In 1989, after college, and spending some time working in Manila, I decided to manage our small family business in Palawan (Yayen’s Pension House). As a young businessman then, my philosophy in life was to make friends and promote goodwill in our community. Since then I have been active in all sectors of society, and in most civic organizations in Puerto Princesa, Palawan.
When a child, I got to know the Focolare’s life of unity of through my Pilipino teacher in high school and through close friends and relatives who are members of the Movement. In August 1982, I had the special grace to see and listen to Focolare foundress Chiara Lubich in San Agustin, Manila, when she ﬁrst visited the Philippines. All these experiences, meetings and encounters with people close to me who are members of the Movement, have strengthened me to establish and live unity with every person I meet.
My father died when I was two and a half years old, and when my mother was seven months pregnant with my younger brother. Our family met many challenges, moving from one place to another, and from one relative to another. Mother raised us through hard work, and we went through a lot of hard times. Working as a newspaper and a shoe shine boy, I also bought and sold scraps of iron and bottles, and helped my mother sell pots and pans around Manila, where we lived in a squatter-like area. Looking back now, I am grateful to have gone through these experiences, because they have become my armor in life. Having been through all these difﬁcult moments, I have a deeper understanding of the poor, of the hungry, and of those who are lonely.
In 1999, I ventured into the restaurant business. I was blessed when I opened the “Haim Chicken Inato” restaurant in Puerto Princesa City which became a phenomenal business, with a start-up capital of only 30,000 pesos. Housed in an old hut, the eatery was able to sell twenty ﬁve thousand (25,000) sticks of barbecued chicken in six months, and the rest is history. Then we built a branch somewhere else in the city.
Paying it forward to society
When I was young, my mother used to bring us to Luneta Park in Manila, where I saw people who were deaf and mute working at a restaurant. I told myself then, “I know I can do this too, and I have to do it, because I feel that this is the will of God.” Later, I realized that this is exactly what the Gospel is urging us to do: “Whatever you do to the least of my brethren, you do it to me”.
A chance came to serve the deaf and mute sector of society in 2009-2010, when I became the President of the Rotary Club back home. I adopted one signature project which was to collaborate jointly with (Deaf Evangelistic Alliance Foundation (DEAF Inc.) in their mission of carrying out hearing tests for all daycare centers in Northern Palawan.
In Palawan, there are 23 municipalities and one city. A study conducted found out that around 31,000 people had hearing impairment, which includes mild, moderate, severe and profound hearing loss. The main causes of hearing loss are: ear infection, ototoxicity, and inborn defects. Palawan has only 15 schools with programs for special education and ﬁve-community based rehabilitation approach programs (DEAF Inc.) and home-based instruction programs in Aborlan, Narra, Quezon, Puerto Princesa and El Nido.
I told my regular employees that I would like to hire the deaf and mute to be part of our team. At ﬁrst, I sensed some disappointment in several staff members. So I shared many experiences with them and how I would feel every time I visited them in their homes, or saw them as household helpers, or heard others calling them APA or deaf. I communicated how I felt seeing them discriminated even in their homes and in the communities where they were. I told them how it really broke my heart to know that their parents could do nothing, because many of them belonged to very poor families with little education.
Through this openness, my staff understood me. In 2011, I also enrolled some of my staff in the Basic Sign Language Class. There were some initial difﬁculties when some client friends complained that my waiters were lazy; they never came when they were called, but later they realized, that these waiters were deaf and mute. To help everybody, we put up instructions on basic sign language in strategic locations of the restaurant, so our customers could learn to communicate with them and acquire the basics of sign language.
We observed how our customers gradually came to understand our advocacy. Now, we have 15 staff members who are deaf and mute working with us, not only as servers, but also as kitchen assistant, and as ofﬁce encoder. Several colleagues in the business community, and some members of the Rotary Club, as well as those in the Chamber of Commerce, are also hiring these persons now. Our efforts did not go unnoticed as the City Government of Puerto Princesa gave us an award for the work we are doing for this sector in society.
Realizations and learnings
Here are some observations in this journey with persons who are deaf and mute in the past 6 years. For them to develop self-conﬁdence and be productive, here are some of the methods and techniques I used: First, I helped them understand the importance of our restaurant as a tourism service facility, its vision and mission, as well as train them with some basic knowledge about customer service. Since a lot of them use sign and facial language, we encourage them to smile instead of employing facial expression.
Second, to build relationships with them, I invested in several team-building activities, so as to get to know them personally, increasing camaraderie and boosting their level of skills and conﬁdence.
Third, communication is a tool to help them adjust to and deal with customers and co-employees.
Fourth, I studied their culture and came to understand what they like most in life. I spend time to be with them once in a while, paying home visits to meet their families and friends. Every now and then, I would also bring them to some places of interest and business establishments, allowing them to see things from another perspective, like at birthday celebrations, or when dining out or during moments of bonding.
Lastly, I try to empower them by allowing them to decide for themselves, informing them of our plans, so that they can participate or contribute ideas as to what is best for our business.