Woman polio victim shows disability is no hindrance

There were times when she has to lay still at night, fearful that one day, somebody could to get her.

Sofia Vallente, single at 49 years old, of Canlaas, Antequera, Bohol said, she is not worried of thieves.

After all, she has nothing in her house worth the fortune for a robber.

But she heard from the news and she has a fair idea what drug crazed people can do and how much the drug problem has enslaved communities.

And she has got one problem with that. If all comes down to evading an attack, she could be an easy target. She could hardly run from danger.

When she was three years old, something terrible happened.

A skin infection has turned out to be a sign of polio infection, one that could have left her immobile. A heaping dose of medications later, she was lucky she could still walk, but the limp is more than noticeable.

With it, running from danger would be a great feat, one she could hardly do.

Living alone since her parents died in 2013, Sofia has survived using her weaving skills she learned from her parents who weave baskets when they are not busy with the small farm they till.

Taught to weave since child, Sofia, whom kids her age then pick as butt of a joke, confessed she would rather sit in a corner weaving, than play with the kids who make fun of her limping.

“You know kids, they are not as tactful,” she admitted, a hint of sadness clouding her eyes.

In this environment, she grew into her teens more and more conscious that she would catch embarrassing attention and ridicule while walking alone. That, she avoids. She would rather only walk, with somebody else.

Over socializing, Sofia said she has found her love, bringing weaving materials to school so she could pick up the task during class breaks. The money she earns, she said helps the family get the much needed food on the table. She had 6 more siblings, Sofia being the 6th among seven kids.

What she could not do as much walking and doing tasks which her disability has kept her off, weaving became the love of her life.

She started with weaving decorative chalices from bamboo and nito (black vine), which then sold at a peso each.

Then she graduated to more complicated jobs until she could do the high-end rattan with buri strips weave she would call as tuhog-tuhog.

Sofia had to develop the delicate skill as a weaver, knowing that her parents could not send her to school past the secondary level.

What she couldn’t do in school, she filled with the perfection of weaving, several of her products helping Antequera respond to the filling orders which resorts and restaurants demand for their hotel and room services.

“I would rather help the family, the money I earn from sold baskets go to rice, or supplies at home.

My parents are poor farmers and they too weave when they are not busy with the farm,” Sofia who has to limp-walk from Canlaas, some 8 kilometers away from her school in the Poblacion and back pointed out.

Past high school, she tried a different job: minding a dry-goods store of a relative in Samar. That accordingly got her pre-occupied.

“I was a dry-goods store keeper in Samar for 6 years, that was when my parents were still stronger,” she said.

But as her parents grew older, her father begged her to stay home to care for her aging mother, her siblings have long gone and started their own families leaving the three of them in the maternal house.

While caring for her aging parents who could not provide for their needs, she has to revert to weaving again.

It was the life I grow up with, and it was the one I can be comfortable with, she describes how weaving has become her cozy corner as a lady and her comfort pillow when she confronts issues at home.

By weaving, I can think better, she admitted, perhaps getting engrossed with the art and skill also triggers her mental faculties to be whetted right. And in weaving, she is among the town’s finest, admits then mayor now lady councilor Cecilia Rebosura-Solomon.

In 2013, in less than a year, both her parents died.

And as if it was not enough, the October 15 2013 earthquake toppled their house.

A relief organization gave her a small house beside the ruined family house, and she stays there now.

Alone and vulnerable to the threat of drug crazed people, Sofia has only to rely on prayers and a sense of belief in humanity.

Every day, she wakes up to the usual household tasks; which is not much, because she lives alone. And then, it’s the weaving.

Every Sunday, after going to church, Sofia, along with hundreds of weavers haggle for raw materials: blackvine, bamboo strips, wicker, buri strips, midribs, raffia fiber, buntal, crazy vine, pandan leaves, and still several others. The cost would be recovered from the woven baskets price.

To bring down the costs, Sofia sometimes use up a day foraging to find materials from the nearby thickets and forests, one that would bring her to places often not frequented by people.

This is where danger lurks, not from wild animals or the perilous landscape. It is from drug crazed people.
She confesses, the recent campaign against illegal drugs has made her forages in the forests a lot safer.

Recently too, after years and years of only coming out on Sundays, she was invited to the local federation of disabled persons in Antequera.

It was tough at first, I was not confident, had low morale. But then I saw there were people in worse disabilities, I gained a little courage to join. Then I was later elected as official.

Now, apart from her weaving, Sofia also helps other Antequera PWDs gain their confidence, and become independent.

She helped organize trainings for PDWs in candle making, soap making be they dishwashing or laundry powder and organic facial soap. The skill also allowed her a little more source of income.

For PWDs who are still sulking about their fates, she urges: “come out, there is help available for those who want to be helped, make yourself useful, do not lose hope, for even those persons with more severe disabilities, they can still work using their learned skills.”

Asked what is it that keeps her going; she said she has not much of a choice. Maybe, that is in reference to her disability and the limited options before her.

Until recently.

“There are opportunities now, which were not easily available then” she said pointing to available funds for capital from the PWD organizations and from government financial institutions.

“Just make your best skill as the collateral and chances are, there is available help,” she added.

“The world is a lot safer now, and help is a bit easier to find, so there really is no reason to be lazy,” she quipped even as she tried to keep off from looking at the camera.

But then, again, she hinted her arduous trek towards the life she has now, not really rich but competing with other weavers, her finer skills get her comfortable enough be excitedly looking forward to the next Sunday’s mass and haggling for materials for another weaving week. (rahc/PIA-7/Bohol)

 

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