MANILA -- Twelve differently-abled girls showcased their talents and brilliance on Saturday in vying for the 2018 Miss Possibilities title.

Miss Possibilities is Asia’s first pageant for people with special needs. It is also an inclusive fashion show with Filipino celebrities. It aims to provide girls, who are 12 years old and above, an opportunity to showcase their unique character and charisma on stage through a fashion show, talent exhibition, and question and answer session.

After three hours of scrutinizing each candidates’ individual presentations, the judges of the pageant declared Samantha Pia Cabanera as this year's winner. 

MISS POSSIBILITIES 2018. Samantha Pia Cabanera, 19, is crowned as Miss Possibilities 2018 at the Henry Lee Irwin Theater in Ateneo de Manila in Quezon City on Saturday (Nov. 10, 2018). (Photo by Ma. Teresa Montemayor)

Cabanera, 19, has Asperger’s, a form of autism, since she was 18 months old. She is currently a senior high school student at St. Theresa’s College and plans to take creative writing at the University of the Philippines.

While she appears sociable and smart, Cabanera told the Philippine News Agency (PNA) that she still has challenges in making eye contact, socialization, and mastering her emotions.

“If I trust myself and listen to other people, I believe I can. Maybe, someday, I could write for an online magazine for autistic people,” she added.

Cabanera said she was surprised about being the winner of the pageant, since she made a mistake during her song performance.

“I feel very nervous and thankful at the same time because I just want to showcase the talents of people with disabilities (PWDs),” she said.

Cabanera added she wants to advocate for people with autism and PWDs to remove the social stigma that comes with their condition.

“I encourage other kids like me to join pageants like this to build their self-confidence. But, it’s up to them if they want to join, but it’s not just about joining pageants, it’s also about believing in themselves and what they can do,” she said. 

The advocacy

Suzanna Pavadee Vichienrut Yuzon, founder and president of Miss Possibilities Foundation, told the PNA that she started the foundation and the pageant four and a half years ago. 

THE JUDGES. (From left) Communications Undersecretary Lorraine Badoy, Facebook Country Director John Rubio, and Miss Philippines-Universe 2000 Nina Ricci Alagao are three of the five judges in the Miss Possibilities 2018 pageant. (Photo by Ma. Teresa Montemayor)

“When we started, it was just in a restaurant in BGC (Bonifacio Global City) and the next year, we included the celebrity fashion show to show that celebrities and even athletes care for our children with special needs,” she said.

Starting with just four mothers whose children have down syndrome, the Miss Possibilities Foundation has expanded to 28 members, who have children with other special needs. But some of their volunteers are single people who believe in the cause.

Yuzon shared her inspiration for establishing the foundation is her daughter Joey, who is diagnosed with down syndrome.

“She was a bit premature, but she was all right we never knew that she had down syndrome until we had the blood test,” she said.

Stressing that the blood test costs PHP3,000 to PHP4,000, Yuzon said their foundation wanted to gain support from the government.

“Just last year, February, the month for down syndrome, we have put in a bill in Congress specifically for people with down syndrome and other special needs. It’s in the first reading in Congress. Congressman Cuaresma and Congressman Dy are there, but we want more congressmen to support us,” she added.

Yuzon pointed out that people with down syndrome and their families have no specific place in the Department of Health (DOH) to ask help from because typical children are usually prioritized for their medical needs.

“Kids with down syndrome die unnecessarily because they don’t receive medical attention and therapies. They need help with early intervention or heart surgery because of health issues. Most of them have heart issues,” she said.

Citing that being a working mom or hands-on mom has many difficulties, Yuzon shared that being a mom of a child with special needs is being that and more.

“There are medical, therapy issues, and one heartbreaking issue is that we don’t have a good future as in typical kids, I noticed that because I have a child with special needs and a child who’s a typical child,” she pointed out.

Sometimes, Yuzon continued, she’s tempted to complain when their family has put in a lot of work but the pay-off and milestones remain hard to reach for their daughter. But she’s reminded of how blessed they are compared with other families, who don’t have access to therapies and activities for their children with special needs.

“Ultimately, we’re here to change the stigma that sometimes we still have for the people with special needs like you feel sorry for them and the family and just to show that they have value to the society, and with a little understanding and acceptance, they could be productive in the society,” she said. (PNA)