When we first came to Maai Mahiu, we found a community of children with special needs and their mothers being mistreated and secluded. The stigma and lack of understanding surrounding special needs in Kenya means extremely limited access to essential services such as education, affordable healthcare, physical rehabilitation, and vocational training. This leads to limited opportunities for social inclusion, many social and economic issues for their families, and ultimately limits their ability to live the life of dignity that they deserve.
Ubuntu first created the Ubuntu Special Needs Centre (SNC) to combat this stigma and injustice by providing therapy, education, and vocational training to youth with special needs in Maai Mahiu. Caring for these children had been a full-time job for their mothers, so soon after enrolling their children in the SNC their Mums started a new conversation with the founders: “Now that our kids are out of the house, can you help us do something productive with our time?”
The answer was a fashion line, initially imagined to create jobs for these Mums. Today, those same women have formed into a sisterhood revered in the community: women who provide for their families, purchase land, and venture into their own successful entrepreneurial efforts. Which is why it’s not simply about creating jobs.
“Plenty of people have been given opportunity, but they don’t feel empowered,” explains Zane Wilemon. “There’s something magical about our culture and creating a job within that; it then empowers the whole community.”
At Ubuntu, empowerment means more than providing handouts or even a sustainable job. It means offering people a chance to create their own lives and livelihood. Ubuntu Made pays above-market wages to all of our employees - up to 4 times as much as they would have been able to find elsewhere in the community. We also provide health insurance to all our employees and their families, a rarity in Kenya where less than 20% have access.
The job skills our Mums learn and the money they earn empower them to buy homes – more than half of Ubuntu employees are homeowners compared to 1% nationwide. They are able to provide for their families, and sometimes start their own enterprises. They earn more than money; they earn respect in their community. Together, by providing disabled children with the healthcare and education they need, we empower them to realize their fullest potential.
That’s empowerment. That’s Ubuntu in action.