“The Lord reserves a special place in His heart for whoever has a disability, and so does the Successor of Peter,” said Pope Francis during a General Audience at Paul VI Hall in 2018.
In Barangay Lalig, Tiaong, Quezon, that special place for whoever has a disability is at the Sunshine Farm, a sprawling sunflower garden that offers sustainable livelihood opportunities to persons with disabilities (PWDs).
Here are four things you need to know about this most unique destination:
It combines the farm owner’s two passions.
Sunshine Farm owner Rhodora Palomar-Fresnedi doesn’t just love arranging flowers; she has a heart for inclusion and diversity too. She remembers how a friend had to migrate to the US because there were better opportunities waiting there for her child with Down Syndrome.
“I’ve always been drawn to people who are marginalized,” said Rhodora to Rappler. “Why don’t we build a more inclusive Philippines so that by the time her child is 18, there will be more opportunities for people like them. We need to change the mindset that persons with disabilities are limited and they can’t do anything.”
She coordinated with the Tiaong-based PWD organization Samahan ng mga Isinusulong ang mga Kakayahan ng mga may Kapansanan (SIKAP), who helped her find employees for the farm.
It started with a dinner.
Trained in human resources and a former teacher, accountant, and stock exchange announcer, Rhodora lived in different countries for years before coming home to the Philippines with her husband in 2017. One day, a friend invited her to a dinner that included soil and seed experts. Shown a picture of a sunflower field, Rhodora asked the experts to check if her property in Quezon was ideal to grow sunflowers. The experts brought her 4,000 seeds and with the help of SIKAP, the planted seeds grew and bloomed by December 2017.
PWDs run the place.
“I’ve always supported PWDs and PWD employment,” Rhodora told the Philippine Information Agency. “Given the right condition, [they] can have excellent contribution.”
Each employee is proof of that. Even with polio, farm manager Ven earns enough to send his child to school. By working as a receptionist in the farm, Jen helps her husband add income to their family. And Joy, another receptionist, says that her job not only gives her a regular salary, it boosts her self-confidence.
Alas, the sunflowers are not for sale.
They used to be, though, after images of the rows upon rows of sunflowers taken by the earliest guests went viral on social media. But selling the flowers made the farm look bare, so Rhodora stopped selling them and opened the farm to the public, charging visitors a P100 entrance fee.
This allows more people to enjoy the beauty of God’s creation, one that has a natural uplifting effect on anyone who comes upon it.
“How can you not smile with the sunflowers?” said Rhodora. “If you have thousands of sunflowers in a plot, you literally have thousands of them smiling at you.”