilang idea,” she said.
Teacher Kay said that with her advocacy, she even found herself entertaining the idea of getting into politics if only to represent the PWD community and to champion initiatives for her sector.
“I want to put up a library where persons with disabilities can also go and read doon. Kasi may mga kapansanan na di able to go to school, isa pa ‘yon sa nagbi-break ng heart ko — wala silang access to information, access to knowledge,” she said.
“Hindi na rin kami masyadong discriminated katulad sa ibang bansa pero lacking siguro sa support ng government. In fact nga sa observation ko, medyo lacking ang support ng government sa persons with disabilities. Nagkaroon ako ng desire sa heart ko or maybe it’s really God who plotted the desire in my heart na pumasok din talaga sa politics in the near future to represent our group,” she said.
She also plans to publish a book, which is her long-time dream since grade six that contains how the Lord changed her life, how she overcame her situation, and things that keep her going as someone with a disability.
Teacher Kay said that everyone must realize that each life is a gift to this world even with or without disabilities.
“Isa iyon sa mahirap tanggapin kapag may kapansanan, ang pangit na nga ng sitwasyon ko, gift pa ba ako? Hindi ba ako pabigat na lang sa mga kaibigan, sa pamilya ko? Hindi. God wants you here, you are here for a reason. That’s one thing na na-realize ko and sana marealize din ng iba pang may kapansanan na hindi tayo pabigat sa lipuan,” she said.