“The COVID-19 pandemic affected my business, but I decided to start making masks. This boosted my income a little. I buy cotton material and cut out pieces, then attach a lining. I then iron and fold the masks, then add an ear band. I can make around 30 masks per day, and it takes me about half an hour to make one mask.”
Grace is a member of the Khwisero Persons with Disabilities Group (KPDG), an organisation that teaches local women with disabilities about their rights. The group also advocates for inclusive local and national policies that respond to the needs of everyone in their community.
When COVID-19 struck, ActionAid worked with the group to share life-saving health messages and information on preventing the spread of the virus. Grace began making face masks and distributing them to people living with a disability in her local area.
Word quickly got around and by July 2020, Grace had made and sold more than 1,000 masks, bringing her a steady income during tough times. Now, whenever she gets big orders, she employs three or more people to help her which provides job opportunities for local women.
“When COVID first struck, I used to walk around with them or take them to a hospital as people can’t enter a hospital without a mask. Right now, I don’t do anything to market the masks; people just come here and buy them. I still give them to people with disabilities as they are more vulnerable.”
The KPDG started from a small group of people with disability who would visit and support one another. The group grew substantially after ActionAid came to Khwisero in 2012. It now offers members loans to start small businesses like selling vegetables or firewood.
Grace explains that the support from ActionAid training in leadership, human rights and business skills has enabled group members to speak up for their rights, become more respected as members of society, and have greater financial security.
“ActionAid has taken us to a higher level; they have provided us with training. I personally did paralegal training and I’ve also taken part in training on village saving and loans schemes. They have also provided funding so people living with disabilities can get assessed, to help them access disability cards.”
Grace says that understanding her rights has given her confidence to speak up for herself and her needs.
“Before I joined the group, I didn’t know about my rights and didn’t have the confidence to speak in front of people. I couldn’t attend a big forum because of the stigma towards people with disabilities. [Now], I have learned about my rights and can go to any office in search of services.”
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