Company of great men

By: Cris Evert Lato-Ruffolo March 17,2017 - 10:44 PM


Home from a 10-day successful solo trip, I was hesitant to go back to the field to interview people about their lives and their experiences and write their stories for the newspaper.

Have you ever felt that churning sensation in your belly a day or two after a great trip when you just need a vacation after your vacation?
That was me on a Thursday morning.

My husband Jeff, who expresses his love through words and gifts, bought for me a welcome-home present: a comforter which I have been sleeping on for the past three nights since my grand return. It invites sleep in the most enticing manner. It also makes leaving the bed a major struggle especially in a household where the world starts at six in the morning.

But I had an interview set at nine with some young men who are members of On Point Band. I was to meet Babylin Roa, the mother of 19-year-old Kalvin, who is part of the band.

I dragged myself out of the bed and advised Ate Joy — the wonderful woman who helps Jeff and I raise our three children as God-loving and obedient members of society — to bring the twins to daycare since I needed to leave the house before seven.

I live in Liloan, and as most northern Cebu residents experience on a daily basis, road traffic in Consolacion and parts of Mandaue is beyond horrible.
Inside the car, I was trying my best to be calm, but I was so close to asking the driver if there’s any way for the vehicle to fly so that we can reach General Maxilom Avenue in 20 minutes.

I was on the road for 2 hours and 30 minutes. I was an hour late for my appointment even when I left home early.

But they were there waiting for me.

Miss Babylin, her friend Sandra and her son Kalvin, who looked very dapper in his white long-sleeved shirt accented with yellow necktie.

Kalvin said, “Good morning, Miss Cris Evert. It’s nice to meet you today.”

Kalvin plays the keyboard — and he plays very well, according to coach Mark Saballa.

What makes Kalvin special and why am I talking about him in this column?

Because, dear readers, Kalvin and five other members of the band — James, Louie, Gabriel, Jacob and Rovi — are young men with autism.

I conversed with them and I learned about their dreams and ambitions. Their hearts’ desires are just as relevant as the yearnings of young people their age who are called “normal” or “regular.”

What other people view as a disability is being emphasized as a strength in this band thanks to the patience and dedication of Teacher Mark, a behavioral management consultant and director of the Center for Behavioral Support (CBS).

The interview held at the CBS playroom lasted for an hour, and it was perhaps the most honest interview I have ever done in the 11 years that I have been working as a journalist.

Talking to the five of them (Rovi was not around during the interview) was literally a breath of fresh air after that morning of hurdling Cebu traffic.

I was seated on a red chair while the boys were lounging on the floor with bean bags. When I called out their names and asked each one of them a question, I heard genuine responses from persons who never have to think if what they said will sound good in the article.

Teacher Mark gave me a short briefing about them. He was with me at the start of the interview with the boys.

But we both realized that it’s best for him to step out of the room so the boys can freely talk to me. One staff stayed behind to take pictures.

I cannot even begin to describe how much I loved being there with them. I have always wanted to be in a room with this “crowd” when I was completing my graduate degree in language and literacy education, but I was constantly changing address the last four years and that made it almost impossible for me to devote time in a center.

Five pairs of eager eyes were staring at me. They were smiling, waiting for me to call them. I was my usual self when I fired away my questions. The answers to those questions left me speechless.

That seldom happens because I am almost never without words.

I talk — a lot.

But these young men, who are easily labeled as “autistic” (persons/children/teenagers with autism, NOT autistic) proved that afternoon that there is more to them than what society perceives as a disability.

Take Gabriel for example.

He said he wants to play a meaningful song in front of politicians.


Because he believes that music and lyrics will change the way politicians think and will prevent them from engaging in corrupt practices.

I observed James and Louie are best friends. They want to bring peace between North and South Korea through music. When James got carried away in sharing his thoughts about what he wanted the concert to look like, Louie gently tapped him on the shoulder and said, “Ok. Come on now. Give chance to others to speak.” To which James was quick to heed.

Kalvin said he likes being part of the band because they are persons with autism and they understand each other. Jacob, who christened the band’s name, was mostly quiet but he told me that his eyes are set on Casino Español as the venue for the band’s next performance.

“I want to make my Dad proud,” he said.

I choked up when he declared this.

There was so much sincerity and innocence in his voice. At that moment, I wanted to personally thank their parents for giving me and Cebu Daily News the privilege to interview them and write their collective narrative.

As I said my farewell to the boys, Kalvin continued to address me as “Miss Cris Evert.”

No complaints here.

No one has ever called me that way. Jacob was telling Teacher Mark that the interview was done and motioned that he wanted to get out of the room.
Kalvin said, “Thank you, Miss Cris Evert.”

Jacob interjected: “Cris Evert, the tennis player. You were named after the tennis player. So maybe born in the ’80s.”

I was surprised. Even Teacher Mark didn’t know C(h)ris Evert, the tennis player.

But Jacob knew.

You see, that morning, I was not asking questions to persons with autism.

I was in the company of great men who can achieve great things because they proved that no disability can ever hinder them from becoming the men that they are called to be.

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TAGS: company, Consolacion, great, horrible, mandaue, men, newspaper, Thursday, traffic
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