Polio causes a range of physical disabilities. It leads to muscle weaknesses which may leave a person disabled. Although it often affects legs, it may affect the diaphragm, head, and neck. In 2015, WHO reported that transmission of Polio, a viral infection that can be prevented through vaccination, had been interrupted in Kenya. Nevertheless, many adults live with various disabilities caused by the condition. This is the case of Hellen Kerina, a high-achieving woman with deformed limbs (legs) who attended the financial literacy training organized by Hope Foundation for African Women.
‘I have a physical disability; deformed limbs. I developed polio six months after birth. So I have had to adapt with life with deformed limbs’, begins Kerina.
Living with any form of disability is difficult. However, Kerina believes that a disability should not be a hindrance to achieving a dream and being successful.
‘I started my construction company, Richen Investment Limited Kenya, in 2015 August. A friend and neighbour told me that there were no people living with disabilities applying for construction tenders, yet there was a special consideration for companies owned by PWDs. He asked me if I could consider pursuing this opportunity. At that time, I did not have plans-leave alone the money to start a business. However, I decided to take a leap of faith and started the Richen Investment Limited Company’, Kerina enthusiastically explains.
AGPO was launched by President Uhuru Kenyatta in 2013. The goal of the initiative is to encourage the ownership and growth of enterprises by special groups like youths, women, and people living with disabilities. AGPO implements a legal requirement that at least 30% of government opportunities should be given to groups like youths, women, and PWDs. The government reports that the program has supported the growth of enterprises owned by women living with disabilities by giving them access to doing business with the government. Kerina is among its beneficiaries.
‘I registered with AGPO after starting the company. I started applying for tenders. Luckily, I was given one worth 400,000/-. It was really motivating. Since then, I have done many projects with government agencies like KERA (Kenya Rural Roads Authority), for developing rural roads. My company has constructed roads in rural areas in regions like Kisii, Nairobi, Nyamira, and Kitale’, adds Kerina.
Although Kerina admits to enjoying the fruits of accepting self as a person with special needs and going for opportunities provided by programs like AGPO, not all PWDs feel motivated to do that. In fact, she acknowledges that the reason she could get tenders quickly is probably because only a few PWDs applied.
‘Before, people living with disabilities were not bidding for tenders. It may be because of the stigma associated with disability. Also, when a person living with a disability does not accept self, it holds him/her from opportunities. However, things are different today. I am happy to see many people with special needs bidding and winning tenders,’ says Kerina.
The consideration for special groups in opportunities to do business with the government has a downside. Unfortunately, some non-disabled people sometimes lure people with special needs into creating companies and bidding on their behalf. The trick blocks many deserving enterprises owned by special groups from benefiting.
‘I know a man with special needs who started a company, won a government tender and did the project. However, issues started arising after the government paid. He did not get any compensation for his investment in the company’, she adds painfully.
Kerina’s resilience and focus provide three key learning points. Firstly, she has resisted the victim’s mentality. It may be the factor that has contributed to her success in the construction industry. Despite her disability, there is no indication of self-pity from her presentation and expression. She vibrates positive energy and enthusiasm towards life. Secondly, Kerina teaches women to have a fierce determination for success. She admits to having instances where she felt like giving up. However, she held on to the belief that she was destined for success. Thirdly, Kerina gives back. She has provided employment opportunities to many including other people living with disabilities.
The resilience, determination, and focus of women, especially those living with disabilities compliments the efforts of various government agencies and Non-governmental in providing leadership, business management, and financial literacy training. Hope Foundation for African Women, with support from the African Women Development Fund, believes in the potential of Kerina and other women living with disabilities in Kenya. The skills, knowledge, and mentorship are meant to ensure, the women believe in themselves and work towards success-just like Kerina.