New skill helps Kenyan man find love


Otieno Abala has a physical disability, due to having polio as a child. He used to scrape together a living as a cobbler.

Three years ago he was a batchelor. On a Practical Action project he learnt how to install improved stoves which were more fuel efficient, and healthier as they produce less smoke. Now he could earn more money Otieno realised that he would be able to save enough for the all-important dowry.  In Kenyan culture this is important as it shows that a man has sufficient income to keep a wife.  Now he is happily married to Caroline.

Otieno surprised trainers by learning all the skills required in a day. “The training takes nine days, but to my astonishment, he learnt the entire course in a day,” says Ms Herine Kawaka, the programme leader.

“I usually made about Sh300 (£2.50) per day as a cobbler,” says Otieno. But my life is changing due to the new skills. I am now better placed to earn more,” he beams. “Due to poverty, I was not able to gain formal education. This limited the jobs I could secure or business I could venture into.”

He says physically-challenged people become dependent on other people because they cannot get education or buy aids like wheelchairs: “If I had a wheelchair in my childhood, perhaps I would have become even a teacher.”

Otieno is determined to get ahead in spite of a lack of formal education. Already, he has spent the money earned from the project to pay a dowry.

A new wife

His new wife Caroline says he is caring and hard-working. Otieno says the new business pays for all his daily needs, reducing dependence on his parents and six siblings. But he faces a number of challenges.

“Last week, I went to fix a jiko (improvised stove) in Ng’iya market, three kilometres from here. By the end of the day, I was very tired,” he says. “On some days, I get many orders. Potential clients get disappointed when I fail to turn up to install their jiko on time.”

A client, Margaret Achieng, says Otieno fixed hers a month ago: “He did the work within 30 minutes and assured me the jiko would function well. Indeed it has.”

A typical day

On a typical day, Otieno wakes up at 6am and hits the road to whichever homestead needs his skills first. “I call it a day at around 6pm. I then spend some time with my wife before going to bed at 10pm.” Otieno says most physically challenged people suffer as a result of lack of funds to support them.





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