For five years, Michael Tom Estadilla struggled to find employment.
Certain companies, at the time, were not accommodating people with disabilities (PWD), even if his condition had zero impact on the roles he was applying for.
Unfazed, Tom persevered through Manila’s crowded pre-pandemic streets, still hoping to land a job, only to find strangers mocking his distinct gait.
“I’ve encountered so many people looking down at me just because I have this limp. Some would even make fun of me like I can’t see or hear them,” the 33-year-old recalled.
Philippine labor laws penalize companies for rejecting applicants because of their disabilities. Still, many organizations get away with it because of poor enforcement, and a basic lack of empathy.
By the end of 2022, Tom finally found a regular job with Emapta.
He was among the first batch of graduates of the company’s R.I.S.E. program (Raising Individuals for Stable Employment), which provides training and employment opportunities for PWDs.
Falling hard from the peak
Today, Tom finds himself in the frontlines of the growing outsourcing world, doing sourcing duties for a global recruitment team and helping bridge people and businesses across the world.
But the journey that took him to Emapta is not for the faint-hearted, as he came from a dark place where not everyone could easily escape.
Tom was not born with disabilities. A graduate of political science, he was a regular person with big dreams like everyone else.
He was at the peak of his career some nine years ago, working in the banking industry, when he had a terrible accident that resulted in head trauma.
Then a young and promising career guy, Tom went into a coma for several days, and all the world changed for him.
Waking up to a new bleak world
When Tom finally woke up, he couldn’t remember anything, not even his own mother or friends. Fortunately, his loved ones never gave up on him.
“My family and friends were always there, showing me pictures, making me remember. My memory came back slowly, and it was all because of their enduring love,” he said.
It was not only his memory that Tom lost. He also lost the ability to speak and walk properly.
“The worst part of this time,” Tom tearfully recalled, “was the fact that I lost some loved ones, too. While I was trying to stay alive, my father died.”
Even his employer back then lost faith in him and decided to let him go. But Tom remained thankful because the company still compensated him properly for his years of service.
Rising from the impossible fall
For a whole year, Tom underwent speech and physical therapy. It was hard, he recalled, but by the end of the year, he was able to walk again, albeit with a limp. His speech came back later.
“I looked at myself and thought hard. I could’ve just given up, but I had the faith and resilience to tell myself, ‘No, I’m not going to die this way.’ I fought to get my life back.” – Michael Tom Estadilla
He still could not talk straight after the accident, but it didn’t hinder him from taking a bookkeeping course provided by the government.
Tom learned about working the books in his previous job and thought he could make something out of it despite his physical disabilities.
After finishing the course, Tom would go door-to-door with small businesses around the community selling his bookkeeping services.
The bookkeeping gig allowed Tom to at least sustain his needs for years, as he didn’t want to be a burden to his family.
At the same time, he was actively looking for a regular job, making friends, and building his personal network within the local small and medium business community.
One of these friends hired him to be the manager of a small milk tea franchise.
Later, he would meet and develop a friendly relationship with an accountant from Emapta who told him about the R.I.S.E. program.
“At first, I thought it was a rice subsidy program for PWDs. Until my friend told me that it was a training and career opportunity. My eyes widened as I’ve been waiting for this chance for a long time,” he said.
For several months, Tom and six other PWDs were trained in sourcing. By the end of 2022, all of them graduated and got hired for regular positions.
Building back life with R.I.S.E.
When he received his first paycheck, Tom bought bags of supplies for the family – something he hadn’t done in nearly a decade.
He was also finally able to buy the training equipment he needed to continue his physical therapy.
“I’ve been meaning to provide for my family again. And I’m really grateful to Emapta for this opportunity to build back our lives again,” he said.
R.I.S.E. started as a passion project of Emapta’s Chief Talent Officer, Jenn Alba. With the full support of the executives and the CEO himself, Tim Vorbach, the project was brought to life by the Global Talent Solutions Leaders through the project management support of the CEO Office.
As someone who grew up in an underprivileged family and being a former working student who had to grind it out just to get a degree, Jenn knows what it is like to be in a disadvantaged position.
As she rose through the company ranks, Jenn has not forgotten to give back. She believes that no matter what your status in life is, you can always offer something to the person next to you.
“The power of compassion is far greater than anything that money or position can do. We rise by lifting others, and little by little, we become an instrument of making a better world for everyone.” – Jenn Alba, Chief Talent Officer
Emapta’s R.I.S.E. program will continue with its second batch this year. The company will make its announcement on its social media pages in due time.