The usual independence celebration for this year was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Solomon Islanders resorted to celebrating independence with their families and communities, for those in the rural area.

For the reigning Miss Solomon Islands, Gladys Habu her day was spent with those with special needs.

Gladys spent Independence Day with students at San Isidro Centre.

“I thought it would be nice to spend the day with these youths”, she says.

When the invitation to visit San Isidro came from Rotaract, she accepted it. With only a few minutes’ drive away from Honiara, Gladys opted to spend the day with them instead of celebrating it with family and friends.

She put on her best yellow spotted dress and with a smile on her face, entered the center, beaming with pride.

“It was an opportunity I didn't want to miss, as it would be my first time there and I also wanted to get to know as well as learn about these amazing people”, she says.

“It was very humbling to find that many of them knew who I was. They kept demonstrating to me how they saw me in the newspaper and now finally seeing me in person. I could tell they were very excited as they had never once stopped smiling,” Gladys said.

She says people with special needs are vulnerable but neglected in society.

“They go through life tougher than any of us and yet still have the heart to become better. They work extra hard to receive benefits that many people who are able, take for granted. They appreciate little things in life and continue to be uplifted by any form of support given to them. They are the true representation of hope and I respect them for being who they are. I look up to them because they taught me to remain grounded”, Gladys says.

She thanked the students for hosting her and reminded them that they are an integral part of the community and they have the capacity like any other Solomon Islander to contribute in a meaningful way to the country.

During her visit, she also donated two volleyballs and a net.

“I believe this will improve their health. Sports helps build stronger communities”, she says.

Their day was filled with laughter, sharing of food and storytelling.

She says it was an opportunity for her to build a strong relationship with the San Isidro community as well.

“The youths from Rotaract helped in cleaning the compound and the playing field while others helped out in the cooking”, Gladys says.

“I learnt the alphabet for the first time in sign language. It helped me interact with the students”, she says.

She says she enjoyed watching them do amazing things such as writing, singing and dancing.

“They are truly gaining a lot by being there at San Isidro”, the Miss Solomon Islands says.

“I am pleased that Rotary and Rotaract clubs are helping to improve this Centre,” Gladys said.

She also calls for support from other stakeholders to help build the center for these people.

“These special people deserve the same share as any other citizen in the country.” she says.

She encouraged families with children who have special needs to consider pursuing their education at the San Isidro Center.

Despite damages caused by Cyclone Harold, there is optimism at the center.

“The Rotaract youth family certainly had a great impact and as they've announced today, it is an event they hope to continue annually,” Gladys says.

The San Isidro Centre educates disabled young people from the ages of 14 and over, over duration of three years.

The courses offered at the center are English, Maths, Business, Sign Language, Agriculture, Life Skills, Carpentry, Woodwork, and Practical Trade and Skills.

The center’s mission is to advocate for basic human rights for people with disabilities, the right to education and an opportunity to build their skills and self-esteem to enable a life of dignity and wellbeing.

The center empowers the disabled through training of basic academic and skilled subjects, of which they were deprived because of their disabilities.

The center also addresses gender balance and the right to be heard and contribute positively to society. The handicapped are also given the opportunity to live in a community of boys and girls with common attributes.

San Isidro's vision is to change social attitudes towards people with disabilities, in allowing them the same dignity and right to a decent living as anyone. This demonstrates that they can be responsible for their own well-being and livelihood.

They can build their own houses, grow their own gardens, they can use their acquired skills to generate their own income and they can communicate with others through writing and reading.

San Isidro Care Centre is built as a hope and future for the marginalized and neglected ones in the society.