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ILOILO CITY, Philippines – “I am enjoying my work and I love my work,” said Angelo Jardeleza who goes to work twice a week at the CM Bamboocraft Center.
The center was established by the Carmelite Missionaries (CM) as a socio-economic project committed to the integral development of its workers and the poor. It is located in one of Iloilo City’s busiest district – La Paz – and serves as a workshop, manufacturing center, and showroom of the different products made from bamboo material.
Furniture, lamp shade, candle holder, picture frame, religious materials and all sorts of souvenir items can be found in the shop. All of these materials are either offered for Iloilo customers, ordered by clients or transported for display and sale to its showroom in Quezon City. There are items that are also sent to clients abroad through the network of the Carmelite nuns.
“Angelo occupies an important part of the process in this workplace,” said Mary Ann Modina, who supervises him at work. “He handles one of the nitty-gritty parts of the work and does it excellently and efficiently more than anyone of us here,” added Modina.
Before key chains are gathered for final quality evaluation and eventually for display or delivery, they pass through Angelo’s section. It’s him who assembles the keychain rings which make it a finished product.
Upon Angelo’s arrival at the Bamboocraft Center one morning, a pile of boxes with products set for delivery was at the doorstep. “Are these boxes the ones I made Ma’am Mary Ann?” asked Angelo. “Yes and it looks perfect and beautiful,” replied Modina, who is also in charge of the stockroom for the center.
It is also Angelo who makes boxes from chipboards used for the packaging of the products. He follows a pattern to make a perfect size, cuts sections, and folds parts to make a lock that would hold the bamboo product inside. In a month’s time, Angelo could produce from 150 to 200 boxes.
Gradual development for inclusion
Now 26 years old, Angelo was first observed to have language delay and was sensitive to noise and touch. It was at the age of 7 that he was diagnosed to have autism spectrum disorder.
According to Iris Gaballo, program director at Workabilities, a transition center for adults and adolescents with special needs in Iloilo City, “Angelo underwent special school and had intermittent occupational and speech therapies.”
He was also enrolled at some point in a regular education program. But the effort that prepared Angelo to acquire and develop life skills started with the family and in the household.
“Edith Jardeleza, Angelo’s mom, who is a former president of the Autism Society of the Philippines-Iloilo Chapter (ASP-Iloilo), was one of the parents who welcomed us in Iloilo City when Workabilities started in 2014,” shared Gaballo.
“Angelo was our first and only student in the beginning. Angelo offered us the opportunity to tailor our activities to meet his needs and interests. This focus given to him enabled us to address many challenges which prepared him for work and social interaction,” explained Gaballo.
Yet it was not all difficult for Angelo to learn work skills because his interest and inclination to work was becoming evident early on.
“Angelo was very interested in doing paper crafts, wood crafts, and Lego. He demonstrated excellent skills in assembling things, tracing, cutting and pasting, He is also very particular with organizing materials and returning them in proper places,” explained Gaballo.
The good quality output from Angelo’s work is attributed to his eye for detail as he does work meticulously, patiently putting parts of an object one after another and working on them one step at a time until the work is done.
“The interests and skills of Angelo were a major consideration when we were scouting for Angelo’s suitable workplace. We were also looking for an establishment that needed Angelo’s skills and was willing to be part of Angelo’s steps to independence,” said Gaballo.
In August 2015, Angelo was accepted by Iloilo Supermart at the Atrium as a volunteer intern where he was tasked to return and arrange misplaced items. In May 2016, CM Bamboocraft welcomed Angelo to be part of the team.
It was at Workabilities where the life skills Angelo learned at home were reinforced and sharpened, making him more prepared for work.
There are similar adults and adolescents with intellectual disabilities that undergo transition sessions in small groups at Workabilities. Angelo continues to attend “Social Thinking and Life Skills” sessions every Wednesday and these sessions allowed him to interact with his peers and teachers, and share experiences at work.
“(We sometimes) invite him to come to the center and help us with arts and crafts and he readily assists us,” Gaballo said.
