The introduction of the E-Trike, a motorised wheelchair with a trailer, seems to be a game-changer in fostering entrepreneurship among individuals with disabilities.

By providing enhanced mobility, the E-Trike empowers persons with disabilities to operate their own businesses.

Ten beneficiaries in Soweto, the Johannesburg Central Business District, and Diepsloot, who recently received E-Trikes from Utho Ngathi Disability Projects, are now successfully running diverse enterprises.

One of the beneficiaries, Zanathemba Mpondo, born with a disability that affected his limbs and prevented him from walking, started Themba's Muffin Room in collaboration with his sister after acquiring the E-Trike. He now delivers muffins to various customers in schools, clinics, police stations, churches, and daycare centers using his E-Trike.

The E-Trikes were donated by Utho Ngathi Disability Projects, a non-governmental organisation in partnership with CE Mobility, a South African company specialising in wheelchairs and seating. The organisation's founders, German-born Andreas Woerster and Zambian national Masauso Phiri, consider entrepreneurship as the latest initiative in their efforts to promote the inclusion and holistic integration of persons with disabilities in society.

Andreas and Masauso

Woerster explains, "This is part of our larger vision for the socio-economic inclusion of persons with disabilities. Many of them face challenges in finding employment, which further hampers their participation in the economy." In addition to fostering entrepreneurship, Utho Ngathi Disability Projects collaborates with companies to provide job placements for its members, bridging the employment gap.

The organisation, registered in both South Africa and Zambia, primarily focuses on rural and peri-urban communities. Previously, their efforts centered on improving access to education. Woerster recalls, "We have established a boarding facility for children with disabilities at Simunzele School in Choma, Zambia. The facility accommodates 14 children who would have otherwise been excluded from mainstream education due to difficulties in regular school commuting. In South Africa, we have built three daycare centers in the Eastern Cape."

The partnership between Woerster and Phiri, established in 2005, is remarkable considering the political climate at that time. Woerster arrived in South Africa from Germany in 1990 to work as a physiotherapist in an Eastern Cape hospital. On the other hand, Phiri relocated from Zambia to Johannesburg in 2000 to pursue studies in Marketing and Public Administration, ultimately finding employment with a welfare organization caring for street children and persons with disabilities.

While working as a physiotherapist, Woerster noticed that individuals with disabilities faced even more challenges than ordinary patients, particularly in terms of accessing healthcare facilities. This realization fueled his desire to provide treatment in the comfort of their homes. The idea gained momentum when he met Phiri.

"When I met Masauso, I realised that he shared my passion for creating an inclusive society for persons with disabilities. I quit my job, and in 2005, we founded Utho Ngathi Disability Projects."

Although Phiri initially aspired to become a marketer and public administrator, he gladly embraced the opportunity to work with clients living in makeshift homes, under trees, or in mud houses. As they conducted door-to-door visits, they discovered that individuals with disabilities faced neglect in various aspects of their lives. Phiri reflects, "Persons with disabilities are often socially excluded. They live in homes where basic services are inaccessible, and they are treated differently from other community members. This vulnerability to social ills compelled us to address these issues."

Consequently, Utho Ngathi Disability Projects expanded its offerings to include farming projects, training, and awareness campaigns. Phiri explains, "We currently run four agricultural projects in the Eastern Cape, Soweto, Rustenburg, and Zambia. Our members cultivate spinach, peppers, and chili in greenhouse tunnels. We also have a poultry project that produces meat and eggs. Food security is crucial for creating sustainable livelihoods." The organization also provides home-based care training to families, helping them understand the needs of persons with disabilities and breaking down physical, communication, and attitudinal barriers hindering their full participation in society.

Phiri emphasizes, "When persons with disabilities are actively involved in family and community life, their skills and talents are unleashed and developed, enabling them to manage their disability to its fullest potential." The organization estimates that approximately 35 million people live with disabilities in Southern Africa.

"Our priority is to promote the inclusion and holistic support of persons with disabilities and their families in Southern Africa. Currently, we operate in South Africa and Zambia, but we aim to expand our reach to other parts of the region," Phiri explains. Utho Ngathi Disability Projects relies on donations and fundraising efforts to determine the scope of its work.

In recognition of his contributions to uplifting persons with disabilities, Woerster was awarded the Order of Merit by the German Embassy in South Africa in 2018. The Order of Merit is the most prestigious honor bestowed by the German government for exceptional achievements in political, economic, cultural, intellectual, or honorary fields.

Utho Ngathi Disability Projects stands as a remarkable success story, demonstrating the power of collaborative efforts between countries within the Southern African Development Community.