There is one hotel in Davao where guests have asked if they could hug the staff, and it is not just because of the good service.
When Green Windows Dormitel opened its doors to trainees with Down syndrome, requests for hugs was one of the ways they knew that their efforts for a more inclusive on-the-job training were worth it.
Pio Sto. Domingo, head of sales and marketing told INQUIRER.net in an exclusive interview that some clients were reminded of their own children with Down syndrome, which is why they wanted to interact with the trainees during their stint.
Green Windows, which was founded in 2010, launched its first OJT program for individuals with Down syndrome last October after Sto. Domingo proposed it in June.
The program was featured on the hotel’s Facebook page last November which generated positive responses.
When asked why the company chose to provide an OJT program rather than hire adults with Down syndrome, Sto. Domingo explained that a hurdle to getting employed was that companies always ask for work experience. “We were trying to equip the children with Down Syndrome with the additional tools for them to land actual employment,” he said.
Down syndrome occurs when a person is born with an extra copy of chromosome 21. Typical physical traits include small stature, low muscle tone, eyes that slant upward and varying degrees of cognitive delays. It must be noted that each person with Down syndrome is different and has their own individual physical traits and cognitive ability.
Sto. Domingo explained that in developing the program for people with Down syndrome, he was inspired by his mom’s work: “My heart had really been with children with special needs because my mom is a [special education] therapist so growing up I had been exposed to such [individuals].”
He noted that in countries with more support for persons with disability (PWD), individuals with Down syndrome are able to live and work independently.
What convinced him to implement it in his workplace was seeing a major pizza chain in the country hire PWD. When he pitched the idea to the hotel’s general manager and to the president, they received it positively and encouraged him to pursue it.
The next step he took was to approach the Davao chapter of the Down Syndrome Association of the Philippines (DSAPI). After presenting the proposal to them, he was able to form a partnership. It was agreed that DSAPI would pool candidates and screen them for the training program while Green Windows would design the modules.
Part of the preparation was also getting the hotel staff in the right mindset to accommodate individuals with Down Syndrome. This was done in the form of a meeting with DSAPI, parents and the staff.
Staff members were oriented on the tendencies of each trainee. For instance, some could be stubborn or joke a lot and they were given tips on how to deal with it. “Ang sinasabi, just treat them like any other person na nagwowork. Pag kailangan magwork, magwork na,” he said.
(We were told to treat them like any other person who is working. When it’s time to work, then work.)
It was also during an open forum when concerns and misconceptions on people with Down Syndrome were addressed.
“They were really worried baka may magtantrum or magwild kasi moody.”
(They were really worried because there could be someone throwing a tantrum or would go wild because they are moody).
“That was discussed during the orientation and it was made clear to us that the students that we’re seeing all underwent schooling so may discipline na, wala talagang tantrums (there is discipline and there are no tantrums),” he said.
In another meeting, the staff were able to meet the trainees for the first time. Parents introduced their children individually and shared their talents, their favorite things to do and their strengths and weaknesses.
When training began, any reservations some staff members had disappeared. Sto. Domingo recalled, “On the [first] day, the mentor and the [adult with] Down syndrome undergoing training were inseparable already. Madali makapag-adjust (It was easy to adjust). It was really a normal day in the office.”
Finding meaning in work
The module ran for 10 days with four-hour shifts, with five days focused on housekeeping and the other five on front desk management. A total of seven students ages 24 to 33 years old completed the program; the first batch had four trainees and the second three.
The trainees’ parents were involved, which made the internship go more smoothly. When they would fetch their children, they would be given feedback on their kids’ performance and they would help their children with it at home.
“For the first three days ‘yun ‘yung may adjustment period talaga. Tapos for the rest of the seven days, because of the help of the parents, wala na masyado issues with regard to how they work,” he said.
(The first three days is their adjustment period. Then for the rest of the seven days, there were no longer much issues with regard to how they work, due to the help of parents.)
As for what the trainees thought of the program, Sto. Domingo said they expressed gratitude for the work.
“It’s very new for them and gustung-gusto nila makita sa labas (they really want to be seen outside),” he said.
“Yung diligence nila (Their diligence) to work, why they want to work—[they have the] same motivation as ours. Iba lang talaga ang pace nila (their pace is different) on how they work,” he noted.
He noted that adults with Down Syndrome have emotional maturity just like any other person. The main difference is the pace in learning something new — though that also came as a benefit for the staff.
“Training na din yun (It served as training too) for our staff to listen and to communicate slowly,” he said, stating that it was a rare chance for the fast-paced workplace to slow things down.
It also helped their staff to appreciate their jobs and to realize how important the opportunity was for the trainees. When asked why they wanted to work, the trainees would say that they wanted to help their parents.
“Meron isang student na nagsasalita siya out loud, sabi niya, ‘ay salamat, may work na ako. Matulungan ko na bayaran ang mga utang ni mama,’” he said.
(There was a student who said out loud, “Thank you, I now have work. I can help mom pay her debts.”)
Like any training, a graduation day marked the culmination of the internship. Aside from a certificate of completion, a resume was also given to each trainee, which confirmed that they had attended the training and could cite the hotel as a reference.
In both batches, a valedictorian and honorable mention awardee were recognized. One valedictorian performed so well that she was offered a job in the hotel, possibly with an 8-hour work shift so that she could be compensated for a full day of work. Unfortunately, the opportunity was turned down because her home was too far from the workplace.
Overall, the results have been so encouraging such that the internship will be a year-round training program starting on February 2019, said Sto. Domingo.
“We plan to have an improved and extensive training program for our OJTs and have it for 15 days rather than only 10 days. We are just waiting for the next set of trainees to be screened by the association and then endorsed to us,” he said.
He hopes more businesses, especially in the hotel and restaurant industry, would take in trainees or employees with Down Syndrome and educate themselves about including these individuals in the workplace.
“They’re really very respectful,” he said. “Very courteous, very mellow.”
Domingo’s dream is that Filipinos with Down syndrome could receive the same opportunities as their counterparts abroad who are able to sustain themselves.
“I believe na kaya din dito sa (that it can be done here in the) Philippines,” he noted. “We’re just really bombarded with the stigmas and stereotypes not allowing us to give the same opportunities.” JB