WHILE most faculty members hop from one lecture to another with the ease and agility of mountain cats, there are those who lumber to their classes in crutches or struggle with the wheels of their wheelchairs. Just the same, they exhibit the same fire and idealism as their more physically able counterparts in imparting solid knowledge to the young.

As we welcome another school year, the Varsitarian rolls out the red carpet for some of UST’s physically-challenged professors, such as Prof. Crisencio Paner of the College of Fine Arts and Design and teacher trainee George Camilet of the UST Elementary School.

Blessing in disguise

If one happens to come across a small, fair-skinned, middle-aged man with reading glasses, walking in crutches around the University, then one must have seen Prof. Crisencio Paner. For six years now, he has been teaching Earth Science and Environmental Science at the College of Fine Arts and Design.

According to Paner, teaching was just an accident. As a child, he had always dreamed of becoming a scientist. But the world seemed to have closed on him too soon.

At eight months old, Paner was already up and about—until he suddenly got inflicted with polio.

“The Polio is no longer in my body, but the effects are (still in),” he said.

Although Paner was treated normally by his parents and two other siblings, as he grew older, he could not deny that he was really different. “I am not the same as the others, but I do not see it in a negative way,” he said.

Like many other handicapped individuals, Paner enjoys certain state relief for the disabled. He recalls travelling around the country on a discount and being accorded special treatment in public vehicles.

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But more often than not, he is shabbily treated, like being refused rides in a public vehicle by drivers who considered his disability bothersome.

Despite his physical incapability, Paner finished his Bachelor of Science major in Biology-Chemistry degree at the College of Science in 1991. His batchmates gave him an ovation for 15 minutes during graduation.

“Nung nag-aaral pa ako, sabi ko sa sarili ko, wala na kong ibang opportunities. Kapag hindi ko pa ibinigay ang best ko, wala na. This is my last chance,” he said about his drive to finish his degree.

Paner later took up a Teacher’s Certificate Program at the Caloocan Polytechnic College. Among the 120,000 aspiring teachers who took the licensure exam, he landed 10th. Currently, he is finishing his Masteral degree in Microbiology at the UST Graduate School.

“May ibang hindi nakakaunawa sa condition (namin). They (normal people) think that handicapped people cannot do things (that they can),” Paner said. “The society is still not open-minded regarding our plight.”

And as though a doting mother, his Alma Mater gave him a break by recruiting him to teach, which was at first, his only source of income.

“I have realized that it is in this profession that I am at least able to share myself freely with my students. (In) teaching, it’s different. You can improve and modify, “ he said.

After graduation, he looked for a job, but because of his physical condition, he had a hard time looking for one and most of the companies he applied in showed no interest.

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Despite the occasional rejection, Paner draws inspiration from his four-months pregnant wife Jhona, his one-year-old son John, and his supportive students.

“My students are my source of enjoyment and consolation,” he said. “They treat me as a normal (person). (That) as if, I have no physical limitation. (With them) I don’t see myself as a handicapped.”

One little voice, one brave soul

The voice behind the many jingles we hear on Thomasian Cable TV is George Camilet’s. Not as famous as his singing voice, Camilet is a fair-skinned young man wearing dark sunglasses, with his right hand in his pocket.

Now a Bachelor in Elementary Education senior, he teaches Math to kinder students every afternoon for his practicum. He stayed for four years at the Conservatory of Music before shifting to the College of Education.

He had always loved singing. In a brood of eight, he was the only sibling who was musically inclined. His sudden change of mind even surprised him. He did not have a second choice for a college education, until he volunteered for catechism in his province. The experience gave him a new perspective in life and spurred his teaching career.

Camilet was born with a dull sense of sight and a congenitally defected right hand. He was late in entering school because he could not walk until he was seven. He had to put his right hand inside his pocket and wear dark sunglasses to save himself from insults.

And as if that was not bad enough, he did not grow under the care of his parents. He, along three other of his siblings, had to be bundled up to their aunts because their parents could not provide for all of them.

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According to Camilet, he was rebellious. He was not satisfied with his aunt’s company that he decided to return to his parents during his college days.

But it was no different. “Nandoon yung love financially, pero hindi ko nakikita yung moral support,” Camilet said.

At times when he was away from his parents, he felt that they did not worry about him since he was always the one who would call for them. He felt pathetic when nobody, even his parents, visited him in his dormitory.

Later on, he learned that he was an unwanted child. His mother was taking pills when she became pregnant with him. It could have been the source of his parents’ coldness to him and his disabilities, he added.

“Nagpapasalamat ako sa Diyos dahil higit sa lahat, buhay ako. Kung ano man ang kahihinatnan ko sa buhay, magpapasalamat ako,” he said.

The chance to teach came to Camilet just in time. Although he constantly looks for love, particularly romantic love, through his students, he is able to see the world in a different perspective. He is very fond of his little wards.

“Ang gusto kong matutuhan ng mga estudyante ko yung pagiging sweet at maunawain ko. Gusto ko silang matutong kumanta, matuto sa anumang subject na itinuturo ko,” he said.

Both Paner and Camilet could not imagine life without teaching. To other physically challenged individuals, especially students, they advise to accept the physical limitations and be not ashamed of them. Life is a gift. Live it to the fullest.

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