O is for Opportunity

15 November 2010 at 08:00 2 comments

When I decided to apply for the Kiva Fellowship, I had ‘opportunity’ on my mind. I wanted to be a Fellow so I could become a channel through which disadvantaged people could connect to a network of financial support, thereby presenting them with the chance to improve their lives. Though I came to the province of Bohol envisioning the most effective opportunities to take the form of financial transactions, I have, on several occasions, witnessed other means of empowering underprivileged Filipinos.

Meet Ruby, a young Filipina woman who is blind. Like many other blind and disabled people, Ruby attended a one-year training program to master the art of massage therapy.  Now a seasoned masseur, she is able to earn a living by providing her services at 80 pesos ($2) per half hour.

The Bohol Federation of Disabled Persons (BFDI) is an organization that was established by Timoteo Quilas, a man who lost his vision while in college. After training as a masseur, he opened his own practice and his success enabled him to rise out of poverty and provide for his children’s education. Mr. Quilas’ achievements don’t stop there – in 2005 he received the Disabled Filipino of the Year award in acknowledgement of his noble efforts to help other disabled persons, such as Ruby, become productive citizens.

I met Ruby at the Tagbilaran City Airport after hearing an announcement about BFDI’s efforts to fundraise for a rehabilitation center for blind and disabled people. Before I met Ruby, I had encountered other blind members of BFDI at the ferry terminal, and even during a visit to the Chocolate Hills. The members I had met fell into one of two categories: masseur or entertainer. The masseurs indulge customers with treatments ranging from head massages, foot massages, to full body massages. The entertainers charm audiences with their talent and bright smiles, playing a potpourri of music (Filipino and American) to solicit donations for the rehabilitation center.

BFDI offers blind and disabled people skills trainings in massage therapy, dressmaking, furniture making and electronics repair so that they can integrate in ranks of the employed and productively contribute to their local economies. It is no wonder we often see members volunteering their time to raise funds for the rehabilitation center in Cebu at ferry terminals, airports and popular tourist attractions, in efforts to show their appreciation for BFDI.

Another organization that is devoted to helping deaf and disabled people is the Bohol Foundation for the Deaf and Disabled (BFDD). In 1984, BFDD established a little snack center made of bamboo to employ and train seven deaf employees. Today, in collaboration with the Bohol Provincial Government, BFDD owns and operates the Garden Café, an Old West themed restaurant and museum, employing 26 deaf and 11 hearing people.

The dining experience at Garden Café is quite unique:

The décor is a combination of historical artifacts and Midwestern paraphernalia – you’ll find lassos, saddles, buffalo fossils, and horseshoes among many other things.

The menu boasts a wide range of items, from traditional Filipino dishes to meals with a Midwest flare. My favorite section in the menu is the picture dictionary that illustrates signs that come in handy while communicating with the waiters. Though the waitresses could also communicate through writing, it was fun to practice my sign language skills!

To place the meal order, I dialed “0” to connect to a hearing operator who is located on the first floor of the restaurant.

In addition to serving great food, the Garden Café offers hearing impaired individuals the opportunity to work in the restaurant and food service sector. Furthermore, the profits from the restaurant are used to provide educations to approximately 250 impoverished deaf children across Bohol.

These two organizations have devoted significant resources to empower the deaf, blind and crippled so that this demographic no longer has to be excluded from society. With support from BFDI and BFDD this ‘vulnerable’ population can move away from the margins and integrate into society. The provision of opportunities must not go unnoticed – after all, though the poor may lack access to services, the disabled face additional barriers that hinder accessibility.

Here’s a short video that offers a glimpse into the musical stylings of some BFDI entertainers.

Resource: http://www.newsflash.org/2004/02/hl/hl103907.htm

Kaajal Laungani just finished up her Kiva Fellow at Community Economic Ventures, Inc (CEVI) in the Philippines. She has had a wonderful time exploring the beautiful island of Bohol and soaking up the great Filipino culture.

Entry filed under: Community Economic Ventures (CEVI), KF12 (Kiva Fellows 12th Class), Philippines. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

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2 Comments

  • 1. Sheena  |  30 November 2010 at 20:14

    This is such a wonderful organization! I’m so glad you had the opportunity to interact with such inspirational people across the world.

  • 2. Cissy  |  15 November 2010 at 08:13

    Great blog post, Kaajal… you found some very worthy organizations during your stay in the Philippines. Thanks for sharing these and thanks for doing a great job as a KF!


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