People Living with Disability (PWDs) are among the most marginalized groups in different communities. For most, there is nothing much to speak about their lives beyond their limitation, stigma and discrimination. Begging is a common way of life where PWDs depend on well-wishers for their needs. Fully aware of these challenges, BLINK (Blind and Low Vision Network Kenya) through KCDF’s grant has helped to organize various groups to engage in different activities. BLINK membership has grown from addressing the plight of the blind and visually impaired to people with all form of disability. Members of these groups tell of their experiences.
Ten years ago, James Makau was an able young man with big dreams ahead of him. A motor vehicle accident brought a dark cloud in his life leaving him severely paralysed after a spinal injury.
“After the accident, I was instantly a beggar because I could not move, let alone work. I would beg for everything from food to clothes”, says James. As he struggled with disability, James heard of a PWD group, Machakos Central Group for the Disabled.
“They encouraged me to join and I found they were organized. I was afraid. I was feeling uncomfortable being disabled. When we started, they were engaging with other organizations. After getting registered and contributing a bit, I got a loan and started selling firewood. Luckily, I was able to double my initial loan from Kshs. 12,000 to 24,000 ($133 to $266). Currently, I am engaged in business. My business has expanded and with a stock of 12,000 and I have repaid Kshs.11,000 ($122). I have opened a small restaurant and this is my second month. I am building the capital and I am getting something from the business.”
Mary Mbithe who is physically disabled runs a tailoring business in Machakos town.
“I have benefitted from a loan that allowed me to expand my work. I am a tailor so I bought fabrics, and stocked a few goods such as plastic plates. This has improved my earnings. Before that, I would make about Kshs.300 ($3) a day from my tailoring work but was able to improve to Kshs. 500 ($5) a day. With the extra earning, I was able to re-invest in business and make some savings. Right now I have some savings that can help in times of need. Being in the group has improved my position, I am knowledgeable on business matters and my colleagues have continued to challenge me,” she says.
Rose Siola, 43, also tells her story of moving from just another person with disability struggling to make ends meet. Her lack of vision posed a great challenge. Then she got a call that there was an organization called BLINK that was supporting PWDs. The first step was to form a group through which they could start various activities to support their livelihoods. Since then, a lot has changed in Rose’s life as she explains.
“We have come from far. We joined the group and were taught how to engage in various income generating activities. We were taught how to bake cakes, to plant vegetables, to keep goats and a lot of things instead of just sitting back without doing anything.”
For many members of groups affiliated with BLINK, this story is common. It’s a story of finding strength, hope and growing personal and collective efficacy that PWDs can be active and productive in their own lives. They can get in the world of business, agriculture and others and ultimately be able support themselves and their families.
Mobilization has been central strength in bringing PWDs together. Janet Kateti, 47, describes her days outside the group, “When I was not in the group, I was just there, I didn’t know anything. Since the time we were mobilized and joined the group and got the training, we have gone far.” She compares this change to gaining vision.
“Being here [in BLINK), my eyes have opened. I have benefitted because I have chicken that lay eggs that I can sell and also feed my family. I have a goat that produces milk. As a result, my children’s health has improved because they can access the right nutrients.”
The BLINK group projects are predicated in developing capacity of the members to ensure that they are empowered to participate in different activities effectively. The trainings have ranged from animal husbandry, business development and value addition activities such as confectionary making. This has helped the members to transition into a productive life. Joseph Mutuku, 42, and a father of five explains his transition into the group.
“Since getting into the group, I have benefitted from the trainings including kitchen gardening and rabbit rearing. Before that, I just used to be home, farm, do manual work and so on. Since I started keeping poultry, I am able to generate my own income. “
The members have seen changes in their lives through the works of the groups and BLINK.
Joseph Muinde feels that belonging to the group has resulted in a lot of sharing and learning.
“When you are in a group, there is a lot of sharing. Personally, I have learnt that being disabled does not limit you. Most disabled people are in the grassroots alone and feel discriminated. They are not able to engage with the community. If you are blind, you are usually referred to in an insensitive language. If they want to talk about your home, in Kamba language they will say ‘kwa kilalinda’(the blind person’s place). In the African culture, being disabled was associated with poverty. That leads to discrimination because PWDs did not engage in business, did not fend for themselves but simply did shoddy jobs. But since we came together, we have been able to educate each other, and give each other confidence. Without the group, getting information was difficult”
Rose advises fellow people with disabilities to get the courage and join hands together. “There are people like me out there and I would advise them to join groups. I see the difference. I would just sit out there and not even move. Now I am self-reliant. What impresses me is when I visit my colleagues and see what they are doing, I am happy to be in a community.”
Muinde also stresses on the strength of mobilization. “What I know is that when you are
alone, you are afraid and have little confidence. When you join in a group, you get to know what is happening. When you are empowered on how to get around and working with people, you get a different heart, you are excited and are able to work with people. You are empowered and are able to break the self-imposed restrictions; domestic-only life.”
Out of the mobilization, members have become stronger in fighting for their rights. James Ndunda who is visually impaired joined the group in 2012. “Through education, I have benefitted. My land had been taken away. My title deeds had been taken by one of my uncles. When I joined the group, I was advised on what to do; I was able to claim the documentation back.”
James Makau is also following up his compensation after the accident. “After the accident, my lawyer swindled me two million shillings ($22,000) from the accident payment. I was afraid but from the group, I have started pursuing him. Now I am not afraid. I am facing him head on. So, joining the group has given me confidence I didn’t have and understanding of our rights.”
For members of PWD groups affiliated with BLINK through the KCDF’sgrant , there is a lot to look forward to. They are confident that they will continue to engage in different activities and more importantly, bring more PWDs to the mainstream.
They are thankful for the support. And as Muinde sums it, “I want to thank KCDF because they have facilitated our activities that have allowed us to get out there and engage meaningfully. We promised to continue to put more effort as we look forward to working together.”