She gives mom the credit for her honors
Deaf since birth, Guinguing has used her many talents to their fullest.
Most recently, she was honored by the Rhode Island Women's Center for her volunteer advocacy and efforts to promote fair treatment of the deaf and disabled.
She credits her own achievements and work ethic to the positive attitude of her mother, Mamerta Guinguing of Middletown.
Guinguing said she was sad when she first realized what it meant to be deaf. Then she saw children and adults who could not move. "But I could walk and run, and especially, dance." She has known ever since, "I'm okay," she said.
Her mother cried at first about Gemma's deafness, but soon realized her daughter was smart and able to deal with the disadvantages. Before migrating to the United States, Gemma was class valedictorian at the Philippine School for the Deaf and Blind.
When Guinguing won the 2004-05 title of Miss Deaf Rhode Island, her mother read about it in the newspaper while at work. "I did not know she was doing this. But I was not surprised. I read it. I read it aloud. This very okay, I say. She is very okay."
Guinguing said she feels blessed with the strong, positive maternal traits she needed to overcome her own challenges. She was born deaf in the Philippines, a country that trailed in many modern advances, including education and socialization. She also suffered from widespread health problems there as a result of poor water quality.
Guinguing overcame her own health deficits there. Now, in the United States, she is giving thousands of volunteer hours with hundreds of people to teach sign language and compassion, communication and commitment. She says her disability is a springboard for mutual benefit. "God did not make a mistake by making me deaf. I believe I was born deaf so other people can see me and appreciate being able to hear and talk."
She helps others, such as police and firefighters in learning how to communicate with deaf people needing emergency help, Boy and Girl Scouts to "talk" with deaf friends, and teens and others to learn sign language. She even enjoys being a "guinea pig" for college students training to be sign language teachers and interpreters.
She is also launching a plan for persons with hearing and speaking problems to meet for mall food court lunches, to promote socialization and to demonstrate such interaction for passersby.
A larger project is visiting all the deaf schools in America, with an immediate goal of gathering data for the new RI School for the Deaf to be built in Lincoln. Guinguing believes Rhode Island programs are far behind facilities in some other states. So far, she has toured schools in 45 states, she said.
Guinguing gave an acceptance speech at last month's Rhode Island Women's Center Awards event. The center annually honors five women and one organization for "excellence and making a difference" on behalf of women and against domestic violence, abuse and other barriers to fullness of personhood. Guinguing was one of this year's honorees.
The award noted her advocating and volunteering on behalf of the deaf and disabled. She works 60 hours a week with deaf and mentally challenged persons at the Corliss Institute in Warren. She keeps in touch by email with all other women who have won Miss Deaf contests. She passes along their information to state officials, to encourage improved programs.
In her speech, Guinguing said, "I volunteer because it is my obligation to be a good American. I contact politicians when I see disabled people not being treated fairly. I vote in every election since I became a US citizen. For women to be paid and treated fairly we must be active and vote. With a strong role model like my mother I was blessed. The future success of our society is up to strong role models," she said.