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Birthright School Moving Up Ceremony
April 26, 2019

Teacher Miriam, Pastor Jun, dear parents, teachers, and students of Birthright.

 I am very happy to be invited to the moving up banquet of the Birthright School and to witness the significant strides that the school has made since its founding in 1993. I can still clearly remember that fateful morning when Teacher Miriam and Pastor Jun came to my office at the Muntinlupa City hall. They had no prior appointment so they had to wait sometime before their turn was called. It was my very first time to meet them but immediately I recognized in this young couple a very deep sense of purpose and idealism. They explained very clearly what they wanted to do. They had started a special school in Muntinlupa dedicated to the needs of autistic children and others with intellectual disorders. To enhance the operation of this special school, they wanted to incorporate it as a non-profit foundation. And how could I help?
Perhaps, I could donate the seed money required to register the school at the Securities and Exchange Commission. I needed no further convincing. I immediately wrote a check for P68,000, part of the proceeds of my annual Mayor Toting Bunye Invitational golf tournament. Instinctively, I said to myself. This will probably be one of the most meaningful social investments I will ever make. My instinct proved correct. 

Years later, I received an unexpected email from Mrs. Rhodora Mandap. At that time, Dory was a teacher at Itaas Elementary School. She is now the principal at the Cupang Elementary School in Muntinlupa. She wrote about Lylette, her daughter, a special child, whom I helped enroll at Birthright. “Dalagang dalaga na po si Lylette although she will forever be my baby. Continuous po pag-aaral nya sa Birthright. Nasa pre-vocational class po sya. According to teacher Miriam del Rosario, she's no longer capable of continuing through the high school curriculum kaya life skills na ang itinuturo sa kanya.  She's a good cook now. “She can also bake. Her specialty and best seller: double chocolate oatmeal cookies. At kung dati ay hindi nagsasalita....pagkadaldal naman ngayon! Thank you so much for your help.”

Zherwin Bong Balota was one of the first four students of Birthright.

More than 20 years ago, Bong was a problem boy, aged 9, with practically zero skills.  Bong used to walk around Parkhomes aimlessly, ringing door bells, sometimes throwing stones at passersby and sometimes pilfering articles from sari sari stores when their owners were not watching. No one ever imagined, except perhaps for Teacher Miriam and Pastor Jun, that one day Bong would grow up into a responsible adult. Teacher Miriam and Pastor Jun knew that deep within Bong was a potential which only needed to be unlocked. Bong eventually graduated from the vocational program where he learned to cook, do housework, and other practical skills. Because of his practical training, he can go to the market and cook their meals at home. He even does the laundry for his old parents. Bong is now a Teacher Aide and Monitor at Birthright.

Another current Birthright staffer is RJ Gongora. As a child, he had a speech problem and was often bullied. Then his parents transferred him to Birthright. Teacher Jasmine put RJ through a rigorous voice lesson. Not long after, RJ began singing in the choir.
He slowly regained his self-confidence and self-esteem. After completing an IT course, RJ applied in Birthright and was admitted right away as an Assistant Teacher.

At 3 years old, Jan Christopher Hernandez could not even speak a word. In 2017, Jan Christopher finished his course in Bachelor of Science in Accountancy with flying colors. He garnered awards for overall excellence, academics, athletics, service, deportment, and was a recipient of a membership certificate of Royal Institute Singapore.

Lylette Mandap, Zherwin Bong Balota, RJ Gongora and Jan Christopher Hernandez - four names that exemplify what children with intellectual disabilities can do and accomplish. If only we can give them the proper training, in a nurturing and caring environment. This is what makes Birthright so special. It is the first special elementary school recognized by DepEd in Muntinlupa City.

It was also instrumental in helping another school like Alabang Elementary School by starting its special classroom. Its teachers are very hard-working, properly motivated and so loyal to the institution. Therapists and special teachers normally migrate to the United States after two years of experience. Teachers in Birthright have stayed on - some for more than 25 years - despite offers to work abroad. The teamwork formed, the family-like atmosphere and the unity of faith among teachers are what set Birthright apart.

Beyond its classrooms in Parkhomes, Birthright has outreach programs. Birthright started its first outreach with informal settlers along the railroad track in the RMT area of Barangay Tunasan. When the informal settlers were relocated by the government, Birthright ‘adopted’ the old dumpsite in Southside, San Pedro, Laguna. Birthright now has three centers in San Pedro, Laguna. The first is the HALMS Center where young children at - risk are being prepared for school. The second is the Family Center where mothers and teenagers congregate weekly for values formation and life coaching. The third - Mt. Olives Turf of Hope - where we are gathered now- is where Birthright hopes to put up its future high school. The good work done by Birthright has not gone unnoticed. Some of its projects are now undertaken with the assistance of generous groups like The Liliane Foundation of Netherlands, NORFIL, the Alabang Ladies international Group, a friend from Singapore, and, of course, the City Government of Muntinlupa. Teacher Miriam dreams of a future high school and a physical rehab center. I have no doubt that Birthright will be able to attain these in the future, just as it has grown from the very first special elementary school in Muntinlupa to what it is today. Clearly, its founders are driven and inspired by its very name, “Birthright” - which we know means “natural or moral right” - to provide youths with special needs the same opportunities to learn, develop and reach their maximum potential. Congratulations to Teacher Miriam, Pastor Jun, the ever-loyal teachers and loving parents of Birthright.
When God gave us special children, He also gave us very special people like you to help them.
Thank you for inviting me to walk with you in this very inspiring journey of hope, discovery, and fulfillment

"Basta si Toting, magaling"  was the saying of people in Muntinlupa City in the '80s and '90s. The three-term mayor of Muntinlupa and the first Congressman of the lone district of Muntinlupa, Toting was a respected servant of the people.  Muntinlupa became a city during his term.  He retired as a member of the Monetary Board of  Bangko Central ng Pilipinas and is now an Independent Board member of the Bank of the Philippine Islands.  He donated the paid-up capital of The Birthright Educators Foundation, Inc. during his term as Mayor of the city.  God touched the heart of Toting to help Birthright register with the Securities and Exchange Commission  25 years ago.

The speech of Atty. Ignacio "Toting" Bunye during  Birthright's Moving Up Banquet, 2019.