Disability businesses struggle to stay afloat

Yangyel Lhaden

Almost six months after the Disabled People’s Organization (DPO), with the support of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA), established four businesses for people with disabilities (PwD), only one music school is operational today.

The prolonged lockdown has severely hampered businesses.

A total of 45 people with disabilities received music, sewing, baking and candy-making equipment to engage in group businesses.

Seven people with disabilities run the Kuenphel Entertainment of Visually Impaired music school in Pamtsho.

Before confinement, the music school had around 30 students. Today there are about three students.

The school not only teaches music, but also records songs, music, and composes songs.

A member of Kuenphel Entertainment, Sangay Kinzang, said he was grateful for the support that made him and his friends independent. “We always wanted to teach music, but we couldn’t afford musical instruments.”

The bakery, Healthy Options, operated from November but was unable to open after the lockdown.

The Bhutan Stroke Foundation, which takes care of the bakery, has decided to reopen the bakery only with reforms.

The bakery was supposed to be run by 15 disabled people, but only 12 decided to run and during the trial only six disabled people ran the business. They split the revenue.

Bhutan Stroke Foundation founder Dawa Tshering said without a mentor to guide members, it was a difficult experience for people with disabilities.

“They couldn’t work as a team because they all had different forms of disability,” he said. “Lack of capital and limited equipment was also a problem.”

Dawa Tshering plans to offer a monthly payment system to members, promote the Healthy Options brand with its standard packaging, and introduce a mentor to guide PwDs in making the bakery work to its full potential with donor agencies.

A tailoring business, Lhagoe Tailoring, which started with five disabled people, now has only two members.

One member, Dorji Tamang, said that working in a group was not easy and it was discouraging when group members left.

“I am satisfied with my income and I intend to continue working here. I feel the need to return my gratitude to the donors and the DPO for creating this business for us, he said.

The sweets business, Bhutan Center for Disabilities, started briefly with five disabled people but could not continue the business after the lockdown as it was labor intensive and disabled people found it difficult to take it over.

Sources also said that the company was located on the third floor of a building, which made it difficult for members. “They couldn’t break into the market either,” a source said.

DPO Executive Director Sonam Gyamtsho said the prolonged lockdown hampered the progress of the group’s activities as they could not monitor it during the lockdown and problems arose during the lockdown.

“We couldn’t impart soft skills such as living together and working together to people with disabilities,” he said.

He said people with disabilities generally face socialization problems as they live in isolation most of the time. “They need three times as much support and we are looking at other alternatives to get their business going again, such as providing them with soft skills, introducing a mentor or someone to run the business with the obligation to employ at least a certain percentage of people with disabilities.”

Sonam Gyamtsho said their dream is to see people with disabilities as entrepreneurs and take charge of their own business, but they are still used to being employees.

Dawa Tshering said that among the 15 people with disabilities who have undergone bakery training, some are employed in the large bakery in Draktsho, while others have received support from other organizations to set up bakeries in their residence.

Some of the sewing equipment recipients also operate home-based businesses.

Bhakti Maya sews from her home in Tsirang while Tshering Dema also sews from her home in Haa.

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