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  • Denice Vias

Opportunity Knocks on Two Doors

Raising a child does not stop at giving birth. It is a life-long blessing, and at the same time, a challenge that every parent face. For the parents of Persons with Disability (PWDs), it is an even bigger challenge, with extra responsibilities.

Raising a child does not stop at giving birth. It is a life-long blessing, and at the same time, a challenge that every parent face. For the parents of Persons with Disability (PWDs), it is an even bigger challenge, with extra responsibilities. The chance to witness their child mature and learn the lessons of life is usually a measure of success for parents. For parents of PWDs, seeing them grow and stand on their own is more than enough reward for all their sacrifice.

Sacrifices and Triumphs

For Clarissa Kilkenny, it is pure joy and hope to know that her daughter, Mindy Kilkenny, is capable of living on her own. Mindy is 21, and she has Autism Spectrum Disorder. Mindy enjoys cooking, dancing, and organizing.

Raising Mindy was a challenge because of her special needs. “Marami kang isa-sacrifice. Yung bahay ko sa probinsya, binenta ko. Nung nag-college na siya, sinara ko na yung botika,” Clarissa said. (We had to sacrifice many things. My house, the house in our province, I sold all of them… When Mindy entered college, I closed our small drugstore.)

It was a tough decision, but she had to quit her job to look after her daughter, “Lahat kami umiikot para sa kanya. Lahat naka-depende. Maiiwan ba ‘to sa bahay? Sino susundo sa school? Lalo na kung magta-trabaho ako fulltime.” (Our lives revolve around her. We all depend on her. Will she be left alone at home? Who will be her chaperon in school? What more if I work fulltime?)

When Mindy graduated from a two-year special course, Mommy Clarissa was delighted and grateful. But she also faced a bigger, tougher question: what was next for her daughter?

“Kasi graduate na yung anak mo, sino na ang tatanggap dito? Sino ang uunawa? Hindi ko na alam kung ano yung next step ko. Anong ang gagawin ko? Nawawala na ko.” (My daughter graduated, but who’s going to hire her? Who would understand? I didn’t know what step to take next. What am I going to do? I feel lost.)

A friend recommended Project Inclusion. Mommy Clarissa thought, “Naku! Eh ‘di syempre para akong nanalo sa lotto!” (It felt like I had won the lottery!) At first, she was worried about how the company would react to hiring Mindy, and how her coworkers would treat her.

But after only a few weeks, the family noticed a big change in Mindy, “Malaking tulong kasi nag-improve siya, eh. Tsaka ang laki ng maturity! Sobrang laki ng improvement!” (It was a huge help because she improved! And she matured greatly. The improvement was great!)

Mindy in Action

Not many of us remember the date we were employed. Beaming with enthusiasm, Mindy remembers the exact moment she discovered that she was hired. “Masaya ako. First time ko kasi nung na-hire ako. January 4, 2017, Wednesday pa!” (I’m happy. It was my first time to be hired. It was January 4, 2017, Wednesday!).

Working as a Pharmacy Assistant in Southstar Drug, Quezon City, Mindy has exemplary work performance. When asked what she enjoys most about her work, she replied, “Minsan ‘pag mga Senior [Citizens ang customers], ako nalang taga-pirma, taga-bigay, taga-balot, taga-sukli, tapos masaya rin ako. [Yung] mga reseta, dapat kung ilan yung gamot ‘yun yung susundin ko. Tapos yung iba, yung mga SS, binabalot ko. Tapos binibigyan ko sila [ng] tamang sukli, tapos masaya!”

(Sometimes, when there’s a Senior Citizen, I’m the one who signs, bags the goods, and gives the change, and I’m happy. I should follow the number of medicines indicated in the prescriptions. I also bag the SS. I give them the right change, and I’m happy!)

Mindy’s Supervisor and co-workers noticed much improvement in Mindy’s work performance since she was hired last January 2017. “Noong una kasi, parang wala lang sa kanya. Kailangan pa siyang utusan. Ngayon, nagkukusa na rin siya,” JP, a Pharmacy Assistant Merchandiser in the branch, said. (At first, it seemed like she did not care about the job very much. Now, she does her job even without us telling her to do it.).

They have seen so much growth and potential in Mindy that they trust her to do her job well, with minimal supervision. Aside from helping in the pharmacy, she also lends a hand in stocking and organizing the shelves. According to Rochelle, a Stock Analyst in the branch, “Sa merchandising kasi, magaling siya mag-display. Halimbawa, may makita siyang something na natumba, lalabas siya agad, aayusin niya na ‘yun.” (In merchandising, Mindy is good with displaying. For example, if she sees something fall from the rack, she’ll immediately go out and fix it.)

Positive Vibes, Positive Lives

People assume that Persons with Autism (PWAs) have a hard time communicating and expressing their feelings. But Mindy has formed a very strong bond with her co-workers because of her vibrant character. Her Supervisor, Driz Endaya, shared that Mindy greets the people she sees. Her lively attitude brings a different kind of joy to the people around her.

Mindy’s co-worker, Rochelle, and her Supervisor, Driz, shared that working with a PWD taught them important lessons. Before Mindy joined them, they would all go to work stressed out, forgetting to talk to each other, and forgetting to enjoy work. When Mindy got sick, she still insisted on going to work because she really values her job.

Now, they look forward to going to work because of Mindy’s influence.

“Last time nung um-absent siya, na-miss nila, kasi walang nag-gi-greet. Kaya talagang ‘pag wala siya sa day na ‘yun, parang kulang yung araw mo.” (When she was absent last time, they [her coworkers and the customers] missed her because no one was greeting them. So, if she’s not present for a day, your day is not complete.)

Two Paths of Success

Besides Mindy’s improvement in the workplace, her mother also noticed an improvement in her sense of responsibility as an adult. “Nung first day na may fever ‘yan, pinilit pa ring pumasok nang isang araw. Hindi ko nga alam na may fever na siya. Kasi ayaw niyang um-absent dahil kulang sila, mahihirapan daw yung mga kasama niya.” (When she was on her first day of flu, she insisted on coming to work. I didn’t even know that she had a fever. She didn’t want to be absent, because she knows that they’re short-handed; her coworkers would have a hard time.).

The passion and determination seen in Mindy is the reason why, in July 2017, she will be regularized as an employee at Southstar Drug.

But Mindy’s regularization is not the only success that is worth celebrating in their family. After Mindy got hired, Mommy Clarissa also received an offer to be a pharmacist. Confident that her daughter can now be fully independent, Mommy Clarissa took the job. Now both mother and daughter are gainfully employed.

Raising a child with disability is not easy, but Mommy Clarissa offers advice to parents like herself. She wants them to know that regardless of all the sacrifices they make, they must never give up on their children. “Don’t lose hope. Bumalik sa isip ko lahat, parang nag-rewind lahat ng hirap ko simula nung maliit si Mindy. Kung baga, at the end of the tunnel, may bright light. Kung mahaba man ang tunnel, may light pa rin.” (Don’t lose hope. I remembered it all. It’s like the memories of all my struggles since Mindy was a child came rushing through. At the end of the tunnel, there’s a bright light. If the tunnel seems too long, there’s still light.)

About the author: Denice Vias prefers to be called Debby. She is a writing major of the BA Communication Arts program at the University of the Philippines-Los Baños, and an intern at Unilab Foundation. In the middle of the night, she likes having a stroll around UPLB Grove to generate new ideas because noise serves as a trigger for her creativity.

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