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My ability is stronger than my disability


On this trip I’ve discovered each project has it’s own special kind of magic, it’s the energy which makes the project beat. With some projects it’s not immediately evident and you have to scratch around for it, but with projects like Employment Solutions in Pretoria, it strikes you immediately as you walk in through the front doors.

Employment Solutions forklift driver, James Pahahla (24), with his colleagues in the steel workshop loading pipes for Bosal Exhausts.

The organisation was started in the 1999 to provide employment solutions for people with disabilities, hence the name. Today, it employs 135 staff, all with one form of disability or another, who’re actively engaged in the many projects run on the premises. The work here focuses generally on high-volume, labour-intensive activities that provide work opportunities for people with varying levels of mobility or cognitive abilities.

Sections of the large premises accommodate a group of deaf people who’re scanning and archiving documents for Vodacom or working on computers capturing map data for AfriGIS. Whereas the main workshop area houses an assembly line for metal parts contracted to Heunis Steel; an e-glass workshop packs eco-friendly fibreglass for Bosal Exhausts; a sewing section manufactures high quality, hand-stitched leather goods for ACL Automotive, and there’s also a wheelchair repair section. The entire organisation is a hive of activity and the atmosphere is busy, industrious and well-organised. “Although this is a non-profit organisation, we run it like a business,” says highly efficient CEO Ilze Meintjes, “and there is no compromise on quality or delivery standards.”

As part of the Old Mutual Foundation’s commitment to supporting vulnerable communities, we funded R250 000 for the purchase of a new forklift and training for the driver. This might seem incidental, but the organisation’s previous forklift was old and ‘pap’ and as a result wasn’t coping with daily production load, risking the loss of contracts. The new forklift meant that Employment Solutions was not only able to continue with, but actually expand their steelworks contract with Bosal Exhausts. I’m thoroughly impressed by the organisation’s strategy to generate self-sustaining sources of income, rather than operate on complete donor dependency.

Later we interview some of the employees working here:

  • Christina Makena (33) is deaf and with the assistance of an interpretor, signs to us in English. She is married with two kids and likes working here because she’s with other people who also have disabilities. She repeats this three times to me and I understand that she’s actually saying here she feels accepted and ‘normal’.
  • Marina Jacobs (40) started in the assembly workshop many years ago and now works as the PA to Ilze. She lives independently and recently travelled to Australia on holiday. “Tim-tams is die lekkerste koekies ooit,” she laughs.
  • James Pahahla (24) is married with two kids. He is a slow learner and has dyslexia. When he undertook his forklift driving license test, the organisation especially arranged for James to do a completely practical test, rather than sitting the written examination section.

I realise again and again, how our rigid social systems are not friendly towards people with disabilities, and just the slightest adjustments made with consideration and awareness, would allow more people with disabilities to integrate and lead economically independent lives supporting themselves and their families.

Walking around I finally put my finger on what’s missing from this production environment – it’s the tension and frowning, bad-tempered stress that occurs in mainstream workplaces. There’s a general helpfulness and patience extended to others, and a curious friendliness shown to us everywhere we go. Yes, things do move slightly slower but I’m given a hug by someone walking past me, a group of people walk by holding hands in a crocodile chain and at lunchtime, the staff gather for prayer. Our world could definitely do with more gentleness like this.

 

Post index:

And we’re off!
Growing green futures
For the love of reading
Paying it forward
In the heat of the moment
The road to Camdeboo
The light of one small candle
Investing for the future
The building blocks of business
A heart for horses
Mining for talent
My ability is greater than my disability
To be a nurse, you must be love
There’s no such thing as ‘the voiceless’
Mark my words
The place where the sun rises
Welcome to your future
Strengthening families 

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