Moving hearing impaired candidates from job seekers to job creators

As a fitting tribute to mark the end of Deaf Awareness month in September, INMED South Africa, has partnered with the Deaf Empowerment Firm (DEF), to host an aquaponics training workshop for the hearing impaired at the INMED Aquaponics® Social Enterprise (INMED ASE) in Vanderbijlpark. The INMED ASE is a new type of incubator of entrepreneurial agro-enterprises for climate-smart food production.

Driven by DEF and INMED SA, this project, with the support of strategic partners Mondelēz International Foundation and USAID Southern Africa promotes positive aspects of deafness, as well as social inclusion of all members of deaf communities and critical skills development options offered through the INMED ASE for the hearing impaired.

Aquaponics is an intensive form of agriculture, combining hydroponics and fish farming in a closed symbiotic system that produces at least 10 times more crops than traditional farming using a tenth of the water, with no chemical fertilizers or pesticides, makes that possible – even where scarce water, soil and space conditions exist. Most importantly, the technique is suitable, user friendly and safe for people with all disabilities.

Wednesday 29 September marked the start of the two-day theoretical and practical training for 15 hearing impaired young people from Soweto and Orange Farm as they enter the world of aquaponics.

The founder and MD of DEF, Alex Msitshana, explains that this is their first project in the agricultural sector and a great way of exploring opportunities where we could empower our candidates in a social enterprise/farming environment. “We identified Aquaponics farming as one of the best programmes through which to empower young Deaf people and through this shared vision, a partnership was formed with INMED South Africa.”

“Our first contact with INMED SA was met with a quick response and we set up a meeting to explore the synergies between what we wanted to achieve and what INMED offers. We had site visits to two enterprises, in Soweto and Vanderbijlpark, and were pleasantly encouraged by how this system of agriculture works.

Unathi Sihlahla, Programme Director for INMED SA, says the synergy between DEF and the INMED ASE was apparent from the start.

Msitshana concurs, saying the INMED ASE reinforces our vision of changing the perception that Deaf people are only fit to do menial work. “Having skills in aquaponics and running a successful aquaponics enterprise will serve as affirmation that Deaf people can do this kind of work too. Aquaponics will also help our candidates learn a new skill that is currently scarce in our country.

“Except for one of the candidates, all candidates participating in the training do not have matric due to the challenges Deaf learners face in our country as in most schools for the Deaf, the curriculum is not offered to matric level,” she explains.

Msitshana says Deaf people learn better when they do things hands on, so we selected candidates who would be best suited to a more practical programme.

During the two day session, trainees were shown how to build a simple aquaponics structure from scratch, how to combat climate change, taking care of produce and the fish that make it possible, access to markets and financial management.

Post training, the candidates are going to form part of the DEF enterprise development business unit.

“We have no doubt that what the 15 DEF candidates have learnt over the two days at the INMED ASE will stand them in good stead as individuals and valued family and community members in the future, and we wish them all success.  In future we hope to collaborate with other government stakeholders such as the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development as well as the Department of Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities to provide longer term skills development training,” says Sihlahla.

“The aim is to move our candidates from job seekers to job creators. The enterprise will be used as both a training place as well as an entity to offer employment to other hearing-impaired people seeking employment. It is aimed at giving our candidates an enterprise from which they can make a sustainable living,” Msitshana says.

Commenting on Mondelēz International’s decision to invest into the Aquaponics Social Enterprise initiative, Mondelēz Corporate and Government Affairs Lead for Sub Sahara Africa Navisha Bechan-Sewkuran says, the initiative is in line with the company’s corporate social investment initiatives that seek to contribute towards sustainable economic empowerment, through education, training, and entrepreneurial skills development.

“The agriculture sector has long been acknowledged as having the potential to create millions of jobs. While its potential has been recognized, its conversion into meaningful benefits for the previously-disadvantaged, especially young women, has taken place at a slow pace owing to, among other challenges, shortage of arable land as well as lack of access to funding and industry information. Aquaponics farming has huge potential to remove barriers to entry into the agricultural sector. It eliminates the need for massive arable land, huge capital investments and it uses less water than traditional farming methods, making the sector accessible to all,” concludes Bechan-Sewkuran.



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