Our #CapePioneers series showcases innovative local businesses that adapted to build resilience in the face of COVID-19. This week we speak to ShonaquipSE, a hybrid social enterprise fighting for the empowerment of people with disabilities. During the pandemic, ShonaquipSE has stepped up in its advocacy for the rights of the disabled as well as developed a locally manufactured Powered Air-Purifying Respirator (PAPR) – the OggieAir – that can be used by frontline staff, healthcare workers, caregivers and those with co-morbidities needing to return to the work.
“In time of crisis, there is a possibility to effect real change.”
What is your core business capabilities?
ShonaquipSE is a hybrid Social Enterprise that drives social change towards a more inclusive society where people with disabilities are welcomed, empowered and enabled to live their life to the full. We achieve this through the design and manufacture of rural and remote appropriate pediatric wheelchairs and assistive devices. We take an ecosystem approach to change, providing outreach seating clinics, Tele-health support services, training for early inclusive childhood education, social support services, advocacy and research.
How has your business adapted to respond to Covid-19 challenges?
One of the biggest things to come out during the Covid-19 pandemic, has been seeing how big the gap is in access to knowledge, information and resources for people with disabilities. Suddenly, parents who have been relying on special schools or daycare centres to care for their children have now become responsible for caring on their own for their children on a 24-hour basis. They are now however doing this without the knowledge or resources that have been historically held by professionals in the school and hospital system. The realization that the system they thought was helping them has actually prevented them from becoming the experts in their own child’s lives.
In addition to this, there are three factors that are creating challenges for parents to make use of health service during the Covid-19 pandemic:
Transport – they are unable to get their children to clinics; Appointments are being limited to urgent cases only; Thirdly they were too terrified to take their highly-at-risk children into a hospital setting. So they are expected to take care of their children without the necessary skills as all the information is tied up with the health care professionals. The information and skills are seldom shared with parents, because healthcare and education professionals are not recognising their roles in empowering parents as the knowledge holders and experts in their children’s lives. We are now seen the effects of this as parents are unable to access any services or resources, which is putting their children at even higher risk.
So over the lockdown, the whole ShonaquipSE team set to rebuilding and redesigning all our training materials in order to make them available online and remotely provided, not only on the internet, but also by phone.
You have been involved in the local manufacturing of a Powered Air-Purifying Respirator. Talk us through that.
The OggieAir Powered Air Purifying Respirator (PAPR) is actually quite a simple device.
The idea behind it is that you are filtering any contaminated air through a high efficiency certified filter. The air gets sucked through the filter by a fan, which is powered by rechargeable batteries. It then gets blown up a tube into your hood and over the inside of a full face mask. This results in a constant flow of clean, fresh air, which allows you to work in all kinds of environments without any risk of being exposed to contaminated air. You also don’t need to remove or readjust it constantly like other masks. We were very aware that people need to wear these masks in hot and high stress situations for extended periods of time. It is important that the mask does not hinder the user in anyway, that it is comfortable and that it fits a wide range of face shapes, so we’ve worked hard to reduce the weight and ensure its comfort even for people with beards and glasses .
We recognised that respirators are not only valuable in the hospital environment - for doctors and front line workers in ICU and in Covid wards – but also for caregivers and nursing staff and family members who didn't want to be the carriers of the virus to their highly at risk, family members. The other advantage of the respirator, that has become very clear with Covid, is that if you have any intellectual impairment, a hearing impairment or conditions like autism or dementia where patients are scared by somebody in a mask and unable to lip read or see facial expressions masks become a huge barrier to communication. Having an open face mask enables health care workers and caregivers to communicate effectively with their patients, while remaining protected.
In the past these reusable respirators were only available internationally, and were not being locally produced in South Africa. So once again we were being forced to compete with all other countries around the world, negotiating and trying to get hold this much needed PPE equipment. PARP are also expensive because of the exchange rate. We have wanted to ensure access to local, affordable quality products which are immediately available for South African frontline staff, healthcare workers, caregivers and the public who have co-morbidities and need to return to the workplace. This is an ideal product for them to be comfortable, active and safe, while carrying out their daily work and even more importantly the OggieAir is easily sanitised so it can be reused week after week as your own personal safely equipment .
What has been an achievement or success for your business during this time?
Covid19 has really highlighted how valuable our team is to us and how they have been able to adapt and really invest in delivering on the purpose of ShonaquipSE. They have found ways to rapidly invest in solving problems. People who had never dreamt that they could work effectively from home are delivering outstanding work, writing and creating innovative videos and other training tools and materials in multiple languages. They’ve really thought out of the box and have been incredibly proactive.
As an essential service provider the willingness and commitment of the team to lean in over the last few months has really shown the power of Ubuntu and South African resilience. Another powerful realisation is that in a crisis, there is huge opportunity to influence real change. One of the projects we have invested in is our Parent Champion Trust and Disability Advocacy Movement. We have been engaging globally around common shared challenges, raising awareness and pushing the agenda on local inclusion.
Government once again forgot about people with disabilities in all their Covid19 policy planning. The disability sector has rallied itself into united action, strengthening the movement and lobbying locally and globally for equal rights and inclusion.
All Lives Matter and through crisis comes the opportunity to implement the change we need to see. As South African Change-makers ShonaquipSE and its partners are pushing the boundaries on access to services which enable inclusion in South Africa.
For more information on Shonaquip Social Enterprise, visit their website HERE.
Share your story of COVID-19 resilience with us and email email@example.com