The Story of Luminita Caldaras: The journey from street begging to full-time employment

“I have my own salary and am independent”

My name is Luminiţa Căldăraş. I am 37 years old and I have an intellectual disability. I was born in a village in west Romania into a very poor family with eight children. My parents couldn’t take care of us. We lived in one room with no beds, no toys, and sometimes no food. We collected recyclables and sold then to earn some money.

When I was eight I left home and went to Timisoara, the largest city in western Romania. There I lived on the streets for almost 10 years, begging for money and food. My only friend was a dog. By the time I turned 18, I had been taken to several state institutions in various cities, but the living conditions were very poor there as well and I would always run away. I didn’t go to school at all.

It was in 1999 that I found out about the Pentru Voi Foundation, and it changed my life forever. The foundation supports people with intellectual disabilities, and now I live in one of Pentru Voi’s protected homes, where I have my own room. Living here I have learned a lot of things, such as how to communicate with my colleagues, to cook (I even took a cooking training course), to clean, to make candles, to work in the garden, and even to read. Since 2012, I have been a full-time employee of Pentru Voi Social Enterprises. My main job here is cleaning, but I also do other activities such as assembling, sorting, and gardening.

I now have my own money, so I can buy food, clothes, and other things I need. I also have the ability to visit my poor family from time to time. In addition, I was elected as a member of the European Platform of Self-Advocates (EPSA) board, and I represent EPSA at the Women’s Committee of the European Disability Forum. I speak on behalf of people with intellectual disabilities from my country, and I promote their inclusion and respect for their rights.

Find out more about how Pentru Voi Foundation is promoting social inclusion of persons with disabilities in the workplace.

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The Story of Yi-Hsuan: Rebuilding a life after blindness

“I barely spoke to strangers and now I am selling to them.”

Before Yi-Hsuan lost her eyesight she worked as a designer who created visual compositions. Even as a congenital glaucoma patient, she never thought that blindness would come so soon. “Several years ago, after my sudden retinal detachment, I lost vision permanently, and from that moment the grief of being blind consumed me. For six months I could not step out from my room.”

Yi-Hsuan’s father was frequently away on business, and so she was brought up by her grandmother. Her grandmother was her greatest support during this darkest time in her life, and thus taking good care of her grandmother became Yi-Hsuan’s strong motivation to pursue rehabilitation.

During her rehabilitation, a social worker introduced her to the Technology Development Association for the Disabled (TWACC), an NGO that provides such professional services as orientation and mobility training and vocational rehabilitation. It is a long and tough journey for people with acquired blindness to restore their abilities and rebuild their lives. Even worse, Yi-Hsuan’s grandmother passed away one year after she lost eyesight. This tragedy made the reha- bilitation journey even harder and lonelier.

I really appreciated the trainers from TWACC, who never gave up on me and who supported and encouraged me regardless of how bad my condition was. The four years of personal and vocational rehabilitation were extraordinarily difficult, but finally those efforts paid off when I received a job offer from a telecommunications company as a telesales person.

Aside from traveling between home and work, the first thing I needed to learn was how to communicate effectively,” declared Yi-Hsuan. “In the first four to five years of rehabilitation I only talked to social workers and trainers, and barely spoke to people I did not know. And then the job I was offered required me to sell things to sheer strangers!

Read more about the SCB’s ‘Seeing is believing’ project.

The Story of Mike McGregor: The benefits of inclusive hiring at Bluewave Energy

“Bringing Patrick on board was key to my success on the job”

I work for Bluewave Energy, a division of Parkland Fuel Corporation, the largest independent fuel distributor in Canada. I had heard from others about the value of inclusive hiring and with the company continuing to grow and expand, I was keen to explore how my team could tap into the talents of an inclusive workforce. Through my experience in hiring inclusively, I can confirm that employees with an intellectual disability or autism spectrum disorder are not only productive but safety-conscious.

The entire company was very supportive of my decision right from the start. With the enthusiasm and commitment of my boss and the Human Resources office, and with the support of Canada’s Ready, Willing, and Able Initiative, I hired Patrick, a young man with an intellectual disability, in May 2016. Patrick worked with teams in both Sudbury and North Bay in landscaping, cleaning, and maintenance. As safety is a number one priority at Bluewave Energy, my team and I were initially concerned that on-the-job safety may be a challenge in hiring someone with an intellectual disability. To support Patrick, Bluewave Energy brought the lead person from their Health, Safety, and Environment Committee to Sudbury to provide Patrick with one-on-one training.

