QUEZON, Philippines – More than just a business, a sunflower farm in Tiaong, Quezon empowers persons with disabilities (PWDs) by providing sustainable livelihood.
“We need to change the mindset that persons with disabilities are limited and that they can’t do anything,” said Sunshine Farm owner Rhodora Palomar-Fresnedi.
Farm manager Ven Villanueva, 44, who has polio, said his earnings from the Sunshine Farm helps him send his child to school. The farm also helps improve the lives of PWDs in Tiaong.
“Sa amin pong may kapansanan, dati walang trabaho ‘yung iba sa amin at ngayon nabibigyan na kami ng pagkakataon. Malaking tulong din ang kinikita ko para mapag-aral ang aking anak,” Villanueva said.
(For persons with disabilities like us, Sunshine Farm provides livelihood opportunties. My earnings is also a big help in sending my child to school.)
For him, Sunshine Farm serves as a hope for many PWDs in their town.
"Ang Sunshine Farm ay isang pag-asa na nagbibigay pagkakataon sa tulad naming may kapansanan na magkapag-trabaho. Sana maging example ito sa iba pang business establishments na magbigay ng pagkakataon sa mga may kapansanan," Villanueva said.
(Sunshine Farm is a hope which gives livelihood opportunities to persons with disabilities like us. I wish more business establishments would provide opportunities to persons with exceptionalities.)
Inclusion and diversity
The idea of putting up a sunflower farm came from Rhodora's love for flower arrangement and advocacy for inclusion.
“I champion for inclusion and diversity. If we truly believe in something (such as) championing a cause for a marginalized group, we always have to be clear with our intention,” Rhodora said.
As far back as 2011, she recalled that her friend, who has a child with down syndrome, decided to leave the country to migrate in the U.S. because of the opportunities for PWDs there.
“I’ve always drawn to people who are marginalized. Why go? Why we not build a more inclusive Philippines so that by the time her child is 18, there will be more opportunities to people like them,” she recounted.
This was the turning point for her to start Sunshine Farm and give back to the country by putting out something that aims for a greater good especially for people with exceptionalities.
Rhodora believes that if she works with PWDs, she will become better at doing it for other marginalized sectors like LGBT.
“It's like a practice run for me. It's difficult to deal with PWDs. If I can do it with them, I can certainly do things with other vulnerable sectors,” she explained.
When she and her husband finally decided to move in the Philippines in 2017 for good, Rhodora had a talk with a local organization, the Samahan ng mga Isinusulong ang mga Kakayanan ng mga may Kapansanan (SIKAP), concerning PWDs in Quezon. They then acted on her plan of building a more inclusive community.
Photo by Bonz Magsambol/Rappler
According to her, the challenge with PWDs is that they do things alone. She believes, however, there is power in doing everything together as a community.
"Each one of us has a unique capability and we need to find the environment where it will best fit that and harness that,” Rhodora said.
Symbolizes hope, happiness
Dressed with a long red floral skirt, Rhodora was all smiles as she greeted visitors on a Sunday morning.
“How can you not smile with the sunflowers. If you have thousands of sunflowers in a plot, you literally have thousands of them smiling at you,” Rhodora said with delight.
With only five months of operations as of posting, the farm has already attracted thousands of locals and people from neighboring towns and provinces to visit the field of smiling sunflowers.
The sunflower farm initially planted 4,000 seeds in November 2017, without any plans of selling them but as photos on social media went viral, visitors asked her if they could buy flowers.
“The photos went viral and then we sold sunflowers. But then at some point, pinatigil ko rin (I stopped selling) because I want more people to enjoy the beauty of the sunflower field. We continue planting sunflowers until we maintained enough number of flowers for sale,” Rhodora shared.
The farm charges P100 as entrance fee which covers an 8:00-5:00 pm visit while a piece of sunflower costs around P150 to P200 depending on the size and variety.
Asked about why she chose sunflower among others, Rhodora said: “Sunflowers are happy flowers. You can just look at them and they seem to be smiling at you.”
The sunflowers, she added, "perfectly symbolizes hope, so in a sense Sunshine Farm is planting seeds of hope.”
According to Rhodora, “if we want to be a competitive country, we have to embrace everyone and harness whatever talent they have.”
In celebration of the National Women’s month, she advises advocates like her to continue fighting for the common good so other people will come forward.
“If our intentions are pure, and if our dreams are big and we’re courageous enough to put it out there. People come, resources come, and people with the same interest, passion, and advocacy come together.”
She also believes people should fight for gender equality as labeling hinders others in reaching their full potential. “The time has come that we should not be thinking of gender because the more we define, the more we exclude," she said. – Rappler.com