Learning how to accept oneself and move on from rejections, Aljune found his strength in facing the struggles of life.
“Iniisip ko noon, ‘Bakit hindi pare-pareho ang tao? Bakit iba ako? Bakit hindi katulad sa kanila?’” said Aljune Atok.
Aljune is a 25-year-old Junior IT Programmer at the Bounty Agro Ventures, Inc. (BAVI). He is the youngest in a family of seven, from Biliran, Leyte. He has a Bachelor of Science degree in Information Systems, cum laude, from Naval State University. He is visually impaired (VI).
Aljune is completely blind in his left eye. His right eye has a scar on the cornea, making it hard for him to see things clearly. He has had this condition since birth.
From victim to victor
Aljune was bullied as a child. He never enjoyed his elementary days, since most of his classmates made fun of him. One thing he hated at school was when the teacher would write the entire lecture on the blackboard for the class to copy. “Kapag ganun na ang nangyayari sa school, naku, gusto ko na talagang umuwi,” he said.
Aljune would always get offended when his classmates teased him about his impairment. It was not until high school when accepted his condition. Why cry over things that you cannot change, he thought. Accepting what he is, and moving on from rejection made him happier. He became friends with his bullies, and his high school days provided happier memories.
When Aljune entered college, he got a 50% discount on all his academic expenses. This was his motivation throughout his four years at Naval State University. All he wanted was to meet the 2.0 grade ceiling for his scholarship. But in the second semester of his fourth year, he was surprised to find he was listed as a candidate for Cum Laude.
“Kung alam ko lang na ganun yung kalalabasan… sana mas mataas pa sa Cum Laude. Pero okay na rin yun,” Aljune said.
For six months after graduation Aljune helped his parents with their small business in Leyte. Fearful of discrimination, he was hesitant to look for a job. “Sino ba naman ang tatanggap sa akin, siguro mag-business na lang ako, sabi ko noon,” he said.
Stepping into a larger world
When he decided to look for work in Manila, his parents were doubtful. They told Aljune, just look for jobs in Leyte. “Wala naman kasi masyado’ng opportunities para sa pinag-aralan ko sa Leyte. Sabi ko sa kanila, sa Manila madami. Wala na naman sila’ng nagawa, mag-ingat na lang daw ako,” he shared.
In January 2015, he decided to travel from Biliran to Dasmariñas, Cavite. He stayed with his brother while he was looking for work. Since he was so close to Manila, he decided to have his condition checked at Philippine General Hospital.
Doctors told Aljune that there was no medication that could help with his condition. His last option was surgery, which had two possible outcomes: a cure for his impairment, or complete blindness in both eyes. “Sugal rin kapag nagpa-surgery ako e. Hindi ko na isusugal kung ano ang nakikita ko ngayon,” said Aljune.
Despite the prognosis, Aljune was convinced that he would soon find a job, because he already had the skills. “Para sa akin kasi, kung ano ka man, basta nasa iyo yung skill na kailangan nila, tatanggapin ka,” he said.
Aljune felt the discrimination when he was looking for a job. He tried applying for work in Cavite, Alabang, and Mandaluyong, but each time he was told to “wait for the call.”
“Hindi naman nila sinasabi directly, pero alam mo na yun yung ibig nila sabihin. Bakit nga naman kasi sila mag-i-invest sa ganito, kung pwede naman sila mag-hire ng abled,” said Aljune.
One day, Aljune’s search ended. He found part-time work at the Adaptive Technology for Rehabilitation, Integration and Empowerment of the Visually Impaired (ATRIEV), as a trainer for web development, and his students were blind. He would teach for one training session, which was 25 days long. His classes ran nine hours per day. His salary at ATRIEV was just enough for his monthly expenses, including the room he was renting in Cubao.
The director of ATRIEV later endorsed Aljune to Project Inclusion. It was Project Inclusion that provided him the opportunity to be employed full-time: a permanent job with regular pay. Aljune started work on February 8, as a programmer at BAVI.
His main responsibility is to support Bounty’s in-house systems, and to develop other systems that will make the automation more convenient in all Bounty branches and business centers.
During his job interview, Aljune shared how he achieved Latin honors in college, which he did not really expect.
Group manager Gladys Quillopas saw Aljune’s remarkable personality. “Doon pa lang, nakita ko kung paano s’ya nagtiyaga as student, even if he has a disability. What more sa work? Ang values kasi namin dito sa BAVI, basta may good working attitude ka, okay ka. Kasi yung skills madali na lang ‘yan i-train.”
Aljune shared his first salary at Bounty with his family. He sent half of his hard-earned money to Leyte, keeping the other half for his own expenses. “Mas okay na ngayon, kasi nakapagpapadala na ako kapag kailangan ng pamilya ko. Dati kasi para sa akin lang talaga yung sahod ko. Tapos nakabili na rin ako ng sariling laptop,” he said.
Enjoying the bounty
Aljune has been working at BAVI for almost two months now, undergoing training. His supervisor, Alistair Javillonar, said that he has not encountered any problems. “Madali s’yang matuto, kasi may foundation na s’ya sa IT,” he said.
According to Gladys, she can see that Aljune is diligent and focused when it comes to work. Aside from meeting his deadlines, she notice that Aljune doesn’t waste time with chit-chat when it’s time for work.
“Kakausapin lang niya kami kapag kami ‘yung unang kumausap sa kanya,” said Alistair.
Assistant manager Belinda De Leon suggested that maybe Aljune is shy, or maybe he is just mindful of deadlines. She shared that, as a programmer, Aljune has a time limit in learning and creating a system. “Ang turing kasi namin sa kanya, regular employee na. Kaya ‘yung trabaho niya ngayon, ibang level. Mayroon s’yang deadline,” said Belinda.
The right conditions
Aljune experienced a lot of discrimination while looking for work in the past. But when he joined the BAVI family, all the employees welcomed him with open arms. “Wala namang gulatan na nangyari, kasi aware ang lahat ng employees na magkakaroon sila ng PWD co-worker,” said Belinda.
As part of the company’s Corporate Social Responsibility, it is BAVI’s advocacy to hire persons with disability and make them showcase their skills. All it takes is proper communication and awareness, in order to give PWDs the opportunity to learn and to contribute to the industry.
Discrimination was the major obstacle to Aljune’s employment. But he had another hindrance: because he was not very sociable, he did not have a lot of friends.
Many PWDs are reluctant to talk about their condition, and they usually keep to themselves.
Aljune explained, “Hindi naman [ako mahiyain], hindi ko lang talaga sila makita. Malay ko ba, baka taga-ibang kompanya pala yung kasalubong ko. Kapag binati ko, e di epic fail pa ako.”
Aside from having a stable job and helping his family, Aljune has another dream: he would like to create a robot for the visually impaired.
According to Aljune, visually impaired people struggle with money every day, wondering if they are able to pay the right amount of money, or receive correct change. Aljune’s robot would provide auditory cues, announcing the amount of money that a VI presents to the machine. His idea is that such robots would be placed in public areas, especially at public transportation terminals.
Being visually impaired since birth, Aljune’s journey was never easy, from being bullied in school to rejection during his job hunt. But he never gave up. Through his struggles, he learned to find strength in the things that bring him down.
Aljune has advice for other PWDs who are having a hard time looking for a job. He wants them to keep trying, and to learn to move on. “Wala na ako’ng mababago dito sa kondisyon ko. Ang magagawa ko na lang, tanggapin ‘to at ipagpatuloy ang buhay,” he said.
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.