Bringing Patrick on board was key to my success on the job, and throughout Patrick’s contract there were zero issues from a safety standpoint. Furthermore, not only was Patrick productive, keen to work, and on time every day but the entire team gained a lot from working alongside him.

Learn more about how successful Canada’s Ready Willing and Able initiative is in encouraging employment for persons with intellectual disabilities and with autism spectrum disorders.

The Story of Aoife Cully, Supermarket Employee

“Now I work at the deli in Eurostar, stocking all the shelves”

My name is Aoife Cully and I live in the village of Clonbollogue in County Offaly with my mum and dad. I am 23 years old. Three years ago I worked out my personal plan with Jo, my keyworker, and I told everybody that I wanted to get a job. I never had a job before and I was very unsure about what I wanted to do.

My mum had heard about Project SEARCH at Naas General Hospital and she thought I might get experience there of what it is like to work. I had to learn to get the bus to Naas to go the hospital. I had never used the bus before, and mum and I were nervous about that, but I got very good at it and now I can use the bus by myself.

The hospital was massive and it took me a while to learn how to get around. Wendy and Trish, who volunteer with Project SEARCH, helped me settle in, and I worked in three different departments: in the wards, in the gift shop and the public coffee shop, and in the catering department. During this time I composed my CV and I also did some practice interviews. I told Wendy and Trish that I really wanted to work in a supermarket, and together with my Dad they helped me get a job in Eurospar in Portarlington. I work in the deli department, and I also work with the girls stocking all the shelves. I love my job as I get to meet new people and I can buy new things from the money I earn.

Find out more about Project Search.

The Story of the Twin Sisters Syuzanna and Ruzanna: Overcoming physical and psychological barriers to study and work

“Now we are students at the Ijevan branch of Yerevan State University”

We are 22-year-old 
Ruzanna and Syuzanna, twin sisters,
 born in the village
 Koghb in Tavush
Marz, Armenia.
 Unfortunately, our
 past 22 years have
 not always been easy, as we have functional limitations of movement – best known as cerebral palsy. Since childhood we have undergone endless treatments and rehabilitation exercises.

Nonetheless, with our parents’ dedication we managed to overcome physical and psychological barriers, and in 2000 we started to attend school. Today, we are fourth-year students at the Ijevan branch of Yerevan State University, in the faculty of pedagogy and psychology. At the same time, we are working at the non-profit organization Bridge of Hope as project assistants.

Through the “The Right to Earn a Living” project we have become members of a youth advocacy group to protect the rights and interests of people with disabilities, where we have improved our knowledge and skills in advocacy, leadership, communications, etc. The project’s debates, roundtable discussions, advocacy campaigns, walkathons, and TV programmes have given us the chance to express our views and opinions. As a result, we have become more self-confident and are now better able to find solutions to the problems that we and other disabled persons must address.

Learn more about the “Right to Earn a Living” Programme is aiming to increase the economic and social inclusion of young people with disabilities.

The Story of Shuely: From feeling like a burden to mentoring others in need

“I am far away from my family, but I am now able to help them.”

Being the eldest daughter in my family, it made me frustrated that I could not help my family members when they faced problems. At first they did not support me moving to Dhaka, but I went there anyway because I knew I had to do something. Ever since I was a child people always tried to avoid me, and my relatives always treated me differently than others, and so I always felt like a burden.

I was looking for job opportunities for three months in Dhaka, but was unable to find anything and so, with my savings spent, I headed back to Khulna. Shortly after returning, I received a call back from the Centre for the Rehabilitation of the Paralysed and I was straight back on a bus to Savar to enrol in a sewing machine operator’s course for underprivileged women and persons with disabilities.

I have finished my apprenticeship and I am now a skilled worker with nationally-recognised qualifications. I am also a mentor to other young apprentices as they finish the same course that I graduated from. It is mainly thanks to the Bangladesh-ILO’s (International Labour Organization) technical and vocational education and training reform that I was trained and could secure employment.

Now my father visits me monthly, and he can see first-hand that even with my disability I am doing work and earning money. And despite the fact that I am far away from my family, I am now able to help them. For instance, my younger sister is in class eight and I have told her already that I am going to bear her education costs. Families are not conscious about what they should do for their children if they have a disability; they underestimate their potential and they try to hide them from the rest of society. I have proved them wrong.

