Tarlac café gives PWDs hope for brighter future
TARLAC CITY, Tarlac, Philippines — Myrna Lorenzana, 37, who is struggling with polio, began a new chapter in her life when she was hired as a barista at a coffee shop in this city that was built to offer jobs to persons with disabilities (PWDs).
Lorenzana is among the 200 members of Tarlac Strong Minds, a group of mentally and physically challenged individuals being helped by Caritas Tarlac, the social action arm of the Catholic Diocese of Tarlac.
Caritas Tarlac opened Saklay Café on Dec. 14 last year to help the differently abled earn a living by hiring them as staff while being supervised by trained baristas who are also volunteers of the mission center.
The program would help them boost their confidence in interacting with people while also giving them a source of income under the care of their spiritual formators, according to Precy Oro, business consultant and Caritas Tarlac volunteer.
Oro initiated a fundraising activity by holding yoga sessions to help finance the construction of Saklay Café. She also solicited funds from her colleagues, who are business owners and entrepreneurs in nearby Pampanga province.
According to Oro, Saklay Café would also be an income-generating project that will soon fund the scholarship program and other livelihood projects in the mission center.
Situated in a serene place inside the Caritas Tarlac Mission Center in Barangay San Luis here, the café is ideal for relaxation with its al fresco dining area where customers can eat their meals on nipa huts and bamboo-crafted chairs and enjoy meals.
Lorenzana used to take on odd jobs to support her cash-strapped family, including her 11-year-old son, Artmyrn, who is also a PWD.
Artmyrn suffers from leg and arm deformities and only relies on old skateboards to move inside their small house. The boy’s legs and arms were fractured when he was 4 after his father accidentally sat on them; he only uses his palms to move around.
“My son has become my inspiration. If I don’t do anything, nothing good will ever happen in our lives. He said he is proud of me because I was one of those who got this job,” Lorenzana says in a recent interview.
Her son dreams of becoming a pilot someday so he could travel and see the world.
Lorenzana’s husband, Arturo, 59, is also a PWD who could not bend his back and knees, and could only stand using crutches and lie down straight.
According to Lorenzana, they only eat twice a day, with rice and a pinch of salt or fish sauce as “viand.”She considers her job at the café a “plot twist” in her life, adding that she did not expect to become a barista considering her disability.
“My handicap did not prevent me from reaching this point in my life,” she says.
At Saklay Café, Lorenzana and other staff serve fresh and organic ingredients.
Vegetables and fruits are bought directly from Aeta farmers at Barangay Sta. Juliana in Capas town, also in Tarlac.
According to Caritas Tarlac, the café does not only create opportunities for PWDs since Aeta farmers under the Health and Development for All Foundation Inc. (Hadfafi) also benefit from the project.
The coffee shop also offers crispy vegetable noodles from Hadfafi, which was founded by Dr. Ricardo Ramos, a Caritas core group member, 17 years ago.
Oro says members of Tarlac Strong Minds are encouraged to display and sell their products at the Saklay Café’s pasalubong (gift) center. These products include those they were taught to make as part of their livelihood program, such as pasta, cakes, coffee, chocolate, chili garlic, chili jam, dishwashing liquid and keychains.
According to Oro, she wants to boost the confidence and self-esteem of the differently abled by giving them jobs and making them feel that they could do what normal people could do.
Like Lorenzana, Felix Veloso, 44, who is also afflicted with polio, was hired as a dishwasher and food server at the café.
“I’ll do my best at work because this is what supports my family financially,” he shares.
Veloso adds: “Despite my disability, I want to live a normal life because I don’t want other people to look down on me.”
The blind members of Tarlac Strong Minds were also tapped to serenade customers and perform on regular schedules there.
One of its projects is to establish a program to help them with their needs, like wheelchairs, crutches, livelihood programs, spiritual formations, and medications.
According to Oro, they built a coffee shop where people could relax, and reconnect with nature while at the same time helping the differently abled and the scholars.
Oro says the café’s battle cry, “One cup for the handicapped,” came from the idea of Louvhelle Mequin, one of their scholars under the youth servant leaders’ education program of Caritas Manila.
The tagline, Oro says, describes their mission of empowering “persons with determination” by giving them an opportunity that they will not usually get elsewhere.
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