By Peter Oliver Ochieng
To many people, the popular phrase disability is not inability is just that – a phrase. It lacks meaning in every sense in major aspects of life because most people living with various forms of disabilities in Kenya aren’t provided with equal opportunities of earning a living.
However, at a bread bakery in Bungoma town, people living with disabilities have been accorded a rare opportunity to work and put food on their families’ tables. Kevina Bakers which was founded by Kevina Group of Sisters in 2012 continues to give job opportunities to the disabled. The founders’ idea was to economically empower people living with disabilities.
The bakery has employed over 10 staff with at least 90% of them having different forms of disabilities. The lame, crippled and deaf are involved in various stages of bread production, which include greasing, mixing, scaling, molding, offloading, slicing and packaging.
According to the Bakery Manager Mr. Godfrey Barasa, the disable have a chance to work and earn a decent living.
“We have different workers who are disabled not only from Bungoma County but also from neighboring counties like Kakamega, Kericho and Busia. Not everyone is disabled. We have employed a number of workers to help the disabled since there are some tasks like driving our delivery trucks, loading and offloading which they can’t handle.”
Sentrine Simiyu is a 40 year old single mother of five children. She is crippled. She has been working at the bakery since its inception in 2012. Despite being a gifted saloonist, landing a job was initially difficult due to discrimination and being looked down upon.
After knocking many doors to no avail, Kevina Bakery bailed her out and as they say, the rest is history. She can afford a smile since at the end of the day; she is able to earn a decent living through working, and not via begging or depending on another person for survival.
“I am a mother and there is nothing that makes me happy as being able to meet the needs of my children through the job I do. They all depend on my salary for food and education,” she said.
“I enjoy the work I do here such that I can’t imagine missing to report to work. I am so much used to this working environment and my workmates, most of whom are of the same condition as me. I normally feel bad when I have to miss coming to work because of being sick or anything else.”
Senyenge Ndusu is deaf. Judging by how he carries himself around the bakery, he enjoys what he does. He uses sign language and his colleagues understand him. Sentrine was on standby to translate what Ndusu was saying during the interview.
“My work here is packaging and fetching water in the bakery. I really love this job. It is earning me an income and that is why I enjoy doing what I do on a daily basis.”
32-year-old Doris Chebet is also deaf. She plays various roles at the bakery, among them cooking and supplying water. Like Sentrine, she has been at the bakery since 2012. Being a single mother of three, she depends on this job to earn a living. “I am happy. I live well, I can eat what I want; I can buy any cloth I want because of this job.”
Being disabled, they have to navigate various challenges in line of duty in order perform their duties. Everline Ogano who has been at the bakery since 2016, said they cannot perform some functions such as offloading. On her part, Sentrine said the major challenge they experience is arriving at work on time, since most of them use wheel chairs to and from work.
Getting a job at the bakery is not all that difficult. A person with disability only needs to visit the Bungoma offices. If one is considered, he or she is trained for about a month.
Everline advises people living with disabilities to not just sit and wait to be given money for survival. “Disability is not inability. What a person who is physically able can do, we can also do. All of us cannot do baking, but you can sell vegetables or do anything else to earn a living. We have sound mind. We think like other people, nothing should stop us,” she said.
The workers were coy on speaking about their salaries, but said what they earn on a monthly basis is enough to sustain their lives. They operate in two shifts – day and night so as to satisfy their market which includes supermarkets, mini supermarkets and local shops.
Their Supervisor, Christine Wandera who is not disabled said she ensures everyone is okay at work and whenever there is a challenge, she takes the responsibility.
She said that unlike most work places, at Kevina bakery they have a 30-minute break, exclusive of the lunch break so due to their conditions. “We have to treat them differently since they are disabled and that’s why we give them time to take a break, they really enjoy working here,” she said.
The supervisor encouraged those who are disabled to engage in something constructive, be creative and avoid begging on the streets. “At this bakery, we give priority to people with disability and any disabled person is free to seek for employment at this bakery.”