Diocese working to ensure PWDs not left behind in Covid-19 response
Church volunteers teach urban gardening to a deaf community in Negros Oriental province.
By Ryan Christopher J. Sorote
June 23, 2020
As the threat of coronavirus intensifies, a central Philippine diocese has been working to protect one of those vulnerable groups — the persons with disabilities.
Fr. Christian Benjamin of the Diocese of Dumaguete’s Commission on PWDs said the sector has particular support needs in this challenging period.
Since the quarantine period, he said that the diocese has been working to ensure that these needs are reflected in its response to the emergency.
Aside from distributing food packs, the priest also celebrates Mass for the deaf through social media on Sundays and special occasions.
“Most, if not all, are spiritually parched because they have not attended Mass since March,” said Fr. Benjamin, who is also serving at San Nicolas De Tolentino Parish in Dauin, Negros Oriental.
With almost a thousand deaf in the diocese, Fr. Benjamin could only minister to a handful of them at a time. He connects with them online to give them counselling.
The diocese has also created a “save families” group to assist the deaf and blind community and their families.
The group also teaches deaf individuals with urban gardening to help them survive the crisis by planting vegetables for their daily sustenance.
“They need work to help them survive,” said Fr. Benjamin, who is one of the two priests in the diocese who knows sign language.
Most of the PWDs in Negros Oriental and the neighboring province of Siquijor, lost their jobs after the government ordered business to temporarily stop operating, the priest said.
In Negros Oriental alone, the Trade Industry department reported at least 87% of local businesses ceased operations since April because of COVID-19.
Those heavily affected were restaurants, massage parlors, barbershops, and the tourism industry as a whole, where most of the PWDs are working, it said.
“Some who are working at restaurants, hotels and some establishments until now, cannot yet return to work,” Fr. Benjamin said.
The priest added that the quarantine has greatly affected the deaf community mentally and spiritually.
“Psychologically, some are in the state of depression,” he said.
“The blind community was hardest hit since their only way of living is through their massage clinic,” he furthered.
Negros Oriental officials ordered closure of non-essential establishments after it logged the first two Covid-19 cases in the province in February.