From Begging To Business

Osei Kweku pushes his way in a wheelchair through the busy streets of Adabraka. He carries his shop on his lap with the quiet air of wisdom and an incredible tenacity on life on his interestingly designed tie, tucked in a blazer, and a white shirt that’s slightly dirty but well kept; the kind of mangled ‘well kept unkemptness’ that intuitively informs you, that this is his only presentable work attire. “Life may have dealt me a heavy blow, but there is no way this would get in the way of my success” ~ these words seem to embody the soul of his every action.

Foraging through the traffic around the Cathedral traffic light junction in Adabraka, Osei Kweku sells candy, ‘Mentos’, PK, mints and such, to passersby in their vehicles. This 45-year-old disabled man who, from birth, lost the use of his legs, risks his life every day, daring Fate, manipulating his wheelchair through busy streets and reckless driving, selling his wares to make a living.

The merciless scorching of the sun and the irregularity of the rains due to the incumbent rainy season is the least of his worries. Osei Kweku’s story is amazing and definitely a golden difference in a country where the large population of poverty-stricken, disabled people are beggars on the street and remain so for as long as they stand in their spots.

In the Constitution of the Republic of Ghana, under the Persons with Disability Act, provision is to be made by the Government for the Promotion of employment of persons with disability. However, Osei Kweku is totally ignorant about his rights and abilities to claim them for many reasons, of which adequate dissemination of information, political irregularities and neglect by Government are headlining causes.

Born in Effi gyaase in the Ashante region, Osei Kweku’s tale is typical of those in his predicament. “My family was not helpful. I have never been to school. I have two other siblings; both were educated but I wasn’t because of my condition,” Osei Kwaku says, his eyes averted in shyness. However, his natural ability for resourcefulness and business acumen had him dancing at funerals in his hometown, attracting money for his skill and his entertainment.

It was these small tokens of cash he saved up, to pay his passage way in search of ‘greener pastures’ in the city. This search brought him to Accra and he has been living here for the past 20 years. He began his search for the fabled ‘greener’ life by begging, and through that, raised about GH C100 to commence his own business, a small shop situated on his lap, starting with one box of PK. This box later expanded to more boxes and other similar products. With this, he no longer has to beg but is daring Life to bring even bigger things his way. His goal is to have a stall where he no longer has to go through the dangerous machinations he goes through each day on the busy streets of Accra to sell his wares.

At night, after a very hard day at work, he goes to the railway lines at Nkrumah Circle where he finds a good spot outside to lay his head. When morning comes, he dresses up in his white shirt, blue blazer and speckled red tie and returns to his spot in Adabraka.

I can think of no stronger fight against the odds. This kind of courage to do, to achieve, requires a visionary, who can see beyond the heavy murk of his present situation into a future he would make remarkable with his own hands.

Speaking to The Weekend Globe, Alexander Tetteh, Director for the Center for Employment of Disabled Persons, a registered NGO, the facts on the ground have a large disparity to the rights in the Constitution. “We advocate the support system for the disabled person from the government,” he says, “and one important support system is the Common Fund for Persons with disabilities. The Fund is available. It comes every quarter, but sometimes it doesn’t come according to schedule. However, the process is sometimes cumbersome, and if you apply, it sometimes takes a whole year to apply for it.”

Two objectives of the Fund are as follows:
To support the income generating activities of individual persons with
Disabilities as a means of economic empowerment

To support persons with disabilities have access to technical aids and other assistive devices and equipment.

However, the major problem, as stated above, in accessing the District Assembly Common Fund, is the dissemination of this information to the disabled people. It is a fact that many of them that hog the streets of Accra, begging for their livelihood have no knowledge of the existence of this Fund.

This means of economic empowerment for Osei Kweku is lost to him, first and foremost because of his lack of knowledge of these support systems. Those who know about this are members of associations set up by NGOs such as that referenced in this article, and regularly attend meetings.

Those who don’t belong to any benevolent Association would be left out off the loop. But more problems exist, particularly in monetary support for organizations for people with disabilities and for people with disabilities themselves. The National Council on Persons with Disability, for instance, who are mandated per The Disability Act to do a lot of work, including register every disabled person in Accra and are in charge of the disbursement of the Common Fund, is hugely underfunded, suffering from Budget delays, etc.

“There is incentives a person with disabilities who sets up his own business can also get from the Government,” Alexander Tetteh continues. “And there are also incentives any business enterprise that employs a person with disabilities can also get from the Government, including tax rebates.”

However, do these work as smoothly on the ground?

“On the ground, it’s not working yet, since the Law [The Disability Act] was passed in 2006.” Alexander Tetteh confirms. “Section 9 of the Persons with Disability Act 2006 Act 715 says that, ‘The Ministry shall through the Public Employment Centre assist to secure jobs for persons with disability’, and the Public Employment Centers don’t exist. It was an old system. The Centers would have to be put up again or revamped. Currently in Ghana, it’s only this Center that provides for the employment of persons with disabilities. There is no Government agency that does this job. There are private recruitment agencies, but they don’t have the experience, the space for disabled people.”

The Centre for Employment of Persons with Disabilities facilitates the employment for disabled people, bridging the gap between jobs and people with disability. Advocacy is also included in their cause, to create the space for people to understand the challenges that disabled people face in order to change misguided perceptions. The Centre runs on the personal funds of the Director and his staff, and work is on voluntary basis. The Centre does not collect payment of any sort in registration or in the final securing of a job. Its advocacy work includes disabled workers who have been working for years without pay (even in public sectors), support systems for employed disabled people such as adequate transport, etc. Also, the Disabled Beggars Rehabilitation set up by the Centre creates the forum for them to improve on themselves and get off the streets. This is a good Association for the rough estimate of about 200 disabled people begging in Accra, of which only 30 are members of this Association.

Thus the question is raised; why is there no Government agency that provides for the employment of disabled people?

However, this is not to say that the Government is totally unsupportive of disabled people. The government supported a chalk production initiative by the Ghana Society of the Physically Disabled in 2009, directing all public schools to buy chalk from the Society, in order to boost the production and marketing of its products.

But the problem still remains in the accessibility of information of the rights and support services available to people like Osei Kweku, who by the constitution, are entitled to certain rights and support services.

“I hope that with the new arrangement, with a whole ministry developed for gender, children and social protection some of these things would change,” Alexander Tetteh says.

Definitely changes have to be wrought in the system. However, outstanding characters like Osei Kweku have chosen not to wait on these long-awaited changes. He has taken his fate in his own hands and has attempted to wrought for himself a survival and more comfortable life, even if it means wearing a tie in the scorching sun to look presentable and sell his wares.

Kweku’s story challenges the definition of ‘disability’ and all the metaphysical associations with the word. When one appreciates and is determined to pluck success on the horizon, there is nothing that can stop you, not even disability.