Overcoming darkness with skill and determination

Overcoming darkness with skill and determination
Photo by Joshua Usigan, BiPSU intern

MANUEL Capote, a 48-year-old masseur, has been providing therapeutic relief through his skilled hands for over a decade now.

At the tender age of three, Capote was enveloped in darkness as he lost his sight due to measles, an infectious disease. His visual limitations, however, did not hinder him from crafting powerful visions for his life.

Capote works at the Good Hands Massage, an organization employing masseurs who have visual impairment.

He started his stint as massage therapist in 2013 after being able to benefit from a program initiated by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) designed to assist persons with disability (PWD).

Capote learned how to massage because of such initiative, which eventually gave him a key to land a job.

He relocated from Danao City to Cebu City, a move that gave Capote chances to practice his profession and generate income.

“Because of the assistance from DSWD, we were able to reach this place to undergo massage training so that we (can) have a source of income, and there is also support from the government for massage services so that people like us have a means of livelihood because we cannot enter other jobs due to our situation,” Capote said in an interview with SunStar Cebu on March 13, 2024.

DSWD is a government agency responsible for social welfare and development programs and services in the Philippines. One of DSWD’s primary mandates is to protect the rights of PWDs.

Capote's path to becoming a licensed masseur was no easy feat. Undergoing a rigorous one-year training program followed by a final exam, he emerged as a skilled professional ready to serve his clients. However, the challenges did not end there.

Operating within a fluctuating market, Capote's income is subject to seasonal variations, with the busiest months typically falling between August and December.

According to Felisa Mondido, a guide working in Good Hands Massage, each masseur or masseuse receives a salary for their assigned duties, which is then evenly split with their counterpart.

Mondido said they are responsible for paying rent for the respective workspace and to the organization's owner.

The remainder constitutes their daily income, which typically falls within the range of P400 to P500.

“They really get their fair share. If you've gathered everyone's earnings now, if one has massaged while another hasn't, that's their salary, we make sure it's fair based on how much they've all worked. If they haven't massaged anyone, they still get included in the salary, it's divided equally among all,” Mondido said.

Despite the uncertainty, Capote remains pragmatic, emphasizing the importance of financial management to sustain his family's needs.

“It depends on how you manage your money. For me, whether you spend a little or a lot if you manage it well, you can still say it's not enough, but if you have little, you need to allocate it for necessities,” Capote said in Cebuano.

Unlike Capote, the 43-year-old Oscar Arafol, also a masseur from the Good Hands Massage, expressed concern on the inconsistency of his daily earnings.

Arafol said the unstable income does not suffice for his daily expenses, particularly given his familial responsibilities.

“Our work is similar to fishing; there are times when the catch is abundant, while there are also times when it's scarce. It's not always guaranteed that we'll receive a substantial salary, especially since we have daily expenses to meet and also provide for our family,” said Arafol in Cebuano.

In the Philippines, massage is the number one means of employment for the majority of Filipinos visually impaired. Some of them have become entrepreneurs themselves, providing a livelihood for their fellow blind or visually impaired.

In a separate phone interview with SunStar Cebu on March 19, Larry Quijoy, owner of LNG Massage, which is also an organization employing individuals who are visually impaired, shared his reasons for assisting and providing opportunities.

He expressed his desire to help and give hope to his fellow blind masseurs and masseuses.

Quijoy emphasized the importance of allowing them to feel that even in their blindness, there is still a glimmer of light that offers them the chance to live their dreams.

“I also want to help my fellow blind individuals and provide them with opportunities so they won't lose hope despite our situation of not being able to see. There are indeed times when we can achieve our dreams through our own efforts,” said Quijoy.

According to the 2010 census, approximately 1.44 million, or 1.57 percent of the Philippine population have a certain disability. The population of visually impaired persons is approximately 500,000 and majority of them is considered "poor" and not able to finish education.

Equal opportunity and nondiscrimination represent fundamental human rights. However, PWDs often face disparities in both opportunities and treatment compared to other citizens.

For instance, they frequently contend with economic and health inequalities, as well as limited employment prospects and access to education, due to prevailing social stigma and discrimination.

Sarah Jane Araneta, who has served as a blind masseuse at LNG Massage for 11 years despite being partially blind herself, shared her perspective on the challenges posed by her health condition and the inherent difficulty of navigating daily life with limited vision.

“Sometimes, we feel scared that we might fall into a hole, especially in the city where there are many people. Like me, being partially blind, I can't always notice the humps on the road, so I might stumble or fall into a hole by the side of the road,” said Araneta.

In Capote’s line of work, encountering difficult customers is not uncommon. Despite facing rude behavior, Capote and his fellow masseurs prioritize customer satisfaction, adhering to their requests to maintain a positive reputation.

“Many different behaviors, some very strict, but what we do since they are customers, we always adapt to what they want. We can't afford to be careless because it might cause problems later on,” said Capote, recalling his experiences.

Beyond his professional obligations, Capote shoulders familial responsibilities, supporting his child's education and assisting his mother, who is without employment following her husband's passing.

Capote's life partner also shares his struggle with vision impairment, further underscoring the challenges he navigates daily.

According to Esma et al.'s (2015) thesis study on the lived experiences of blind masseurs and masseuses in Cebu City, working in this profession has metamorphosed individuals from a state of unemployment and social isolation to a sense of integration within society.

They are now able to provide for themselves and their families financially, thereby attaining independence from reliance on others. (Joshua Usigan, Maria Anna Primero, BiPSU interns)


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