On the path to economic security and a strong voice in the community
Maya, 36, is a single mother of four children and the family’s bread winner. Poliomyelitis infection at the age of five affected her with neuromuscular paralysis, taking away her ability to stand or walk independently. Maya also lost her husband to tuberculosis, and the responsibility of four children then fell solely upon her.
With no marketable skills, finances, or assets, and with only a fifth-standard education, Maya appeared to have no income-generating opportunities. But today Maya is part of a disability-inclusive organic agro-enterprise project, supported by CBM, the international Christian development organization. Maya is also a budding shop-owner, processing locally grown organic produce. Specifically, she has been trained in the marketing and packaging of organic spices that are grown by her and other farmers.
One of the main features of the project is that of bringing individuals and the community together so that they can access government schemes designed for the poor and for people with disabilities. The livelihood project has not only set Maya on the path to economic and food security but it has also established her as a strong voice in the community.
“Recently, it was I who taught a new fellow how to do the job!”
In 2014, Diego Villagra signed his first employment contract – a milestone in his adult life. This is certainly thanks to his perseverance and persistent family support, but also thanks to the SKBergé company’s commitment to the integration of persons with cognitive disabilities into the workplace.
Diego has made good progress in carrying out his daily activities, including traveling a long distance each day to work via public
transportation. Once at work he performs the duties of a warehouse assistant; and after nine months of internship, during which time he received a living wage, he became a member of the permanent SKBergé staff.
This initiative of labour integration is bringing slow results, yet for Diego it has become an enriching experience that has allowed him to exhibit all his abilities. As he noted, “I like working and it is easy getting along with my companions, working in teams. Even more, recently I taught a new fellow how to do the job!”
“I tell them that they must persist in their job interviews.”
I’m Yolanda Viera Zalazar, now 54 years old. When I was just six my mother took me to a nursery because she had to travel to visit her sick mother in another town. In this nursery a man came to make some pyrotechnical games, but he forgot some of his equipment in a room. My friends and I entered into the room and started to play with the equipment when it exploded in my hands.
Today I work for Ecuador’s Labour Integration Service, where I help persons with disabilities to find a job. This is the most important part of my life – to help persons with disabilities, to tell them that we can be useful to society and that we mustn’t allow ourselves to be discounted. I tell them that they must persist in their job interviews – not only to help themselves but to help their families a well.
Currently I am studying English, and my dream is to obtain a college degree, even at my advanced age. If I couldn’t do it when I was young, I will do it today – and I will do it, because it is useful to have a degree. I want to continue to work and to help people, and I thank my colleagues and friends for supporting me. The only things that persons with disabilities need are love and understanding, and I think it is beautiful to work towards those goals.
A blind shepherd boy, now with full employment at a high school
Lukas Zida was born and raised at Boditi Woreda, a short distance outside of Wolaita town. As a young shepherd boy, Lukas was attacked by an angry cow, which resulted in his total blindness. Although his father lost hope for the boy’s future, by studying hard Lukas managed to graduate from secondary school, and then from Hawassa University with a degree in sociology in 2014. After graduation, however, Lukas was frustrated by lack of employment. He found it difficult to cover the cost of transportation and a personal assistant to apply for announced job vacancies. Worse, even when he did apply he was always turned down by recruiters because of his disability.
Fortunately, it was at this moment that Lukas was recruited by the Ethiopian Centre for Disability and Development to be a beneficiary of its Inclusive Skills Training and Employment Programme, funded by the US Agency for International Development. The programme offered Lukas three days of job search training before placing him in an internship in a government bureau for six months. During the internship, Lukas was provided with an allowance to meet the cost of transport and a personal assistant. The training and internship helped Lukas develop his work capacity by equipping him with both theoretical knowledge and on-the-job training in a formal working environment.
After successfully completing his internship and passing an exam, Lukas is currently employed at Otana High School as a student counsellor. As he reports, when he returned to his village for the first time after being employed, the residents were amazed at his success.
“I never gave up my passion or my abilities regardless of what I was told by others!”
For 24 years I was employed in childcare, where I was known as trustworthy and loving by parents and kids alike. Sadly, I was forced to leave this job due to Vermont’s credentialing of child-care staff. With no certification, I was unable to keep my job as a primary care provider, a huge loss to my employer and to me. Determined to save my career, I explored accreditation classes, but the faculty assumed my disability would prevent my successful completion. Again, I was distraught and I felt disrespected. I lost a career where I excelled!
I moved to a janitorial job, but never stopped believing in myself and my love of children. I babysat on the side and could often be seen around town with my small charges. What came next is due to my resolve to hold onto my dreams. Hearing of my child-care skills, Middlebury’s Parks and Recreation Department hired me for their ‘Tot Time’ programme. I quickly advanced to the summer camp programme, where I was re-united with a child I had cared for years earlier but who was now to be my co-worker! I advanced in my position, and was key in helping create the Special Olympics Young Athletes programme, in which I am a mentor.
