Discovering abilities with People with Disabilities (PWDs)!

On March 21, 2018, Go Negosyo sa Radyo host DJ Cheska San Diego-Bobadilla and co-host Senator Bam Aquino were joined by Aya Fernandez, Founder of Project Lily and Harley Dave Beltran, Founder of Handicrafted by Harl’s, the two social-entrepreneurs who employs person with disabilities (PWD) in their businesses.

In this episode a beauty queen and an artist turned social-entrepreneur will share her inspiring story of success.

More than just a pretty face, the 20 year old model and event host Aya Fernandez is a champion of environmental sustainability and empowering PWD’s. In 2015, Aya won the Miss Teen Earth crown and recently she was awarded as one of the Inspiring Filipina Entrepreneurs in the 10th Filipina Entrepreneurship Summit as an Outstanding Youth for advocating environmental sustainability through their eco-friendly “uling” (eco-uling) made from waterlily, coconut husk, twigs and other agri-forest waste.

The idea of Project Lily started as her high school research project, making fiber glass reinforcement from water hyacinth (waterlily). Her advocacy is to utilize the water hyacinth as source of livelihood and at the same time to contribute in saving the environment. After high school she started Project Lily as bag-making livelihood project for the women of Brgy. Rosario, Pasig City which became her flagship advocacy in winning the Miss Teen Earth, the following year she met a group of PWD’s who makes charcoal from water hyacinth and other agri-forest waste.

When she was nominated as United Nations Ambassador Youth Leader for Sustainable Development, she proposed that the PWD’s would be her beneficiary, but in an unexpected event, she had learned that the eco-uling production had stopped and they were asked to leave the land they use in charcoal production due to ceased operation. To help the PWD’s, Aya used her savings from her modeling and hosting stint to buy machines for eco-uling production. Her first thought is to be an angel investor as she had never thought of personally engaging in the eco-uling production until she had noticed the problems in management and quality control, then this is where she stepped-in to personally handle the social-enterprise.

The second guest is a social-entrepreneur by accident, Harley Dave Beltran is an artist envisioning to be known in the mainstream bag-making industry. According to him it started from a PWD in a wheelchair named Ronald who often passed-by his house during weekends. Out of curiosity, Harley asked the crippled man if he is interested in having a sustainable job in a small business. Soon, Ronald became his first PWD employee.

Later on, one of his neighbor asked him if he can accommodate deaf and mute persons in his small business, Harley simply replied that he can only accept them provided that his neighbor will teach him sign-language. The next day his neighbor brought four deaf and mute persons in his workshop, at first the challenge for them is the communication barrier in their workshop. To solve the problem, Ronald initiated a sign-language lesson to be able to communicate with the PWD’s efficiently and a bible study every week for their spiritual well-being.

Harley wants to change the mindset of the persons with disabilities that instead of asking for alms in the street they can be productive by making premium products, “doon ko natutunan kay Ronald at doon sa iba pa na they are just waiting for a chance, hindi lahat ng nanghihingi sa kalsada ginusto nila yan” he said. Many businessmen were hesitant to hire a differently abled person in their workforce because they see them as a disadvantage to their productivity, but for Harley, deploying PWD’s in his business actually helped their productivity, “nung nagsimula ako magdeploy ng differently abled yung productivity ko mas tumaas” said Harley.

Harley was invited to Germany to showcase their products and the Europeans were amazed of his project for the PWD’s. Senator Bam Aquino asked him what he had learned in Germany and what they have learned from him, Harley said he learned a lot about up-cycling in Germany and on how we thought as waste can actually be turned into a useful product. In return to their generosity, Harley showed them how differently abled persons can be a valuable part of their business.

Waste reduction is part of company initiative to help in conserving the environment and at the same time to cut the cost of production, DJ Cheska asked Harley what is the difference between recycling and up-cycling. According to Harley, recycling uses power to destroy the waste materials to turn into raw materials again, while in up-cycling they do not destroy the waste materials instead they just beautified it to make a premium product.

Aya’s dream is to make her company more inclusive for differently abled persons she wanted to create a system in her company that will assess the needs of blind workers as of now they were unable to employ blind workers because of their skill limitation. But Aya will not stop working until she finds a way to make her company suitable for blind workers. Senator Bam asked Aya, in Harley’s case deploying PWD’s in his workforce helped in increasing the company’s productivity if this also works for her, Aya answered by quoting a direct quotation from one of her staff, “hindi hadlang ang kahirapan o anumang kapansanan para makagawa ka ng makabuluhan para sa bayan”. In her observation she had noticed that this differently abled workers have more drive to work compare to a normal abled person because they want to prove themselves to the world.

Adding PWD’s in your business’ workforce requires change not only to the employers’ perception but also in the overall working environment of the company, Sen. Bam asked the guests what is their advice to other businessmen who wants to engage in employing PWD’s; Harley shared while some of the PWD’s are used to ask for donation in the streets and doesn’t want to work anymore, instead of letting them be, we encourage them to work for us and turn their disabilities to abilities and make the most of that they can be.

For Aya we need to change our perception about these people and embrace their gifts. Some of them are used to begging for alms but not all of them are like that, some wants to prove their self to us and show what they can do with their disabilities.