Learn more about Bangladesh’s skills development policy and practices that are improving access to vocational education and training as well as employment for persons with disabilities.

The Story of Abdul Bashir: Microfinancing to earn an income for the “breadwinner” of a family of eight

“Today, I earn enough to support my family of eight people.”

Abdul Bashir, who has a physical disability, is a beneficiary of the micro finance programme sponsored by the Afghanistan Rural Enterprise Development Programme (AREDP). A native of the Big Mohammad Khail village in in Afghanistan’s Parwan province, he is the breadwinner of a family of eight.

At the outset, Bashir had a difficult time finding a job where he could train and could earn an income, but that changed when he was selected by AREDP to be a member of a “saving group” in his village. AREDP also provided Bashir with training and business skills, and helped him to establish his own grocery shop.

“Before joining the AREDP saving group, I was jobless and had serious economic problems. AREDP helped me establish a grocery shop in my village, and today I earn enough to support my family,” reports Bashir with obvious satisfaction.

Find out more about how AREDP is encouraging people with disabilities in rural Afghanistan to establish micro-enterprises.

The Story of Vander: U.S. Government Agency Employee with Cerebral Palsy

“Most importantly, I learned how to create my own appropriate workplace personality”

Vander is a young man with cerebral palsy who has achieved remarkable things despite formidable obstacles. At the age of nine he was put into foster care and separated from his mother and four brothers. Moreover, Vander was somehow allowed to fall through the cracks and didn’t attend school until he was 10 years old. An important milestone for Vander was when his occupational therapist (a school employee who provided related services specified in his individualized education programme) encouraged him to fill out the application for a Project SEARCH programme at a U.S. Government agency near his Washington, DC, home. Happily, Vander was accepted to the programme. As he recalled, “We learned how to escort guests, how to express ourselves in an appropriate way for the workplace, how to answer the telephone in the proper manner, and most importantly I learned how to create my own appropriate workplace personality.”

Find out more about how Project SEARCH is preparing young people with disabilities for successful employment.

The Story of Eduardo: The opportunity to show employers what people with disabilities are capable of

“I like when clients say ‘thank you’”

I am Eduardo. I’m 22 years old and I have Marfan syndrome, which is a sort of hyperelasticity. I live in Magdalena del Mar with my parents and my sister, and I want my family to be happy. I am a bit shy. In secondary school I studied English and IT. Now I wake up at 6:15 each day and go to work.

When I started my training, my father used to accompany me and wait until the end. After a few days, however, I was able to travel by myself. I never missed a class – not even when someone robbed me of my wallet and cell phone. The biggest problem for persons with disabilities is that they don’t have the opportunity to show what they are capable of. Employers tend to reject you as soon as they see you.

This is my first job. I like when clients say “thank you” and the fact that I can help them with their problems. For me, to have a stable job is a big opportunity. It changed my life, as I can now also help out financially at home. Thanks to the skills training that I received, I have become a better person. Going forward, I will be able to pay my studies to become a computer engineer.

Learn more about how Peru’s I’m Capable Model is improving access to vocational training and employment for persons with disabilities.

The Story of Nusrat Parvin: Jewellery and Handcraft producer, and a contributing member to her proud family

Nusrat Parvin, a woman in her early twenties, was considered a total burden on her family. A woman who is neither good looking nor has a sound mind is rejected not only by the society but also by each of her family members. Under such conditions, Nusrat never realized that she, too, had potential.

During a health fair at Rupnarayanpur, Nusrat approached a stall that was staffed by Jhankar, an NGO that sells jewellery and other crafts designed and produced by people with intellectual disabilities. Thereafter, every day Nusrat would walk 30 minutes and then ride a bus for another 20 minutes to experience an encouraging environment in which she picked up the craft of jewellery making, embroidery, and other skills.

“My father burst into tears when I handed him my first earnings,” Nusrat recalled. “He embraced me and called all the other family members to announce that he was proud of me. That was the best moment of my life. I transformed into a contributing member of my family. I am not an outcast any more. Now I also have the right to take part in family decisions, and now I am able to challenge my mental illness and live my life with dignity.”

Learn more about how Jhankar is turning people with disabilities into Entrepreneurs in India.