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  • Nepthalyn Joy Ong

Cookie Thursday with Gabby

Gabby is one of the persons with disabilities who are looking for jobs. But when Gabby did, she found herself not in the office, but in the kitchen.

Thursday is the most beautiful time of the week for the employees of Unilab Foundation (ULF).

It is when Gabby visits the ULF office, with her perfectly baked cookies, and selling them down to the last piece.

Gabby is Gabriela Louisa B. Valencia, a 24-year old girl with autism. Unlike other twenty-somethings who have office jobs, Gabby’s work is baking and selling her products.

Gabby’s Cookie Thursday starts with baking on Wednesday afternoon, selling them at 11:00 AM the next day, and listing down how many cookies each person bought.

Her cookies make me really happy. May something sa cookies niya e, siguro dahil disciplined siya kaya consistent ‘yung texture at lasa ng lahat ng cookies. Minsan pa nga nagtanong siya kung anong flavor ang gusto namin for next week, and then she bakes it. She’s open for experiments,” said Judy Santiago, a communications officer at the foundation. (“It make me very happy. There’s something about her cookies. Maybe it’s because she’s disciplined, that’s why the texture and the taste [of the cookies] are consistent. One time she asked us what flavor we wanted for the next week, and that’s what she baked. She’s open for experiments.”)

Gabby also sells cookies at her job training school, the Therapy Works Community Enablers. She also takes orders during the Christmas season and other special occasions.

“I go to Therapy Works every Tuesday, so I bake cookies at Therapy Works. The cookies for Unilab [Foundation], I bake them at home,” said Gabby.

Gabby has been going to Therapy Works for nearly six years. It was here that, with the help of her teachers, she discovered her baking skills.

At first, Gabby tried fashion school. Her fashion school experience was all about designing and making dresses. She also had to convince customers to buy her products, which was a challenge, since persons with autism generally have difficulty in interacting with people. Eventually she realized that fashion school doesn’t suit her.

Instead, Gabby put up her own business. Gabby said that she wants to continue her baking business, and she’ll name her future bakeshop, Pink Pastries by Gabby.

Gabby dreams of becoming a famous baker in the future. “I think what I love most is how I bake it. I love how I form the cookies, and the smell of the product, of course,” says Gabby. “People at Unilab [Foundation] are really friendly customers. They are addicted to my cookies, that’s why when it’s not selling day, they miss it, they crave it.”

Gabby faces some challenges in her business, like facing angry customers, and people who don’t like her products. In Therapy Works, Gabby is being trained to manage these different circumstances. She practices how to handle situations, such as customers who dislike her product on their first try, or those who get angry in the middle of the selling process.

“At first, she usually baked for a longer time. There were also instances where her difficulties with social and/or personal problems affected her performance. She usually needed help with calming down and processing the situation so that she could work well afterwards,” said Teacher Ana Vivo, Gabby’s mentor in Therapy Works for the past three years.

According to Teacher Ana, one good thing about Gabby is that she never gives up. Even when she’s having a bad day, she continues working until she’s able to sell her products, feeling the accomplishment of a hard day’s work. Whenever a stressful situation arises, she can cope better than before.

Regina Valencia, Gabby’s mother, added that Gabby is more confident. Gabby had a yaya until she was nine years old. Growing up, she became more confident and independent. Eventually she could be left home alone, and she could do the chores like foldingclothes.

Some people think that if a PWD is applying for a job, they should hide the disability so they have a better chance of getting employed. Gabby’s parents think otherwise.

“They can’t hide it. No matter how hard they try to hide it, it can still be seen. Especially the HR people, they are highly trained to spot irregularities,” explained Regina.

Gabby’s father, Enrique Valencia added that some disabilities are quite obvious, like a wheelchair or visual impairment. Thus, PWDs should disclose their condition.

Unilab Foundation’s Project Inclusion aims to make the Philippines a more inclusive community, starting with PWDs. The program enables PWDs to find appropriate jobs, with the help of partner companies, schools, and other organizations. In Gabby’s case, she considered part of the Enterprise Group; she is not employed by a company, but she was given assistance in establishing her own business.

Many PWDs struggle to find jobs. To them and their parents, Enrique and Regina Valencia offer some advice: just stick with it, even if it’s really hard.

Enrique says that it is actually hard for people to find a job and present themselves, it’s a tough market. It’s a tougher market to find jobs for people with disability.

“You have to find a skill that the person is really good at. In the case of Gabby, she’s really good at baking, really really good. So people will buy her cookies no matter what, whether she has autism or whatever. Parents, just stick with it. Find out what your kid can do and contribute to it,” said Enrique.

Gabby’s parents have been supporting her from the very start. Now that she has discovered her baking skills, her parents’ role in the kitchen is washing the dishes, since Gabby has an allergy to detergent. During Christmas rush, Regina and Enrique are the ones who deliver the cookies.

Project Inclusion has helped 103 PWDs land jobs. “I’m not surprised that the PWDs are getting jobs. They are supposed to get jobs, they are entitled to jobs. What I’m surprised at is that there’s actually a foundation or a company that helped them find job. That’s where I’m surprised at, pleasantly surprised,” said Regina.

With enough time and effort, it’s possible to discover what PWDs are good at, and to find opportunities for them to excel.

Nepthalyn Joy V. Ong is an intern at the Unilab Foundation. She is a fourth year BA Journalism student from the Polytechnic University of the Philippines who loves photography, writing, and learning new things.

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