Preparing a person with intellectual disability (PWID) for inclusion in the workplace is like going up the staircase, Gaballo said, as it takes a gradual process to develop the individual to become effective in the workplace.
Special person with extraordinary attitude
Everybody at Bamboocraft Center recognizes that Angelo is a special person, not because he has autism but because he displays extraordinary social skills.
He is well-loved by his co-workers because he knows each one of them by name. He is apologetic everytime a name of a colleague at work escapes his memory. “I sometimes forget the names of my co-worker,” laughs Angelo.
He is courteous at the workplace, always saying “good morning”, “thank you”, or “sorry” if his work was imperfect or has yet to be completed.
“Angelo is a dedicated worker and he values the guidance of people in authority over him,” Modina said.
“He usually asks me for guidance or to evaluate the items that he is working on in order to make sure that [the work] is being done according to the process and it follows the standards that we agreed upon. He upholds high standard on his work output,” Modina added.
Another characteristic of Angelo as a worker that Modina admires is his being independent.
“He has a very positive outlook at work and is a happy worker. We can hear him hum a tune or sing a song like while working. He knows how to cope with stress by giving himself necessary breaks to play with his toys that he brings along with him, or he chats briefly with his colleagues in between,” she added.
Inclusion means learning from PWDs
It is Angelo’s elder sister or father that drives him to work from their house located in a subdivision in La Paz district. Yet Angelo manages to ride a jeep and a tricycle to go home after work during times when he cannot be picked up after work.
The Bamboocraft Center had PWIDs before Angelo either to observe the work at the Center or get trained for work. The center made preparations by giving orientations to their staff and workers prior to employing PWIDs like Angelo.
“The staff and workers at the Bamboocraft Center were given proper briefing before Angelo was introduced for work. They felt the excitement in Angelo to work with them and his enthusiasm to learn was evident,” Modina shared.
It was also Mary Ann Modina who oriented Angelo about the process and the different departments, explaining to him that some sections handle specialized processes and require safety procedures that may not be suitable for him.
“Angelo also raised our awareness about safety and health sensitivities of persons with autism. Angelo could easily catch cold or cough if exposed to dust and allergens at the workplace and so we make sure that he is protected and that his work area is distant from the shop,” said Modina.
Employing a PWID entails responsibility from the workplace by giving the proper support and setting up the proper environment.
“It takes a lot of education and awareness from the end of the employer so that persons like Angelo can work properly and effectively,” observed Modina.
“The openness of the Bamboocraft Center to take in persons with intellectual disability is founded in the vision and mission of the Carmelite nuns which is to alleviate the suffering of the marginalized and that includes the poor and neglected in society, differently-abled persons and persons with intellectual disability,” explained Sr Ludy Dizon, local superior of the Carmelite Missionaries in La Paz.
The decision to accept Angelo Jardeleza to work at the Bamboocraft Center has earned the nod of even the most superior in the Carmelite nuns organization.
‘Working gives me fulfilment’
“Miss Mary Ann, working is not easy; it is not easy to earn a living,” shared Angelo at one point. I learned about this while working, Angelo emphasized.
Yet, according to Angelo, working is part of life and he looks forward to go to work everyday because it is self-fulfilling. He did not hint that he is a person with intellectual disability or has discussed about autism in the course of the conversation.
“I love to work and I save my earnings,” said Angelo.
“Probably I can save some money and bring my siblings and the family to restaurants because we enjoy pizza and Korean food. But I don’t like meat or pork,” he stressed.
“I will continue to work hard because I want to travel to other countries. Perhaps when I have saved enough money I can bring my Mom to Singapore or some countries near the Philippines to see the sights. I would love to travel with my Mom, shared Angelo. – Rappler.com
Ted Aldwin Ong is a columnist for the Iloilo Metropolitan Times and one of the lead mover of Rappler’s Move Iloilo. The story was produced by the writer as a fellow under the “Media and PWID: Covering Stories on Capacities and Contributions Media Training and Fellowship Program” by Probe Media Foundation and Unilab Foundation. The photos were either taken by the writer or taken from the WorkAbilities Transition Center.