My dedication to childcare rings clear in the words of my director: “Mary is very reliable, she never says no, is always early for work, and often stays late. Dustin and Mary are two peas in a pod, always laughing and joking with each other. Everyone loves Mary and we are never going to let her go!” Although forced to leave a job in which I expected to retire, I re-shaped my career with a team where I am respected and loved. I never gave up my passion or my abilities regardless of what I was told by others!
Vuyane Mondla is 41 years old and is currently one of two Team Leaders in the garden pot centre (producing garden boxes etc.) of Training Workshops Unlimited, a non-profit organization that provides developmental and career path training for adults aged 30 to 45 with intellectual disabilities. For the past 18 years he has been a trainee, progressing through the career path.
“I have learned so much about the cement and concrete trade while being a trainee at the garden pot centre. As one of the guys who have been here the longest, I enjoy teaching the new trainees skills that I was taught over the years. When we reach our target goals at work and I get the full wage my two kids are very happy because I can buy some extra luxuries for them to take to school. I also budget and save for special times such as Christmas. If I had the money and equipment, I would open my own business and get guys to work for me!”
“I got there because of my hard work and determination”
My name is Tiffany Cater. I had cancer when I was six years old, and towards the end of my treatment I contracted encephalitis, which caused brain damage. I lost my hearing, vision, my walking ability – I was in a wheelchair for two years.
I currently have a developmental disability and a hearing impairment, but I haven’t let that hold me back. After graduating from college I got a job at a day-care centre with the assistance of Community Living Sarnia-Lambton. I started out in a “floater” position, just filling in where they needed me, but eventually they were able to find me a full-time position in the infant room.
Today, I am a regular staff member and do everything every- body else does. By taking advantage of services that were offered in my community, I reached my goals and I am now independent. Even though I needed a little bit of help, I got here because of my hard work and determination.
My name is Mankotseng Lebona Mphahama. I am visually impaired, but despite my disability I had the opportunity to attend Lesotho College of Education, where I pursued a degree in secondary education and specialised in Sesotho and English languages.
During this time I experienced many challenges because there were no assistive devices to help me to learn just like other students, and the lecturers were not willing to accommodate my disability. But now I am proud that I have been employed as a teacher here at Maseru Day High School despite my impairment. My students are really fascinated to see me teaching them, and they are passionate to learn and to pursue their studies further without any hesitation regardless of poverty or disability.
“Starting my own business has been extremely positive, both personal and professional.”
For me, starting my own business (Interactúa, a paediatric therapy centre) has been extremely positive, both on a personal and a professional level. On a professional level, this experience has allowed me to grow without being monitored by a boss who doesn’t believe in flexibility; to work with more diverse pathologies that enrich me; to enhance my knowledge and thus enable to provide training courses; and to manage my business.
I am sincerely grateful to Fundación ONCE and Inserta – not only for the grant I received but also for the support they gave me throughout the whole process, helping me at the very beginning to identify clear goals and to better focus my project. They assisted me in the development of my business plan and, once started, provided me with specific training on digital marketing and finance, which really improved my management skills.
My name is Luminiţa Căldăraş. I am 37 years old and I have an intellectual disability. I was born in a village in west Romania into a very poor family with eight children. My parents couldn’t take care of us. We lived in one room with no beds, no toys, and sometimes no food. We collected recyclables and sold then to earn some money.
When I was eight I left home and went to Timisoara, the largest city in western Romania. There I lived on the streets for almost 10 years, begging for money and food. My only friend was a dog. By the time I turned 18, I had been taken to several state institutions in various cities, but the living conditions were very poor there as well and I would always run away. I didn’t go to school at all.
It was in 1999 that I found out about the Pentru Voi Foundation, and it changed my life forever. The foundation supports people with intellectual disabilities, and now I live in one of Pentru Voi’s protected homes, where I have my own room. Living here I have learned a lot of things, such as how to communicate with my colleagues, to cook (I even took a cooking training course), to clean, to make candles, to work in the garden, and even to read. Since 2012, I have been a full-time employee of Pentru Voi Social Enterprises. My main job here is cleaning, but I also do other activities such as assembling, sorting, and gardening.
I now have my own money, so I can buy food, clothes, and other things I need. I also have the ability to visit my poor family from time to time. In addition, I was elected as a member of the European Platform of Self-Advocates (EPSA) board, and I represent EPSA at the Women’s Committee of the European Disability Forum. I speak on behalf of people with intellectual disabilities from my country, and I promote their inclusion and respect for their rights.