Monday, August 17, 2009

A deaf tour, anyone?

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Before the interview, 38-year-old born deaf Gilda Quintua made clear to us two things: her inadequacy in Tagalog being a native of Borongan and San Julian, Eastern Samar; thus, she requested that our communication be done in English; and the swapping of notes using our respective laptops. She could hardly hear and speak but could write on a piece of paper, or send an SMS. “But no calls through mobile phone,” she stressed.

M.G.L.Q Deaf Tour Assistance, whose initials were taken after her full name, is a travel and tours agency Gilda put up in February 2004. It caters to deaf tourists here and abroad, who want to experience Filipino hospitality and culture. Gilda’s tours offer services similar to what other agencies would offer regular tourists.

“I book my clients in hotels and resorts, arrange their itinerary, book their flights, arrivals and departures, and get transport vans, among others. I meet them at the airport and bring them back here.”

Determined

Raised by parents without disabilities, Gilda confessed that deafness runs in the family: of her other six siblings, two are deaf, another sister is hard-of-hearing, and a nephew and two other nieces are also deaf.

Because of this, Gilda was made aware of looming marginalities along the way. This made her more determined in becoming a diligent student. After earning a vocational course in computer software operations, she took another course in diploma accounting.

The travel agency, which she manages, was not a spur of the moment idea.

Gilda narrated: “Our church would hold conferences and functions in Manila. There would be participants from different walks of life and situations, with deaf participants as one of them. I have a good grasp of the sign language, therefore I was assigned to take care of my deaf counterparts. I and my deaf friends would bring them around town.

“In the many times that I was into it, the idea of running one raced through mind; but the experience in the church naturally honed my talent in tour guiding.”

Operations

Gilda began consulting help centers in the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) for her business.

There were no quick rules, Gilda keyed in on her notebook. “An innate love to travel, to share experiences and to promote the country were solid foundations of the business. I also wanted to remind myself that like any normal human being, we are part of mainstream society and that there could be bigger challenges ahead of us.”

Gilda describes herself as a patient woman. She is organized and keen in transactions. She is a good listener, always quick to learn and receptive to comments—traits that endeared her to her clients. When at one time her Japanese and Korean clients commented she needed to expand her knowledge in East Asian sign language, so she could understand them, Gilda diligently sat down with them to augment her knowledge in their sign language.

It helped that Gilda is skilled in computer to help her cope with communication requirements.

"Everything begins in the Internet," Gilda said. Reservations in hotels, in resorts or in restaurants are processed through electronic mails. She would browse the Internet for quick references and information then sends proposals through e-mails.

Challenges

By all accounts, Gilda is an epitome of a successful Person with Disability or PWD. The perks of her business she never fails to share with family members. She is also proud that she was able to raise the awareness level on PWDs one bar up in her own little way.

“As a deaf person in this kind of business, I am proud to say that I have crossed the border of so-called limited access. I honestly worked hard to achieve my goals. I wanted to show the world that we are not cut off from mainstream society and we are capable of regularly doing and keeping our jobs like the rest of hearing and speaking people.”

But Gilda also had her share of heartaches before her efforts were recognized by society. In buying sprees, she would often run out of communication skills to convey her message.

“I could not immediately get the message across to the sellers. There were times when feedback from them was quite slow such that we would just stare and attempt at more handwriting.”

Tour proper

Gilda has no actual staff to speak of in her “virtual office” because everything commences and happens through the Internet.

Prior to the actual tour, Gilda sends the tour package she had prepared. Majority of these packages are visits to Intramuros, Cebu, Baguio, Corregidor, Batangas, and Boracay. “If they could afford the total cost of the package, then we proceed with the trip.”

Gilda also requests her clients to make a half or full payment of the cost. This is either deposited through her back account or sent through Western Union. With everything agreed upon, Gilda sees to it she arrives at the destination the day before the actual tour. She hires a transport van and an assistant deaf staff and proceeds to meet her clients at the airport.

Because she has high regard on socio-cultural restrictions, Gilda would look for Halal restaurants for her Muslim clients.

There would be adjustments in the actual conduct of tour but Gilda is grateful for the patience and understanding of her clients. It helped that majority of them were adults, ranging in ages from 22 to 63 but who had come from all walks of life—a web designer, truck driver, self-employed, a teacher, couple and office worker, among others. There would be deaf people, hard-of-hearing persons, some with hearing capacity but who knows the sign language and others who could only communicate through handwriting.”

For her European clients, Gilda makes sure the transport van is well air-conditioned and the rooms are very cool. But the hospitality she showers her clients seems inadequate in giving tourists a good impression of our country. “They say local PWDs are not given serious attention by the government such as giving them jobs. Traffic, pollution, and street vagabonds are on the rise, and that the government seemed not to care about their welfare.”

Blessings

Be that as it may, Gilda is thankful for the blessings in her life. For her, there is no such thing as corollary effect of her being a deaf person with the affairs of her heart.

Married in civil rites to her Japanese boyfriend five months ago in Samar, a church wedding was calendared this month. Gilda said that by then she would be Mrs. Nakahara. She met her husband, a quality inspector of the NEC Company in Tokyo in one of the deaf tours they had participated in eight years ago.

The possibility of being based in Tokyo is not a remote thing, she said but insisted that she would not stop operating her travel agency. Gilda is in the process of hiring a very reliable deaf staff to take her place as a tour guide and will manage her business “by remote control” or through the Internet. “I would work on the packages online while the tour guiding part would be handled by my assistant.”

And this is just a fraction of the excitement Gilda excitedly shared during the interview. The motherhood issue propped up to which she replied, “Somebody up there holds the master plan.” So excited was she at the prospect that she pressed her lips in a flying-kiss motion to mean “thank you”.

“Thank you so much,” Gilda keyed in.