In this photo, i was sitting next to a Michigan Senator during one of the conference where i served chairperson during the Michigan Youth Leadership Forum while discussing disability acts at Michigan's capitol Lansing. (I was the only foreign national present)
Last Monday, I watched GMA-7's I-witness episode hosted by no other than Mr. Howie Severino. As always, staying up so late for the show was worth it. The documentary was about the "Underdogs", people who are considered to be of less capability compared to the greater majority who despite of their different conditions continues to strive and fight their way through everyday challenges. The show featured 3 stories--excluding that of Mr. Severino's personal experience of experiencing a temporary disability but personally, and perhaps this is to be expected I got interested with Mr. Berry Perry's story more than that of the others for I share the condition that he and some members of his family have.
Little People—that is according to the Little People of America (the national organization for people with short stature in America) and American Disabilities Act is what’s considered a politically correct term for individuals such as myself, and Mr. Perry. I was fortunate enough to get myself exposed to the organization because my host Mother in the states—Marge Carlisle was once the National Chairperson. She too, of course along with my host Dad and my other host brother was of short stature. Though, I was originally sent to the U.S to be a young Ambassador of Peace with AFS-YES Program—an experience that gave me a new perspective, I also underwent through a personal transformation because all my life I only knew of the life of the ‘average size’—being the only person in my family and community to have this condition. Just like what was pointed out on the show, Mr. Perry was an underdog because there isn’t much people like us and consequently we fall into many kind of stereotypes like people like us can only do so much and unfortunately for society, they only see us as a means of entertainment. We were always portrayed to be as individuals you can just laugh at so I guess that is why some of us, perhaps with the lack of a better choice ends up in the showbiz industry. Having been raised in an average-size family, I’ve never really felt different because I’ve always been known to exceed expectations, known to always do better than most people who are often older than me but then when I was introduced to the world of people with disabilities where I found my achievements aren’t unusual. There was always the unconscious side of me that felt the need to prove myself and that I can do what everyone else can. It is what I found as something common among us. My condition was not talked about in the family, it was like a secret that everybody knew and maybe because of that I learned not to categorize myself as such but since I got involved with the world of physically challenged individuals then I decided for myself that I don’t have to be just different, I am the going to be the difference.
"It was like a secret that everybody knew"
Here you see me with my fellow AFS-YES scholars during the first of the many courtesy calls we did at the U.S Embassy, (in the picture was the former U.S Ambassador to the Philippiens Ricciardone)
I remember how it all started; I was about 16 years old when out of nowhere, a group of people knocked at my door and introduced themselves as I-witness crew. They, said they wanted to feature me so I can inspire, other people. I didn’t know if they knew that I was a big fan but that was all they had to say to get my approval. However, I also remember that before I said yes, I asked why me? They said because we’ve learned that you’re someone who never lost hope, we are amazed by your story. Despite of your condition, and what happened to you so far… (I believed they referred to my house being burned down when I was in first year, and the year after my mom died of heart attack) you always pushed through and still win many competitions. I think it was about 2 days after when they returned with a van full of equipments and then the actual shoots and interview started, I automatically suspected that it wasn’t “I-witness” because I knew the reporters themselves do their own stories but I just went with it. After, the shoot and all interviews completed I was brought to Lyceum of the Philippines University, along with my family where my suspicions were confirmed. At the façade of the school, I saw a familiar face, It was Vicky Morales and the I-witness thing was just a cover, they were actually shooting for Wish Ko Lang. Yes, I was granted a 4 year scholarship with Lyceum of the Philippines with any course of my choosing, a complete computer set, a “pangkabuhayan showcase” and perhaps the most memorable of all—a dedication party back at my school Ignacio Villamor High School in Manila. I was welcomed with a band, huge tarpaulins all over the school with my name on it and the words “Congratulation’s Marlon, We are proud of you”. I’ve never seen anything as grand—even at Wish Ko Lang standards. Later that I realized, it was my teacher-trainer in the many competitions I’ve participated was the one who wrote for me to the show. After all, she knew more than anybody else did. More than the party, the scholarship, and the T.V exposure, what touched me the most was the fact that I, was able to inspire a lot of people, that even today, years after I’m still tapped in the back by strangers saying that they saw me on T.V and was moved by the story. I never looked at myself in that light before but since then, I’ve been able to do so much more.
That's me with 2 German exchange students like myself during our visit to Michigan's 5th district (district where i was hosted) Congressman Dale Kildee in his office in Washington D.C.
