Laurence Bernardo, or Inan to his friends, is a 19-year-old Occidental Mindoro adolescent who thinks that having a handicap is no barrier to achieving one’s goals.
He may have taken a break for a while, but achieving success remains his objective. Gender, social position, age, and, most importantly, handicap are not barriers to his seeking a better life.
Inan lives in Calintaan, Occidental Mindoro, at Sitio Kinarasyawan, Barangay Malpalon. In 2011, their family became a Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) recipient.
William, his father, works part-time as a construction worker while his mother looks after him. Each day, William brings home between P200 and P350 which would cover Inan’s daily necessities and medicines. Freddie, his brother, also assists with the family’s expenditures.
Inan was born with a backward-bending knee known as congenital genu recurvatum (CGR), a rare condition that forces him to walk like a quadruped. Inan was born with this ailment.
“Kaya po ‘yan putik-putik lagi kapag umuwi kasi sumasayad ang uniporme. Kaya ‘yung dalawang uniform n’ya, nilalabhan agad. Siya mismo naglalaba”, said her mother Laura.
Inan was featured in a 2016 television documentary. At the time, he said that other kids in his neighborhood would call him names, even dogs, carabao, cows, or monkeys.
“Minsan may nakaaway s’ya, pinagsabihan ko na bakit naman inihian pa si Laurence sa likod, sinisipa”, said Laura when asked about how other kids treated Inan.
Laura also shared about how dogs chased and barked at him. “‘Yung aso kasing dinadaanan niya pag pumupunta s’ya sa akin sa bukid, akala sa kanya aso din s’ya. Kaya tinatahulan, hinahabol pa kung minsan,” she added.
Keeping on track
After his story was featured on television, his family received financial help and support from a variety of organizations and private individuals. Efraim Tejada, their school’s administrator, sent out an appeal for help, which contributed to his medical procedure.
The Mabuhay Shiner Foundation (MSF) heeded the plea and provided funding for Inan’s P4.5 million surgery. Calintaan’s local government unit (LGU) supplied him with transportation through the Municipal Social Welfare Development Office (MSWDO), ensuring that his family would no longer have to worry about getting to and from the hospital.
After months of preparation and with the collective support from different organizations, in 2018, Inan underwent a medical operation. This will enable him to walk just like other kids.
While recovering, Inan has to stay in the hospital. This made him worry about school. Instead of dropping out, through the Pantawid Education Focal in his school, Inan was able to catch up with his lessons.
“Hindi po ako tumigil noong nasa hospital ako. Pagdating doon, binigyan ako ng module para masagutan ko ang mga pinag-aralan nila (his classmates). Para po ito makahabol ako. Binibigyan din po ako ng test,” Inan said.
However, months after the operation, even with a heavy heart, Inan has to stop school and focus on his recovery. Because of this, he was also tagged as Not Attending School (NAS) from 2018 to 2019.
But Inan’s mother Laura was concerned about how Inan worried too much about school instead of focusing on his recovery. “Matapang po si Inan. Hinarap niya ang operasyon at desidido po syang gumaling upang makabalik uli s’ya sa paaralan ng nasa normal na siyang kalagayan”.
According to Inan, with his condition, it is hard to keep up with his dream. There are days where he no longer sees school as a way to reach his goal of becoming a teacher. Not being able to attend school for a year also adds up in discouraging him to stop taking his route to success.
But the ‘cheer’ from the people who believed in him was made louder. His parents and brother showed their support to Inan.
“Pagkagaling nya sa opera ay nagplano po agad syang bumalik sa pag-aaral. Grabe ‘yung suporta ng magulang nya at kapatid kaya ibinili nila agad sya ng gamit sa paaralan. Kaya rin po siguro ang daming tumulong,” said Jonalyn D. Hitchon, Pantawid Pamilya Municipal Link.
A year after the operation, Inan went back to school as he believed that through education, a better future lies ahead of every Pantawid child – a future where opportunities are for all and poverty will no longer be inherited.
“Tatapusin ko muna ang pag-aaral ko. Kasi pag sumuko ako, nag-asawa agad ako, kawawa magiging anak ko. Gagapang din sya sa hirap. Ayokong matulad siya sa akin. Mahirap. Sayang,” he said.
With the support and encouragement from everyone, Inan was able to go back to school. He is also now getting himself used to walking and standing up through his feet without using his hands. “Minsan po nadadapa ako. Pero ano po ba ginagawa natin pag nadadapa, ‘di ba po tumatayo?”
For Inan, aside from his determination to finish school, he was able to move forward because he walked ‘extra’. The ‘extra’ is his real feet – the people who cheer and walk with him towards his goal. He believes that he is just a torch that carries inspiration to all and unites everyone.
Inan proved that indeed reaching a goal is not just for those who can walk and run but also for those who dream.