ZIO MWALE, Lusaka
WONDERING what next after going partially blind because of illness and subsequently forced to quit work as driver, Philemon Shumba remained helpless at home for over a year.This unfortunate situation that confined Mr Shumba at his home in Lusaka’s George township happened in 2010. He had to quit his job at one of the government ministries where he had worked since 2003.
Before that, Mr Shumba had also worked as a driver at the Young Women Christian Association (YWCA) from 1994 to 2001.
After going partially blind and subsequently losing his job, Mr he would have easily thrown in the towel. Instead, he saw an opportunity for blessings.
In 2012 an idea was birthed that from his visual impairment, he should start a project to help other physically challenged persons.
That was the beginning of Blessed Hope Club, an initiative aimed at supporting people living with different disabilities.
The club offers support to physically challenged women in his compound through entrepreneurial empowerment schemes such as farming, peanut butter making, sausage making and knitting, among many other small-scale domestic businesses.
“After I lost my sight, I developed passion for the physically challenged and the widows. I then established my club and we started meeting at my home,” Mr Shumba, who is also the club’s coordinator, shared.
But, although the Ministry of Gender has helped the club with capital and a peanut butter making machine, the club has continued facing financial, physical and material support in order for it to fully function.
He explained that when the club makes little profits out of its peanut butter production, for instance, they save much of the money for its future logistical needs, of the club, while the remaining part of the proceeds is shared among club members through soft loans.
“We share the money among ourselves through soft loans. The money, which is as little as K20, helps to boost personal businesses and solve personal issues, but sometimes group members don’t pay back,” he explained.
Mr Shumba complains of the club lacking physical and financial support, he says from inception. The club has failed to improve because it lacks financial support, inputs and equipment for its entrepreneurial activities.
“Most of the women in the club come through to learn some entrepreneurial training we undertake, not necessarily to get all they need in terms of financial support. It’s unfortunate we can’t help much because we do not have equipment we can use for production,” he said, adding that the peanut butter making machine was not adequate especially with the consumption demand.
He said some of his club members have had many opportunities to attend a number of women empowering training programmes that are slowly helping them to reinforce their ability to live independently in their state.
“We have the knowledge especially on different ways to start a business, but we do not have machinery or funds, especially when it comes to farming it is very hard for us to operate effectively because we do not have enough farming inputs,” he said.
He shared that the intention of the club was to help every physically challenged woman in terms of entrepreneurship and financial support, but it is not possible due to the financial problems the club is facing.
“We are doing a little rather than begging on the street. I believe that a lame person is also a human being who can support, his or her family by working. We manage to impart knowledge on how one can start a business into our group members but the issue is the capital for them to start their own businesses,” Mr Shumba said.
In the few years of his disability, Mr Shumba shared, he has experienced a lot concerning society’s stigma towards the physically challenged.
However, he says Blessed Hope Club has helped in creating a positive side of the disabled persons that they could also be productive.
“The physically disabled are very vulnerable in our communities. It starts with how they are treated in their compounds. I have seen people disrespect me and denied certain services due to my disability,” he said.
His support club has 20 members, of whom 15 are physically-challenged and five are able-bodied. From the little they make, the club also supports orphans with clothes, educational materials and foodstuffs.
He explained that each member of the club is empowered according to how physically challenged they are.
Mr Shumba has however urged members of the society to stop discriminating against people with disabilities in terms of employment opportunities, education and health services.
Blessed Hope Club vice-chairperson Eunice Muzeya explained that for some club members to do farming, they have to rent a one hectare piece of land which cost about K700 per cropping season.
“Before last year Zamseed gave us seeds of maize and sweet beans. It was a wonderful year for us because we had enough to eat, but this year has been rough for us to farm because we do not have money to hire equipment and to buy seed,” Mrs Muzeya said.
However, members of the club are reaching out to well-wishers to come on board and help the club with foodstuffs, clothing, land, farming inputs and equipment.
According to the Zambia 2000 Population and Housing Census, which collected data on disability, 2.7 percent of the population is living with a disability. The same Census says that more than 80 percent are engaged in agriculture, making it by far the most common occupation.
Yet, women and girls with disabilities remain at the margins of decision-making, and for too long the specific needs of women with disabilities have been invisible, both to the advocates of women’s rights
ZIO MWALE, Lusaka