Just after a year, I was chosen among 40 of the most promising young high school students who came from various parts of the country ranging from as far North as Sagada and as far south as Tawi-Tawi. We comprised the first-ever batch of the AFS-YES Program, a partnership between the world’s largest volunteer based exchange program founded over 90 years ago (AFS) and the U.S Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs which spearhead the Youth Exchange Study (YES) program founded just after the tragic events of 911 in the U.S, it is a program that believes that we can prevent such attacks by reaching to the grassroots level and promoting understanding between Americans and countries with significant Muslim population including the Philippines. During my year, I carried the flag of the nation during various talks to promote our culture maybe beyond what the internet and the media can share. A true Filipino, a 17 yr old who talks about what it’s like to be a Filipino. In return, I got the chance to live the American way of life because I have stayed with an American Family for a year, eating their food, speaking the language—dreaming in English, watching football as vigorously as they did, celebrating Thanksgiving and a Christmas with Snow falling in my head.
During the same year, I was immersed to the world of Little People, and the life of people with disabilities in general where everything in the house was made to adapt to our needs, the counter specifically made to be lower than in most homes, the car to have an extended pedal so that we can drive, Buses with lifts so that wheelchair users can ride them with ease, buildings including private and public establishments made in a way so that people with disabilities can move as independently as possible. Equal employment opportunity, respect and acceptance in society. These among other things are what I would like to see in the Philippines someday so that there would be no more underdogs. I am a realist, I know the Philippines has a lot more problems to address but that doesn’t mean that we should be put among the list of last priorities. We can help if only we get the help that we need. I guess asking for what you deserve isn’t too much to ask for.
A lot more happened during my stay in the States, in a way that experience defines me. That is why I always talked about it whenever I get the chance because I feel the need to spread the word of how being placed in a land of strangers can actually make you recognize who you really are. It’s been 4 years since I was back, I remember I was so optimistic back then that I thought that nothing could stop me, that I am bound to be the agent of change the country needs, I’d thought I would do everything that I can but then I had to face some personal issues, things much more minute compared to the problems of the world I wanted to help solve but they got to me. The future 2nd Filipino U.N secretary general had to stop going to school, I was only able to finish a year of college so far, I had to stop and start working and the agent of change had to become, for now at least, a call center agent. Fortunately, my resume preceded me so it wasn’t hard for me to get a job, but I always get that look in the interviewers face whenever they found out that person who owns that 3 page resume was me. I didn’t have a job experience before so I figured I should put everything I think would be a relevant skill that I have. I stayed in the industry for about a year and 7 months, including 4 months with a different company. Everything went well as far as work is concern, I got promoted just after regularization in my first company and I made a name for myself and soon after, decided to transfer for further career advancement but shortly after I joined the 2nd company, I had to stop working once again because of some unforeseen family issue. Also, I guess I got tired emotionally, I originally planned on working for only 2 years then after I save enough I could start my own business then I could go back to school to purse what I really wanted but then I guess not everything goes as planned. Things somehow managed to get worse so I moved out of my father’s house, I now stay with my sister and for the last 3 months, I’ve been a “tambay” but I think I needed this rest. This January, I would be turning 22. I am finally an adult by all standards and I guess I am in the point in my life when I am just re-assessing things. I’ve been virtually unstoppable for as long as I can remember so I guess it wouldn’t hurt if I take this much needed rest. I am soul-searching I guess, I was going too fast that I almost forgot what my purpose was but then, because of Monday night after seeing Mr. Perry, after hearing his and his little girl’s story, I was reminded of my purpose. I have never considered myself an underdog because all my life I’ve always been on top—well, as much as I would like to think but then maybe I am an underdog. Looking back I see that I was able to achieve everything I’ve done so far because I always carried the need to prove myself. Not so much to grab attention, like I always say--I get that enough already but to get respect not only for myself but for everyone like me, like Mr. Perry. I know he did the same during his time but now I feel it’s my time to do what I can. I have been given so much opportunity and been taught so much by everybody to just let it go to waste. The story I saw Monday night of Mr. Perry wasn’t just his, it’s for everyone he represents including me and now I feel obliged to continue the story and hopefully I can give it the ending it deserves.
I am an underdog at tulad nila...hindi ako magpapatalo.
just a picture at work.
I am an underdog at tulad nila...hindi ako magpapatalo.
just a picture at work.
(after posting this post's url to Howie Severino's blog, i got this response from him)
Marlon, what an inspiring life story. If our docu made you recall and share it, it was worth all the effort. Mabuhay ka!