Standing up for people living with disabilities
He was born with a disability, but that did not put him down. Fredrick Ouko, Executive Director, Action Network for the Disabled and Ashoka Fellow, is now a voice for those living with physically challenges
By Lilian Kaivilu
Tell us about your upbringing and how it influenced your push for the recognition of people living with disabilities.
I am the only one with a physical impairment in a family of nine. I grew up in Kakamega county and I am forever grateful to my father who believed in me and gave me a good education despite advice to the contrary by neighbours and friends.
When I was young, my father had a policy in the family that he would only pay school fees for those among his children who performed well in school. Luckily, I excelled, thus getting the chance to continue with my studies.
Besides Action Network for the Disabled, you are the founder of Kibera Community Youth Programme. How did it start?
After my secondary education, I moved to Nairobi and lived in Kibera with my elder sister. It is here that I founded the Kibera Community Youth Programme.
This initiative focused on creating income generating opportunities for unemployed youth and we had a series of activities such as music, dance and drama.
We would also source contract jobs from organisations that needed to organise events within Kibera. Through this programme, I was able to pursue a diploma in business administration.
People living with disabilities have often been victims of rejection in the job market. What was your experience?
I recall walking into an interview room of a well-known multinational company and being met with frowns. An interview that took 15 minutes for all other candidates took two minutes in my case and my fate was sealed.
I never got the job. Even though it wasn’t said, I was convinced that my disability had been the cause for the company’s harsh rejection of me.
This rejection turned out to be your breakthrough in life. Tell us about it.
After that disappointment, I didn’t go looking for another job. Instead, I founded Action Network for the Disabled in Kenya in a bid to rid formal workplaces of stigma and discrimination towards young people with disabilities.
Having been given a chance by my parents through education, I believe that children with disabilities deserve an equal opportunity to go to school just as those who don’t have a disability.
What impact has your organisation made so far?
In the past four years, over 200 youth with disabilities have been issued with start-up capital to invest in new or existing businesses, over 50 qualified youth with disabilities have secured internships in various organisations and more than 30 have been employed permanently in various organisations.
In addition, more than 300 youth with disabilities across the country have been trained on entrepreneurship skills.