DISABILITY: MASTERING THE ART OF BAKING
By Petrus Muronga
(NAMPA FEATURE SERVICE)
RUNDU, 03 JUL (NAMPA) – The aroma of freshly baked cookies hangs in the air as I approach the kitchen of the ‘Disability on the Move’ project in Tutungeni, Rundu in the Kavango East Region.
Nason Vihinda meets me at the door of the Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture house garage turned into a kitchen.
Vihinda, the project manager is one of the seven people with disabilities who bake cookies here every day to earn a living in a region where unemployment is 39 per cent, according to the 2016 Labour Force Survey of the Namibia Statistics Agency (NSA).
The ginger and oats cookies taste as good as the aroma enveloping this kitchen. Some are crispy, others are soft and chewy and leave a memorable sweetness in my mouth. The quality is as good as any.
Any other group would have been fine churning out these cookies every day but for Vihinda and his colleagues, it is a challenge to work in a make-shift kitchen not designed to accommodate bakers with physical disabilities. All need to use either crutches or wheel chairs for mobility and in the absence of both, they walk on their knees.
The group used to have 14 people but some left after they realised there is not much money involved, said Vihinda, who uses crutches for mobility. Vihinda contracted polio at a young age and this left him with a permanent physical disability.
Other project members left after being unable to perform their duties due to their physical conditions.
The project begun about 10 years ago with the help of Dutch volunteer, Saskia Dieks.
Showing this reporter around the packed bakery as other members were busy with their duties, Vihinda said they used to sell their cookies in town at different Government offices and in the central business district but it became difficult because of lack of transport after Dieks returned to the Netherlands in 2011.
Dieks used her car to transport the cookies. Now the remaining members carry the cookies in backpacks from one place to another, which is difficult since most of them use wheelchairs or crutches.
The project’s turnover is not much either. Members are given N.dollars 300 per month which is mostly used on transport to and from the bakery. The rest is ploughed back and used mainly to buy ingredients and pay for other expenses.
Their wish is to expand the project and acquire a bigger oven, where they can bake wedding cakes, bread and other goodies.
“We want to turn this project into a big and viable project that will help orphans and other people living with disabilities,” said Vihinda while putting shaped cookies into an eye-level oven. The seven would also like to open a cafeteria.
Their main challenges currently are transport, work space, and sufficient baking equipment.
The kitchen is so small and cannot accommodate the wheelchair of a group member, Johanna Leevi. She sits on a chair most of the time but walks on her knees from counter to counter to perform her duties.
Vihinda accuses Namibians of not helping others because since the project started, only foreigners had offered them assistance.
However, he commended former Kavango East Education Director Alfons Dikuwa, who granted them permission to work from the garage where they operate from today.
The group, also received a donation of about N.dollars 37 352 (2 500 Euros) from Cor de Vos, the former Mayor of Nieuwegein, a city in the Netherlands, which they used to buy a fridge and the small oven they are currently using.
Another member, Renathe Muronga, appealed to the Rundu Town Council to provide them with a suitable area in town where their business can be visible.
“We want the council to at least give us a [place] in town because here there are no customers,” she said while balancing herself on her crutches and at the same time arranging cookies on a pan.
Muronga, a mother of two became disabled from Polio at the age of two. However, her disability never stopped her from going to school. Muronga today boasts a certificate in hospitality from the Community Skills Development Foundation (Cosdef).
Other members David Ndjamba and Christophine Muronga do not want the project to stop.
“We want support like how other projects are being supported,” said Ndjamba, who contracted polio at the age of four.
Muronga, called on regional and national leaders to assist them, saying being disabled and a mother is not easy.
“Our leaders should look at us and help our project grow. Other people, in other countries, living with disabilities are doing well because their leaders assist them in different ways,” she said.
The mother of three became disabled in 2012 after a stroke. She said the project had given her the zeal to not give up on life but live as normal as possible.
Leevi, with her trousers white at the knees from the flour she picked up while walking on the floor, wished things could change for the better for the group so they could at least take their project to greater heights. She too has a certificate from Cosdef but in needlework.
Apart from Government offices, the group sells its products to various supermarkets in town.
Assistant Manager of OK Foods supermarket, Neila Felisberto said they help the group by buying their products and providing them with baking flour as part of their community responsibility.
“We are with them in the struggle and they must keep on with the project,” advised Felisberto.
Approached for comment, Governor of the Kavango East Region, Ambassador Samuel Mbambo said he was aware of the group’s efforts and commended them for the example they had set for other disabled people and able-bodied ones as well.
He urged them to carry on, noting that his office will see how it can help them achieve their goals.
“We are very proud of them. Disabled does not mean unable to do anything. They should keep on and be shining examples to the community,” Mbambo said.
In the meantime, the ‘Disability on the Move’ members refused to be part of the large number of people who are unemployed and do nothing to earn a few dollars. They vowed to soldier on.