In its ongoing efforts to help Filipinos whose livelihoods were affected by lockdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Tzu Chi Foundation, in partnership with local government unit Antipolo City, recently organized the first of three distributions of relief goods to visually impaired massage therapists.
Accompanied by sighted guides, 109 massage therapists from Antipolo City and Rizal Province converged at the Ynares Center in Antipolo City to each receive 20 kilos of rice and a generous spread of grocery items. A number of Antipolo jeepney drivers, who were also given relief goods by Tzu Chi Foundation from August to October 2020, were tapped to take the day’s beneficiaries home.
“We surveyed their way of life and what their situation was like during the pandemic. This group of people is very persevering,” notes Tzu Chi volunteer Woon Ng of why the foundation chose to support this particular sector of Persons With Disability (PWD). “Though visually impaired, they still try to go to their jobs every day. Even if they have a day off or just have one customer for the day, they don’t stop working because they want to make the most of an opportunity. That touches us so much.”
“Before the pandemic, their income was good and they could take care of their families,” she continues. “But from March to November 2020, they could not accept clients—and many of them are breadwinners of their family. Also, unlike others who could look for other ways to earn a living, these people’s visual impairment leaves them with limited job opportunities.”
Few and far between
Visually impaired massage therapists were among those whose income took a hit at the height of quarantine measures to curb the spread of COVID-19. The closure of spas and massage parlors, suspension of mass transportation, and enforcement of strict health and safety protocols for eight months in 2020 left many without work and unable to support their families.
Though a memorandum issued in November 2020 by the Department of Trade and Industry finally allowed massage parlors in areas under General Community Quarantine to operate at 30 percent capacity, and at 50 percent in areas under Modified General Community Quarantine, jobs for massage therapists remain few and far between to this day.
“People are still afraid of contracting COVID-19,” says Josephine Elevenson. The 59-year-old single mother of four children, who lost her sight at age 2 due to complications from measles, has been a massage therapist since 1997. When the pandemic struck, she and her family relied on the kindness of neighbors and non-profit organizations.
“I’m very grateful to the Tzu Chi Foundation for the big help they have given us,” she says. “I hope they don’t get tired of offering assistance to PWDs like us.”
“We are very thankful to the Tzu Chi Foundation for continuing to support PWD,” seconds Alfredo Dulay. The 68-year-old widower, a father of four who developed glaucoma after contracting conjunctivitis, has been a massage therapist since 1987.
It was while teaching massage and reflexology at the Ephpheta Foundation for the Blind, Inc. that he came to know the Tzu Chi Foundation. “Members of the foundation would visit us in our headquarters in Project 4, Quezon City,” says Dulay. In Antipolo, where he served as president of a group of PWD, he would take his members to the Tzu Chi Foundation’s office in Bacood, Sta. Mesa, Manila, to avail of its dental services.
“Tzu Chi Foundation really helps the poor in all aspects of their life,” he says. “They do not hesitate to support us in our day-to-day needs.”
The second distribution of relief goods to this group of PWD is on April 11, 2021.