Spotlight on Mila, disabled worker (Peru - SINUTRADIS)

Griselda Milagros Garcia looks like she’s juggling with her machine

Griselda Milagros Garcia – everyone calls her Mila – looks like she’s juggling with her machine. Just a few short months ago, who would have believed that this young Peruvian lady, who gets around on crutches, would be able to make all kinds of bags, document cases and, briefcases?
“How on earth do I use a sewing machine? The day I sat down at one, I said to myself: I’ll never be able to use this thing. But unconsciously, I was telling myself: Just try it. If you can’t do it, no problem. At least you’ll have tried. But don’t just sit there wondering if you can.”

Mila and 30 other members of TRINO, an association for disabled individuals, took a technical training course provided by the municipal authorities of Villa El Salvador, on the outskirts of the Peruvian capital.
In this outlying district, one of the poorest in the Lima area, the home sewing class was too good to pass up. Eulogio Rojo Gonzalez, president and founder of TRINO, is all too aware of what it means.

"In our view, the only way for us disabled people to make a living is to create our own jobs."

In addition to the sewing workshop, TRINO - which has nearly 150 local members who have a physical, mental or sensory handicap – also organises sporting and public events to raise awareness about the need to acknowledge disabled individuals. Gonzalez knew how important it was to join the union for disabled workers (Sindicato Nacional Unitario de Trabajadores con Discapacidad - SINUTRADIS), which is in turn a affiliated with CUT.

"When organisations present themselves individually, they are not heard. In the work we do, we try to ensure that disabled people are better united via their organisations and trade associations, so that we are in a better position to demand our rights: the right to work, education and leisure. I believe that we need to close ranks and join forces if we are to achieve these goals."

In Peru, legislative advances are evidence of a positive trend in incorporating disabled individuals into the workforce. One of the laws promulgated aims to set aside 3% of jobs in public and private companies for the disabled. Unfortunately, enforcement leaves a lot to be desired. Due to lack of access to appropriate education and suitable transport, disabled Peruvians are often excluded from decently paid jobs.

How can you get to work on time if public buses refuse to give disabled individuals the extra time they need to actually get on the bus? Mila, whose brother was born with the same handicap, does not let herself get discouraged by these obstacles.

"I have some disabled friends who, when a bus doesn’t let them on, keep on walking and feel sorry for themselves: "What am I going to do? The bus won’t let me on!

But that’s not what I do. I take a different approach. If a bus driver doesn’t let me on, no problem. I keep waiting. The next one will pick me up, or the one after that. Yes, I have to leave home a bit earlier, but one way or another I get where I am going."

Under these conditions, finishing her studies in industrial design is an uphill battle for Mila. The fact that her family lives in abject poverty does not help matters much either.

For each rucksack sold for 17 Peruvian sols (€4), the disabled worker who made it gets 1 sol. For Mila to make enough to live on, sales of products made in the workshop are going to have to skyrocket.
But to make that happen, extra sewing machines are needed as well as expert advice.
Around 30 people have been trained, but only two can work at the same time because there are not enough machines to go round.
But it will take more than that to discourage Mila: her enthusiasm is contagious and she is relentless about passing on her know-how to other disabled workers at the TRINO workshop.

“Many people say that the disabled can’t do much, but we show them that’s simply not true. Many people think we’re going to leave it at that. But I think a lot more can be done.”