MANILA, Philippines — For someone who suffered from polio and now moves around in a wheelchair, Rommel Arellano remains positive and wears a smile on his face every day.
“The power to overcome obstacles, hardships or trials is simply to face them with a happy heart. And from a happy heart we draw strength and resilience. If we face the world with a smile, the world will smile back to us,” the 35-year-old says.
Even to this day, Arellano experiences discrimination every day to the point he is already used to it. But he uses these experiences to be his inspiration in life, the fuel that keeps him going through the difficult challenges life throws at him.
Arellano’s optimism and positive outlook in life gives him an advantage over others. These same traits are the reason why he was chosen as this year’s Happiest Pinoy, a project of Cebuana Lhuillier Insurance Solutions, which aims to promote happiness and optimism among Filipinos by recognizing ordinary citizens, who despite their challenging lives, still remain positive in life.
PROVING EVERYONE WRONG
Arellano, from Limay in Bataan, was afflicted with polio when he was one year old and he has not been able to use his legs since then. Instead, he uses his hands and arms to “walk,” moving around the house by crawling.
He started wearing slippers on his hands at four years old so he could go outside and explore the world around him. But he would discover immediately that that world was not such a nice place.
Other kids would tease him because of his disability. They would call him names and even physically hurt him just because he was different. Others would say that he would not amount to anything when he grows up.
“Other kids used to bully me and call me names or even associate any crawling animals with me. I was 10 years old and my playmates made me think that I was totally different from them. Naglalaro kami tinutukso nila ako, they were calling me names, tapos sinisipa-sipa nila ako. Ginagawa nila talaga akong outcast sa community namin. That hurt me a lot,” he recalls.
He would always run to his room and cry. At this point he blamed God and ask, of all people in the world, why him?
Later, he realized that it was not his fault and would stop the teasing to get the best of him. And soon enough, he understood that the taunting were just words that should not put him down, especially with the strong support of his family and friends.
“I realized that I should take everything as a challenge. I would show them na kahit ganito ako, although different ako sa pisikal na aspeto, may kakayanan din ako. The first person who believed and saw my potential was my mother. She disregards what other people were saying about me,” he says.
Arellano studied hard and finished elementary and high school. It was only in college where he finally started using a wheelchair to help him move, although the lack of access for the physically handicapped in the school still forced him to still resort to crawling. He eventually finished a bachelor’s degree in Psychology at Bataan Peninsula State University.
HELPING OTHER PWDs
Looking for a job was far more difficult from what he expected. Even in looking for a job, Arellano’s disability prevailed over his talent.
“I was called for a job interview but when I entered the room, the manager was surprised to see me because I was crawling! I reached for his hand and gave him the courtesy hand shake, I sat down while he browsed my resume. After a few minutes, he looked at me and sarcastically asked, ‘Nagda-drive ka ba ng motorsiklo?’. I was shocked for I am not expecting a person like him would insult me. I don’t know if I should even speak up and defend myself, or should I react. But I choose to be silent. I stood up and reached for his hand and said, ‘Thank you for your time sir.’ and left the room in tears. But that experience challenged me to continue with life,” Arellano shares.
He eventually got a guidance counselling job at Limay Polytechnic College. At present, he works as a government employee at the Municipal Social Welfare and Development Office of Limay.
Arellano is also a speaker and resource person for values formation, team building, and stress management, among others. He is also an adviser of a PWD organization in his town.
“I usually give talks to students and employees and non-government organization upholding the rights and welfare of PWDs. Our organization’s responsibility is to promote the welfare of PWDs by proposing and implementing programs such as livelihood and other economic and self enhancing program that will develop their social skills and boost their confidence,” Arellano explains.
ACCEPTANCE EQUALS HAPPINESS
He says that acceptance and contentment are the keys to happiness, something he always tells others, especially PWDs like him.
“By accepting myself as I am, believing that I am a special creation, I believe that we can overcome everything. Kapag iniisip nating kaya natin, kakayanin natin. Be content with what you have and accept who you are, your limitations and capabilities. Kung hindi mo tanggap ‘yung sarili mo, nandun ka lang. Let’s try to break the wall and go beyond our limits. May mararating at mararating, may pag-asa na laging natatanaw sa atin sa kabila ng pader na nakaharang sa gitna natin,” he says.
His only dream for the PWD community is for them to be given equal opportunity, be it in school or work.
“PWDs should not look into their situations but look within themselves. Look at the possibilities na meron kang marating. Sabi ko nga sa kanila, maybe my legs are not functioning but I still have my hands. They say I cannot go places because of my legs and feet, but I have my tsinelas on my hands,” he ends.
Source: Manila Bulletin