Surviving in the face of disability
When he goes into a shop to purchase something, most shop owners and people alike misconstrue his intention. They mistake him for a beggar.
Most often they offer him some alms which he politely – though with a pinch of bitterness – turns down because he is not a beggar.
“Nothing pains me more than being regarded as a beggar just for the fact that I have a physical disability and I use a wheelchair,” laments 2Pack Justine, a Mangochi-based man who embraced disability positively and fights own battle for his daily survival and that of his family.
“I do not understand why some people think disability and begging are synonymous. In fact, they are not,” 2Pack says.
Happily married and a father of one child, 2Pack – as he would like to be called – comes from Mlungwi Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Nyambi in Machinga.
In Mangochi, 2Pack lives at Mgundaphiri Village in T/A Mponda and plies a very humble business. He sells linya (strings made from wornout vehicle tyres) by the Bakili Muluzi Highway near Pep Stores in the district.
As an expansion of his business venture, 2Pack also sells paraffin which his customers use domestically.
Thus, with the little proceeds he realises from the two not-so-lucrative businesses, 2Pack fends for his family, brothers and sisters-in-law he looks after at his house.
However, it is not that 2Pack is not ambitious enough to take a huge leap in entrepreneurial activities.
Given enough capital muscle, he would like to do something big, not just for his family’s daily survival but for a sound sustainable livelihood.
“What I get from these two businesses is not enough to qualify for a better living. Sometimes, I even struggle to pay my house rentals,” laments 2Pack.
“I have tried several times to obtain loans from banks and other money-lending institutions but such efforts have come to naught. I don’t know whether it’s my physical disability that dissuades the money lenders thinking I’d not pay back or what,” he adds.
2Pack believes that it is high time people realised that given an opportunity, people with disabilities have the potential to contribute to national development just like anybody else.
“If given equal opportunities, I believe we could achieve great things in changing lives at family and national level,” says 2Pack, his hands toying with a strand of linya.
His concerns are echoed by Eneless James, an entrepreneurial woman who also has a physical disability. James lives in Kalonga Village, T/A Mponda in Mangochi.
She sells zitenje (wrappers) along the Bakili Muluzi Highway, just a hundred metres away from 2Pack’s business spot.
Similarly, James too says she has been expecting to stumble over a loan opportunity to expand her business but has never succeeded.
“I rely much on farming and business. But the returns are not good enough as you know profits are determined by how much capital one has invested – small capital implies that you will obtain a small profit and vice versa,” says James, a mother of three.
She adds: “If I can secure a loan and invest in the business, I believe that I can make more profit returns to support my family.”
Federation of Disability Organisation in Malawi (Fedoma) Executive Director Action Amos says there is progress in the inclusion of people with disabilities in development activities, especially those promoting socio-economic empowerment.
Amos cites Fedoma’s initiative in having a registered micro-finance economic empowerment agency currently operating in Balaka and Dedza, whose savings have hit K18 million among the 40 participating groups.
He says before disbursing the funds, Fedoma puts the beneficiaries in groups and train them in savings and how to do viable businesses, through the village savings and loans concept.
“With support from the Norwegian Association for the Disabled, we are running an I-Save economic empowerment for persons with disabilities for three years in Balaka and Dedza,” he says, adding: “We look at the vulnerability of disability and household poverty levels when selecting beneficiaries for the programme.”
Perhaps the challenges that people with disabilities such as 2Pack and James are facing in Mangochi may soon be issues of the past if plans by the district’s social welfare office are anything to go by.
Mangochi District Social Welfare Officer Macleod Mphande says his office has put in place a deliberate arrangement to assist people with disabilities in the district.
“In our plan of action for 2017/2018, we factored in the element of empowering community-based organisations (CBOs) to assist people with disabilities in various ways,” observes Mphande.
He says it is the obligation of the Department of Social Welfare to ensure that each and every CBO forms a committee which would be responsible for persons with disabilities.
Mphande says the District Social Welfare Office has some funds meant to support persons with disabilities and the office is encouraging people to form clubs for easy collaboration.
“We have recently assisted two elderly men with disabilities by giving them money to buy construction materials for them to have better homes,” Mphande boasts.
With social welfare sector already registering success stories on the plight of people with disabilities coupled with a deliberate inclusion of funds in 2017/18 budget to take care of the same through CBOs, it will not be a surprise to see people like 2Pack and James swimming in success.
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