The number of people with handicaps in southern Africa is estimated to be over 18 million—that’s at least ten percent of the total population. “Many of these people are left to their own devices, especially in rural regions,” says Andreas Wörster, the founder of the aid organization Utho Ngathi Disability Projects, which has headquarters in Siegen and Johannesburg. “In many cases, people with handicaps are housebound and live outside the village community. Our goal is to integrate them into community life.” Wörster, a 51-yearold German, is convinced that this can be done through education, the development of individual capabilities, and an adequate income. He’s familiar with the realities of the situation, as he has lived in South Africa for the past 27 years. Evonik has supported the work of his aid organization for the past three years.
Utho Ngathi has created a wide variety of projects in South Africa and Zambia in order to support and integrate people with disabilities. It plans to conduct educational campaigns in order to draw attention to their difficult situation. It also organizes home visits to provides people with regular care and support and makes wheelchairs and walkers available so that they can participate in community activities.
Evonik began its involvement with the aid organization by donating wheelchairs for children. “It’s very moving to see how a wheelchair can change a person’s life for the better by making him or her mobile,” says Heinrich Ruth, who is responsible for Evonik’s business with amino acids for animal feed in Africa. It soon became clear to Evonik that its cooperation with Utho Ngathi should be a longterm one. The company wanted to strengthen its commitment to people with disabilities in southern Africa—and also to contribute its business skills. “In order to be recognized, people need to have meaningful work that contributes to their society,” says Ruth.
Wörster and Ruth decided to work together on implementing a project that would provide the rural population with better sources of valuable protein and more closely integrate people with disabilities. Many people in southern Africa are still malnourished because they have no access to high-quality food and balanced meals. Many of them cannot afford to buy meat, fish or eggs.
The two men soon came up with a plan. Utho Ngathi and Evonik are building henhouses holding 300 birds each in the rural village region of Macubeni in eastern South Africa. People both with and without disabilities can work here and earn a living. At the same time, the additional supply of meat can improve the villagers’ diet.
The construction work started in July 2016. While Evonik employees in South Africa joined Utho Ngathi in Macubeni to build the henhouses, Evonik colleagues in Germany and in South Africa organized a donation campaign to finance the project. Several thousand euros were collected. “In addition, we got a local producer of animal feed, one of our large customers in this region, on board,” says Ruth. This producer donated high-quality animal feed and taught the future operators of the henhouses how to take care of the chickens, carry out cleaning operations, and ensure good hygiene.
In August, the first chicks were moved into the three henhouses in Macubeni. By now, several generations of chickens have already been raised and sold. Ten villagers work in the henhouses—people with handicaps and people without them work together with a will. Utho Ngathi pays them a small salary from the profits gained from the chicken sales, and enough money is still left over to support six villagers who make home visits to people with handicaps.
“Evonik really got the ball rolling,” says Wörster. Evonik’s Employer Branding unit has linked Utho Ngathi with students from RWTH Aachen University who are members of the international student network Enactus. Together, these partners have built a solar-powered fish farm in a village in Zambia, which is now being managed by villagers both with and without handicaps. The chicken farming is also ongoing. Two more henhouses were built in February 2017, one of them for laying hens. In addtion, the Evonik Foundation has also pledged to support Utho Ngathi financially until 2020.