NKOLE NKOLE, Lusaka
HAVING a disability of any kind can be a frustrating experience for those affected, and in Zambia there are not enough spaces to help the disabled and their families cope with the challenges.This is what makes the work of the Sani Foundation in Lusaka unique as the only organisation offering a place where the intellectually disabled can have a hope to lead normal lives. This includes being able to find employment, which is central to the mission of the foundation.
The foundation, which is headed by Michelle Chimuka currently has 23 intellectually challenged trainees who are training to get jobs or are already working through the help of the foundation.
Even with little advertising, the foundation is accessed by both the intellectually disabled and potential employers.
“Our minimum age is 14 just because of the type of programme we provide. It’s not an academic programme, but what we do is work-based learning,” Michelle, who founded the organisation together with family members in 2014, explains.
The end goal for each trainee is that they should get a job. Therefore, from the time the trainees enrol, the foundation has to simulate a work setting for them.
They have four training stations for the trainees: an organic garden, a kitchen where others cook, a crafts station and a juice bar.
“The thing with a lot of people with intellectual disabilities is [that] no one really asks them what they want to become, so they don’t really know what they want to do,” Michelle shares.
The purpose of the four stations is therefore to help trainers and job coaches identify what the trainees like or are good at by rotating them among the stations.
However, just because a trainee trains in a garden does not mean that they will end up working in a garden.
The stations guide trainers and job coaches on which trainees are better at working indoors than outdoors or good with their hands and also which trainees can work alone or which can work in a group.
Using this information, the foundation develops profiles of each trainee which are used when finding jobs for them.
Once the trainees get to a certain level in their training, they are then transitioned to actual work. When the trainees find real work, job coaches will accompany them on their jobs to make sure they settle into the work and understand what their jobs entail.
Apart from details such as the ages and interests of the trainees, the profiles also include the concentration level of trainees.
The job coaches approach potential employers who then explain what kind of employee they are looking for.
Makambe Namulwanda, is the foundation’s work base training coordinator in charge of the training at the Sani Foundation. She also ensures that the placement of jobs is sustainable.
Explaining the concept of supported employment further, Makambe says: “The idea is that as the trainees get better in their job, the job coaches then begin detaching themselves from the trainees.”
A job coach also considers crucial aspects such as whether a trainee can tell the time and get to work on their own.
“That is called travel training because trainees need to get to work and the general idea is that they are independent and earning money and getting to work on their own,” she says.
Safety measures such as crossing the road are also taught by the job coaches.
Once the trainee is trained in a job and is doing well, the job coaches fade away.
“In the fade-out plan we constantly go and check once a week if the employer has introduced something new that the trainees need to learn or if the trainees are struggling with something that was taught at the beginning but still need support,” she says.
Support goes on for as long as the trainees need it. It can be introduced in the middle of the job, for instance, or if a job completely changes, requiring a job coach to retrain an employee.
The idea of the DICE juice bar is that it is a money-making kiosk for the Sani Foundation which is set up at different events around Lusaka as and when they happen.
DICE stands for Disability Inclusive and Customised Employment.
The juice bar is also a training centre which helps trainees interact and imagine actual social settings.
As a result, regardless of which station trainees begin their training from, they must eventually wind up in the juice bar.
The juice bar is therefore the trainees’ first employer because it is set up at different events where trainees are able to serve and interact with the public.
In the DICE juice bar, they are trained to make juices and smoothies. Some are fruit cutters while others are drink mixers and washers.
Trainees also learn from a cashier how to use money and the value of the money they will be making when employed.
Out of their 23 trainees there are eight who are working at the moment. These are working and training at the same time.
Trainees like Jerry work at the Deli, a restaurant in Lusaka where he makes beverages and juices. Although he struggles with his speech, many of his words are audible and he can converse normally.
Simon Ng’uni, who is 23 years old and intellectually disabled, works at Modzi Arts in Lusaka while Chiza Njobvu has a paid job as a garden assistant at Moore Stephens.
The foundation would like to train more intellectually disabled persons as its capacity increases going forward and to be a beacon for the intellectually disabled in Zambia.
NKOLE NKOLE, Lusaka