EMPOWERING THE DISABLED
“It is simple. Give these people with disability the chance to work, the impetus to improve themselves, and they will do it.”
That is the important guiding principle of Sister Valeriana Baerts ICM, an 89 year-old Belgian nun and nurse, who is the Chairperson and the Founder of Tahanang Walang Hagdanan Inc (House with No Steps). It takes a heart of gold, and a conviction of steel to build an organisation that looks out for the invisible minorities of society. The disabled are often sidelined, marginalised and shortchanged, but one woman had the will and the vision to rewrite their lives.
How did Tahanang Walang Hagdanan Inc. begin?
Sister Valeriana was assigned to work in the Philippine Orthopedic Hospital as a nurse. That experience had been her eye-opener; she saw how these persons with disabilities (PWD) were living a miserable life. In 1972, Sister Valeriana met Mr. Lionel Watts, the founder of House with No Steps, a vocational training for the disabled in Australia. She wanted to do something similar in the Philippines, so she looked for potential donors.
After coordinating with the Belgian Government, she was provided 70% of the funds in the construction of the building while the remainder came from other donors. The Archdiocese of Manila provided a 4.2 hectare lot in Cainta, a first-class urban municipality in the province of Rizal. And finally, with all the help and efforts, Tahanang Walang Hagdanan Inc. (TWHI) was established on 21 February 1973. During that time, they started with the metal craft department, where employees would produce and sell wheelchairs. However, as time passed, other programmes and services also emerged.
Tell me more about the business programmes that TWHI conducts for people with disabilities.
The business programme involves employing the PWDs for metal craft, needlecraft, woodcraft, medicine packaging, mushroom and lettuce culturing.
For metal craft, TWHI creates and sells wheelchairs, tractors, and cranes.For needlecraft, they use old tarpaulins to create bags. Rustan’s, a shopping mall in the Philippines, orders 2000 pieces of bags regularly from TWHI.
For woodcraft, they create tables, chairs, cabinets and all sorts of customised wood furniture. For medicine packaging, TWHI partnered with big medicine companies such as UNILAB, to repack the medicines for them. They also culture mushrooms and lettuce, and sell them.
How else do you help enhance their employment prospects?
First, we offer Special Education to about 10 students now. They vary from 18 to 30 years old.
We also provide rehabilitation through on-the-job training. This gives the PWDs the chance to restore and/or develop new skills, thus preparing them for integration into mainstream society.
Job Placement assists the PWDs to find employment in the regular workforce. Employers are encouraged to accommodate the PWD for mainstreaming.
Employment is also available at TWHI, and housing accommodations are given to new employees/trainees.
As an NGO, what are the challenges and opportunities did TWHI undergo? And for forty years, how was it sustained?
Since TWHI is a non-government organisation; most of the funds generated by us are either from donations from individuals or companies, or from the projects and programmes of TWHI. This, however, is not enough to maintain the facilities and employees.
The secret of sustaining TWHI despite its financial difficulties is the leadership and management of Sister Valeriana. She has the ability to influence people to support TWHI.
People believed in her because of her sincerity and great desire to help and improve the lives of the PWDs.
80 % of the employees of TWHI have physical impairment while 20% are non-PWD. What are the employment qualifications for TWHI?
The employees who work with us are referred to us by the Department of Social Welfare and Development. PWDs on the streets who were adopted by Sister Valeriana, and those who applied to TWHI undergo a regular hiring process like other companies.
Some employees have no educational background, and that is why we conduct seminars and trainings for the employees to match their skills to the task involved.
As the Administrative Officer of TWHI, how can TWHI improve?
People think that TWHI is doing well because there are a lot of people and companies supporting TWHI. However, TWHI still needs to improve in many aspects. However, the most urgent need is our renovation facilities, equipment and resources. We need computers, projectors, television, books for offices and Special Education.
In your opinion Mr. Natividad, what do PWDs and TWHI need to better serve the society and the country?
People with disabilities have talents and skills. We just need the opportunity and avenue to showcase and improve these talents and skills.
We also need a more accommodating and less discriminating society. Discrimination is the biggest hindrance to our success. We can do so many things. We are not handicapped; it is society that makes us handicapped.
TWHI can better serve the society by continuing its projects and programmes, and by continuing rehabilitating and providing jobs to PWDs.
Societal Leadership is “the practice of creating sustainable value and impact for the betterment of society within one’s sphere of influence,” Are there any remarkable individuals in this country whom you would consider as a societal leader?
I will not go and look any further outside our organisation; I consider Sister Valeriana, Ms. Joy Garcia, Ms. Carmen Zubiaga and Mr. Emer Roxas as societal leaders because of what they have done to improve the lives of PWDs.
Sister Valeriana founded TWHI with the vision to improve the lives of the PWDs. She is a recipient of Mabini Awards, an award given by the President of the Republic to an individual whose work and accomplishments in the last five years promoted the human rights and dignity of Filipinos with disabilities.
Ms. Garcia is the Chief Operations Officer of TWHI. Ms. Zubiaga is the Executive Director of National Commission for Disability Affairs (NDCA) and the founding president of Women With Disabilities LEAP to Social and Economic Progress Inc. (WOWLEAP) an NGO whose mission is to promote the rights of women with disabilities to be active participants in social and economic activities in their respective communities. Mr. Roxas is a survivor of lung cancer. He has made huge impact on the lives of the PWDs.
Tahanang Walang Hagdanan Inc. (TWHI) is a NGO dedicated to providing continuous holistic development for people with disabilities. It particularly helps persons who have physical impairment through medical assistance, livelihood trainings and community-based rehabilitation programmes. TWHI has 22 branches all over the Philippines and a total of 350 employees, of which 80% are people with disabilities. To find out more, log on here: https://www.facebook.com/TAHANANG-WALANG-HAGDANAN-INC-181091870037/
This interview with Mr. Rodelio Mcdel Natividad, Administrative Officer and the secretary of the Chief Operations Officer of TWHI, was done by Leah Marie, from the class of SEAGULL 2015.
The South East Asian Global Undergraduate Leaders’ Programme (SEAGULL) is an annual capacity-building leadership programme, which brings together ASEAN and Timor-Leste undergraduates who have the potential to be part of social change in their countries, and in the greater region.
The Institute for Societal Leadership, established by Singapore Management University, conducts applied research, creates and amplifies content about societal leadership, and invests in current and emerging societal leaders through leadership development programmes, for the betterment of society.