In the Association of Disabled People (Adpi) office in Jaro, Iloilo, a young woman in a wheelchair carefully paints a greeting card made of recycled paper.
“Our physically handicapped members found an opportunity for employment through card-making. And so far, we are getting successful. We sell the cards to shops in the Iloilo airport, and a company from Japan imports from us,” said Geraldine Sumagaysay, project manager of the card-making activities.
A hand-painted card sells for P60, and the simpler ones are sold for P25 each. A PWD (persons with disability) staff gets a percentage from the sale of the cards, which, according to Sumagaysay, “has inspired hope for PWDs that they can continue working despite their disability.”
For months now, she added, young Japanese volunteer Natsuki Soda has been helping their association market their products to Japan and other outlets.
Soda is one of hundreds of young Japanese professionals dispatched by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica) every year through its Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers Program. They are assigned to different development areas in the Philippines that are also supported by the Japanese government.
Soda is a PWD from Japan, having suffered from a progressive disease in the joints when she was 20 years old. “It is good to have found a way to help PWDs and other society organizations unite for a cause,” said Soda.
Recently, Soda invited a Japanese artist from Okinawa to visit Jaro and teach their PWDs card-making from recycled paper.
PWDs are among the vulnerable groups in developing countries like the Philippines, with about 40 percent of them unemployed, according to the 2005 report for Asia by the International Disability Rights Monitor.
At 22, Soda learned that PWD advocacy was her calling. “I strongly believe that by working with PWDs, we can change society,” said Soda. “By being with them, I realized the common problems we face, and I stopped looking at my own problems with self-pity.”
Apart from the livelihood activity, Soda is also working with Jica and United Architects of the Philippines for the renovation of a PWD-friendly comfort room in Jaro Plaza. Soda said the facility is to be a model of PWD-accessible standards for public facilities in Iloilo.
“Natsuki helps our PWDs become more confident in what they can do despite their disabilities,” said Angelito Bunda, project manager for the “Comfort Rooms (CR) for All” undertaking.
As part of her volunteer work, Soda invited PWDs from Japan to visit Iloilo last year. The encounter proved to be an opportunity for PWDs from both countries to learn and inspire one another. “My best experience working with PWDs is when they are confident in their accomplishments,” said Soda. “I learn from them every day.”