Disabled persons retool selves as online freelancers

Jessica Fenol, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 08 2017 02:57 PM | Updated as of Nov 08 2017 04:10 PM

MANILA - Ronniel Javier was an out of work microfinance officer after he broke his spinal chord in a motorcycle accident 8 years ago, until he found a new career as a web designer.

Javier, 28, now earns P20,000 a month after he trained for 6 weeks under Virtualahan, a Davao-based social enterprise that caters to persons with disabilities.

With "slight strength" on both hands, Javier can work with his laptop on his bed. He trained on email marketing, search engine optimization and graphic design.

"My mom used to attend my personal care from grooming and dressing. As well as feeding me with utensils because I could no longer grip or hold a spoon. But that didn't stop me to go on and get on with my life and pursuing my dreams," Javier told ABS-CBN News.

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Virtualahan aims to lift people from poverty by giving the differently abled work opportunities, said its founder, Ryan Gersava.

Since 2015, Virtualahan has had 127 graduates, 75 percent of which have found jobs.

The social enterprise's courses are being developed with inputs from Google and Accenture to be compliant with Technical Education and Skills Development Authority standards, Virtualahan curriculum development head Doreen Jane Gersava told ABS-CBN News.

"What you are studying it’s exactly what you need in the virtual world. Students go through every single training like marketing, SEO, and then customer service," Gersava said.

Another Virtualahan alumnus, Jun Tuazon, now works as a graphic designer. The former overseas worker had half his body paralyzed due to a stroke.

"I thought it was the end. Wala na talaga pag-asa, hindi na ako nakapag abroad na stuck na ako sa Pilipinas, umiiyak nga ako noon eh," Tuazon said. 

(I thought there's no hope. I can no longer work abroad, I'm stuck in the country. I used to cry because of this.)

Tuazon said a PWD group introduced him to Virtualahan.

“There was change in my life, sa confidence ko. I thought when I had my disability, that’s the end of it, I’m a graphic designer by profession but I was able to get a job online graphic designer din,” Tuazon said. 

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Virtualahan also helps its alumni get freelancing jobs by assisting them in building a portfolio, said chief training officer Josh Gersava.

The group won the recent Google Stories 2017 award, which recognizes groups that uses technologies from the US internet giant to create social change.