Building capabilities of PWDs: Empowering the powerless amidst the pandemic

by Roella Marcelle M. Bautista

Imagine the struggle of having physical hindrances on top of having to keep yourself safe from COVID-19. This is the ordeal that Persons With Disabilities (PWDs) have to go through during the current public health crisis.

Adrian Burgos, 27, residing in has been living his entire life with Cerebral Palsy that affects his posture and balance and causes him to have difficulties in moving. He used to work for a living as a pedicab driver to be able to provide himself and his family with a good life and good living condition.

“Dito sa amin, driver ako – pedicab driver. Driver ako at high school graduate lang ako nun eh. Kasi parang gusto kong magtrabaho, naiinip na ako kasi parang hindi na lang habang buhay ganto na driver ako,” he said.

(In our area, I am a pedicab driver. I was only a high school graduate. I wanted to earn a living, because I didn’t want to be a driver all my life.)

Due to this hardship, Adrian thought of joining Grain Foundation for PWD, Incorporated (GFPI). GFPI is a non-government and non-profit organization that aims to establish a PWD friendly community and provide an enabling environment for PWDs.

He trained with other PWDs under the Barista Program offered by the foundation that gave him the chance to be a regular employee at Dunamai Café, which operates with the help of PWD employees, who share the responsibilities of being baristas, cashiers, and waiters.

When asked about his experience in working in the café, he said that he is filled with happiness because he is able to earn a living amidst the pandemic.

Impact of the Pandemic on PWDs

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PERSONS WITH CAPABILITIES. Adrian Burgos starts his first day at Dunamai Cafe. With him are the other PWD employees of Dunamai Cafe with their manager, Don Jose Taroy (rightmost). Photo by Dunamai Café

Adrian and his co-workers’ livelihood was cut short when Dunamai Café temporarily closed its doors to the public due to the pandemic. The café has yet to open since the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) was declared last March 2020. 

The café has been trying to re-open, but due to the ever-changing protocols and guidelines, their plans were always put on hold and scheduled at a later time.

The temporary closure of the café affected Adrian and his family in ways even he cannot imagine.

“Sobrang hirap. Walang income, bawal lumabas, di ko matulungan yung mga magulang ko kasi nawalan ako ng trabaho. Bawal din mag-side car kasi bawal lumabas ng bahay.”

 (It’s really hard. I have no income, we cannot go out, and I cannot help my parents because I lost my job. It is also not possible to drive side cars because everyone cannot go out of their houses.)

He lamented that during the lockdown, he and his family relied on the relief provided by government, such as rice and canned goods, which were all they ate every single day.

GFPI Programs 

GFPI launched Project Resume in 2021, which aimed to re-open the café and give back the livelihood of its employees. All funds that were collected through this project were used to start over and cover the costs of equipment, tools, consumables and compensation for the employees.

“Mahalaga kasi sa akin yun eh. Kasi dun ako natuto, dun ako maraming nakilala, sobrang saya talaga nung nag-open yun,” Adrian explained when asked about the importance of having the café resume its operations.

 (It is important to me because that is where I learned a lot and met other people. I was thrilled when the café opened.)

In addition, he said that having the café back means having their regular source of income back. He would be able to support himself and his family without having to worry from time to time.

Government’s Response

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 15% of the human population has some form of disability. In the Philippines, there are 1.44 million PWDs based on the 2010 Census of Population and Housing. 

PWDs or persons with disabilities include people who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which hinders them from fully functioning in society, according to the Department of Health.

Even before the pandemic, the PWDs are already considered part of the marginalized sector due to health and financial difficulties. These issues are heightened more because of community quarantines and travel restrictions. 

Although, the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) released Memorandum No. 66, Series of 2020 which aims to fulfill the needs of PWDs in compliance with Article 11 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, it is still not enough because support from the local governments have been little to none since the country shifted from ECQ to General Community Quarantine (GCQ).

Life-Changing

Adrian’s life has really changed drastically over the years, from being a pedicab driver to being a barista. But Adrian remains hopeful that he can continue to improve himself and reach his goals once the situation improves.

He enjoined his fellow PWDs to not lose hope and to keep on fighting despite their condition. He also inspired them to use their talents and skills, so they will be able to conquer life just like any other person.

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