Women Challenged to Challenge the Field – Elizabeth

During our first ‘field visit,’ we had the opportunity to meet a businesswoman called Elizabeth in Shauri Moyo estate, just outside of Nairobi. Her inspiring story has led to the first of our blog posts on our ‘field visits.’ Elizabeth has a physical disability but nevertheless she operates a tailoring business that specialises in dresses and handbags. Her skill for tailoring was developed at tailoring school, where she met Jane (the WCC National Coordinator) and other women with disabilities from the WCC. Together they formed a lasting friendship that eventually saw her gain access to the WCC’s loan which helps women with disabilities make improvements to their lives through business. Alongside her business, we learned that Elizabeth also trains and competes in Paralympics events, representing Kenya at the national level. She has travelled throughout the African continent to compete in countries such as Algeria along with travelling outside of Africa to places such as India. Balancing her sporting life with her business proved to be a challenge which necessitated the hiring of an additional worker.

eliza 2Elizabeth (pictured on the left) with her vast amount of medals and trophies.

Despite her physical disability, Elizabeth is the sole bread winner in her family and has a daughter who entirely depends on her for her upkeep. This is a tremendous task, but one in which Elizabeth has sought to overcome using her champion mindset which is channelled from her sporting life. Elizabeth’s tailoring business was started from her living room at home and slowly progressed into her own small shop nearby her house, which enabled her business to pick up. The shop is located along the Shauri Moyo Estate main road and attracts a wide range of customers from business people to college students. In fact, Elizabeth embarked on a project to make college bags for students and received some media attention from her success. We found that Elizabeth’s real selling point is her friendly and customer-orientated nature which allows for customer retention. Her customers not only come from within Shauri Moyo but also from different parts of the country. She often receives orders from churches, schools and friends and has continuously built a series of strong rapports with her customers which can be felt throughout the business.  She is a real inspiration that perseverance and determination to make something from your life despite your hardships, can pay off.

eliza 1 Elizabeth at her workplace in Shauri Moyo.

With this being said, Elizabeth’s moving story cannot be complete without mentioning some of the challenges she has faced and is still experiencing.  One of the main struggles has been the attitude the community has towards persons with disabilities. People often doubt the ability and expertise of a business that is managed and worked by someone with a disability. Whilst Elizabeth has been able to transcend this stereotype, in many ways it still remains in the community and this is something that needs to be tackled through education and community engagement.  Additionally, another hardship faced by Elizabeth is juggling her business with her Paralympics career. Her training and travels have often meant that sometimes she is not available in the shop when customers request her personal service. Although she has another worker, some of her customers specifically request her service. There is also a lack of space in the shop which can be a hindrance to productivity levels. However, together with the WCC we are in the process of reorganising and structuring the business so that Elizabeth is able to flourish and make the most out of her situation. As Elizabeth said herself, “Being disabled does not mean you cannot do things that able-bodied people can do.” By sharing her story we can make a difference to her life and others with disabilities.

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