Avery Parducci / HungerFree Quarterly
Before the opening of the Ubuntu Special Needs Centre, special needs children in Maai Mahiu were unable to receive an education and their mothers would care for them during the day. Once built, these grateful mothers had more time but lacked skill training and faced stigma in the community. They wanted to use their free time to earn money to support their family. Through listening to people in the community, we realized the next step was helping with skills and employment. This was the start of Ubuntu Made. Beginning with ten mothers, they learnt to sew. Two years later, after partnering with Whole Foods Market, these women were selling high-quality products to customers around the world. Suddenly, these women were no longer outcasts; they have a voice in their families and in their communities. In addition to being able to feed their children, many of the founding women have created their own side businesses, with others in the community coming to them for employment opportunities.
When Josephine’s daughter, Abigail, was born, she had a deformity. Abigail was born missing an arm. “It caused a lot of chaos in the family,” says Josephine, “it created a kind of blame game with my husband.” At the age of two, Abigail was enrolled into Ubuntu’s Special Needs Center. Shortly after, Josephine was one of the first mothers to begin working with Ubuntu. Learning how to sew was not easy at first. She says that nine out of ten of the products she made were rejected, not good enough to be sold. But she quickly progressed in her skills.
Life for Josephine and her family has changed significantly since she started with Ubuntu in 2008. Their family has reliable income, providing food for the family and allowing her children to go to school. They bought land and built a house. Outside of her work at Ubuntu Made, Josephine purchased a sewing machine and sews in the evenings and weekends, creating school bags which she sells to other families in the community.
Since at first she did not experience seeing other kids with disabilities, it took Josephine a while to accept Abigail’s condition. Through working at Ubuntu, Josephine has connected with other parents of children with disabilities. They share and learn from one another. Ubuntu has given a good image to the community on disability and a reflection on one-ness, working with the mums and kids no one else would accept.
Josephine says she has learned lots of things in her nearly ten years with Ubuntu. She knows now that she has something to share with her community. While she came in knowing nothing about sewing, Josephine is now able to train other people in the community, sharing her knowledge, skills and experiences with the other mothers. “We always say ubuntu, and we say that it means ‘I am because we are,” says Josephine,
“I need you and you need me, and that’s why we are working together. We need each other besides our differences and our families. We are one and we need each other to survive.”