By Argyll Cyrus Geducos
SINGAPORE-–Tears started streaming down Erlinda Uy Koe’s face as she said that children with autism are now being embraced by the society.
This was how Koe described the award she got from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Tuesday evening. Koe bested 49 other candidates for the inaugural ASEAN Prize for her advocacy for family autism.
“For the ASEAN Prize, the inaugural ASEAN Prize, to go to a family autism advocacy, is a statement. It’s a statement that ngayon, niyayakap na ng ASEAN ang inclusion para sa mga taong may autismo kagaya ng aming mga anak (that ASEAN is now embracing the inclusion of persons with autism like our children),” she told Filipino reporters here.
“So sabi ko (I said), winning it in itself is a statement. So we look forward to a more autism friendly ASEAN and of course it starts with us,” she added.
In an interview with the Filipino media, Koe was not able to control her emotions as she expressed gratitude to the people who are willing to help kids who are within the spectrum.
“‘Pag po nagkaroon kayo ng anak na with autism, ang naiisip niyo lang, paano niyo siya matutulungan, paano niyo siya mapapalaki na kaya niyang makisabay sa buhay (When you have a kid with autism, the only thing you can think of is how to help them and raise them to be able to go on with life),” she said.
“And then sa journey po ninyo marami kayong makikilala na mga tao, mga professionals, mga volunteers, mga partners na kahit walang kamag-anak na may autism, makikita niyo po kung paano sila tumulong (And in your journey, you will see how professionals, volunteers, and partners help you even when they don’t have relatives with autism),” she added.
The first ever ASEAN Prize, an initiative of the ASEAN Secretariat, was awarded to Koe by Singapore Prime Minister and ASEAN 2018 Chairman Lee Hsien Loong during the opening ceremony of the Summit Tuesday. The award aims to recognize inspiring achievements and contributions that foster the ASEAN identity, promote the ASEAN spirit, and champion the ASEAN way.
In addition to her trophy, Koe also received a cash prize worth US$20,000. She was chosen as the winner by a judging committee made up of ASEAN Secretary-General Dato Lim Jock Hoi and three other former ASEAN SGs.
Upon receiving her award, the former Manila Bulletin columnist said that receiving the inaugural ASEAN Prize was a welcome blessing.
“In the spirit of servant-leadership, I share this recognition with the 13,000 fellow parents and family members who comprise the Autism Society Philippines (ASP) and with countless other advocates from the ASEAN Autism Network (AAN),” Koe said.
“These angels labor to engineer institutional mechanism to improve the lives of persons with autism and their families,” she added.
Koe, who has a 24-year-old son with autism, also said that winning the prize would mean that she can further advance her advocacy to the entire Southeast Asian region.
“I am thankful for the momentum this recognition will bring in taking our advocacy to the regional stage,” she said.
“Persons with autism need acceptance, accommodation and appreciation — and we hope to find more receptive minds and hearts among our policymakers to build a genuinely autism-friendly global society,” she added.
She also said that with her recognition, she hopes that more doors will open for the welfare of people with autism.
“With this recognition ang panalangin po namin, magbubukas ito ng mas maraming pintuan para po mas makalapit kami sa mga policy makers whether sa gobyerno or sa private companies (our prayer is for doors to open so we can approach policy makers whether in government or private companies),” Koe expressed.
Koe is the Chair Emeritus of the ASP which now has 96 chapters nationwide. At the regional level, Koe served as the AAN comprised of autism family support organisations from all 10 ASEAN Member States. AAN is a platform for ASEAN member countries to cooperate and unite in developing non-discriminatory strategies and intervention programs to support persons living with autism and their families.
According to Lim said they look forward to Koe’s continued efforts in contributing towards an inclusive, resilient, people-oriented, and people-centered ASEAN.
“Ms. Koe’s work and dedication to improve the lives of autistic adults and children reflect the spirit that is deeply rooted in an ASEAN Community that engages and benefits the people,” Lim said.
Advise to parents
Koe also advised parents to not carry the problem by themselves and find people who can help them as they cannot do it on their own.
“Palagi kong sinasabi, when you found out na may anak nga siya, iiyak ka. Magluluksa (I always say that when you find out that your kid has autism, you will cry and grieve). But after that, you have to move on,” she said.
“I will understand kung sa umpisa, ang nasa isip lang nila ‘yung anak nila (if at the beginning all they think of is their child), which is what I went through. But I would pray that more and more parents families would join us in our advocacy, because of the number,” she added.
“It’s just like ASEAN. HIndi pwedeng isa isa lang na bansa. So lahatan. Ganun din sa tao (It cannot be for just one country, it needs to be for all. The same applies for people),” she continued.
Meanwhile, President Duterte and Malacañang congratulated Koe for bringing honor to the country by winning the inaugural ASEAN Prize.
“The Philippines is honored by the conferment of the premier award to Ms. Erlinda Uy Koe, whose work with ASEAN Society Philippines and ASEAN Autism Network has touched the lives of persons with autism and their families across the region,” Duterte said during the working dinner with the other ASEAN leaders Tuesday evening.
“The Palace wishes to congratulate Ms. Erlinda Uy Koe for winning the ASEAN Prize 2018 and bringing tremendous pride and great honor to the country,” Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said in a statement.
“We cannot be more proud of Ms. Koe and may her exemplary works inspire greater righteousness and dignity in all of us,” he added.