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A ‘brighter’ Christmas for the blind

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In time for Christmas, Meralco’s corporate social responsibility arm One Meralco Foundation (OMF) recently launched a company-wide campaign to fund the ICT education and skills development training of hundreds of blind people in the Philippines.

Dubbed “Kita-Kita Ngayong Pasko” (Let’s come together this Christmas), it aims at raising funds that would allow people with various visual impairments (e.g. fully blind, low vision, and the like) to enroll in the programs of the Adaptive Technology for the Rehabilitation, Integration and Empowerment of the Visually-Impaired (ATRIEV).

ATRIEV is a non-profit organization based in Quezon City that teaches blind people to use technology to improve their lives, build their capacities and increase their chances of getting better jobs.

In 1994, the organization started as an interest group founded by blind visionary Antonio Llanes, Jr. together with a couple of friends who were either blind at birth or have developed visual impairment later in life. It was formally set up as a computer school for the blind five years later.

Meralco President and CEO Oscar S. Reyes sends his special Christmas greetings to the participants.

Since then, ATRIEV has trained over 500 visually-impaired adults and has produced many firsts in information technology. Among these firsts are first blind software analyst, first blind search engine optimization manager, first blind medical transcriptionist, first blind recruitment specialist, and first blind computer trainers.

Using adaptive technology, the institution also develops computer training programs such as basic PC operations for the blind, English language communication, and job-specific programs such as contact center and sales training as well as blog and content writing.

A groupfie with Kiko Meralco, the Meralco lineman mascot.

“In the past, blind people — and persons with other disabilities — are faced with various challenges in acquiring the level of know-how and skills that are required for them to compete in life and in the workplace. Thankfully, technology is leveling the playing field for them. With the help of accessibility software, inclusive devices and applications, they can now be fully independent and do whatever others can. Now, our mission is easier: to teach more blind people to use technology to their advantage,” said Jeffrey O. Tarayao, president of One Meralco Foundation.

Being the corporate foundation of the Philippines’ largest private sector electric distribution company, OMF has been engaged in helping low income families in its franchise area afford access to the electric grid, and in providing an alternative source of electricity (usually solar power) to off-grid public schools nationwide.

“Although our focus as an advocacy institution remains on our core energy-related programs, we also continue to find ways to help address other challenges in society such as building an inclusive environment for persons with disabilities,” Tarayao added.

“Everyone is excited about building and living in smart communities — convenient and efficient havens for humanity. But let us not forget one very important element of a truly smart city: inclusivity. As we build communities of the 21st Century, we must not leave anyone — including PWDs — behind,” he said.

Celebrating International Day for PWDs

To promote its fundraising campaign and to celebrate the International Day for Persons with Disabilities on December 3, OMF brought together hundreds of Meralco employees and students and trainers from ATRIEV in an event called “Happy Kita-Kita Day!” at the Meralco headquarters in Pasig City. Participants engaged in fun games, exchanged stories and gifts, and showcased their talents. Before the event, trainers from ATRIEV conducted a sensitivity training attended by Meralco employees.

Meralco employees and ATRIEV students and trainers come together to celebrate the International Day for Persons with Disabilities on December 3, 2018.

“I appreciated the ‘buddy system’ since it gave me the chance to interact with them and know them better. I admire their positive outlook in life and how they continue to dream and aim for better things in life despite their disability. I even earned new friends and it felt good to chat with them via Messenger even after the event. Now, I have two new friends with whom I can chat even with their eyes closed. Amazing! It was an eye-opener for me and I was so thankful that I volunteered,” shared Meralco employee Amie Tan, a finance analyst.

Other participants from ATRIEV also shared the same sentiment about the event. “It was fun.

What I liked the most about it were the games that were enjoyed by both sighted and visually impaired participants,” said Maricris Balcueva, a program support assistant at the institution.

Blind persons light up Meralco’s ‘Liwanag Park’

In keeping with its annual tradition, Meralco opened its “Liwanag Park” to the public on Thursday, November 29, with a spectacular display of lights.

Each year, Meralco transforms a huge portion of its compound in Ortigas Center, Pasig City, into a Christmas park illuminated with colorful sequential lights. It also features a gigantic Christmas tree (with an electric powered train going around it) and a “Belen” (Nativity scene) made of recycled copper wires recovered from damaged power transformers. Lanterns made from plastic covers of damaged electric meters hung on trees, while LED lights wrap around tree trunks and branches. The facade of the Lopez Building, the centerpiece of the vast Meralco complex, is also filled with programmed lights formed to depict a modern city.

The park’s launch was beautifully symbolic. While the park’s design revolved around the theme “cities of the future,” the way it was ceremonially lighted also sent another meaningful message: that each and every Filipino, regardless of differences in abilities and disabilities, has a role to play in making the future brighter for everyone.

Alongside Meralco executives led by their Chairman Manuel V. Pangilinan, a blind student and ATRIEV founder Antonio Llanes, Jr. ceremonially “switched on” the Liwanag Park’s lights signifying the formal opening of the park this year.

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