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Initiative gives hope to disabled

Date Released: Mon, 9 June 2014 15:59 +0200

A Rhodes University collaboration that employs disabled Grahamstown people to raise insects that are released into the wild to fight invasive alien water plants has earned widespread praise.

So far, five disabled people - including an amputee and a polio sufferer - have been employed by the Rhodes University Community Engagement initiative.

Started by bug expert Professor Martin Hill, who heads the entomology department, the unique partnership with Grahamstown Area District Relief Association (Gadra) has given hope to marginalised people. While sitting with his friends around a port-a-pool patiently picking tiny weevils out of invasive South American water hyacinth, amputee Siyanda Ntamo said he had given up hope of finding a job after he lost his leg four years ago.

"I could not find work after my accident and became very depressed," the 27-year old explained. But that all changed last year when Rhodes teamed up with Gadra and started a two-month course to train disabled people to harvest bugs that feed on alien aquatic weeds such as hyacinth, Kariba weed, water lettuce, red water fern and parrot's feather that choke South African waterways. "I am very happy I have a job. Now I can put food on the table for my family." Instead of killing creepy crawlies, Ntamo and his friends rear weevils and other bugs that feed exclusively on invasive weeds.

Since the project started more than 500 000 bugs have been hand harvested and sent to invasive weed hotspots in Southern Africa and the rest of the continent. Hill said: "We have realized that through the correct training, disabled people are as capable as any able bodied individual in collecting biological control agents."

He said it was a brilliant opportunity for disabled people to do an incredibly important and empowering job. Besides empowering the disabled, the Biological Control Research Group that was started in 2002 by Hill also runs a high school internship programme that includes setting up a small mass rearing facility at nearby cash strapped Ntsika Secondary School to inspire students to do biology.

According to researcher Grant Martin, who heads the programme under Hill's guidance, other centres are now setting up similar initiatives using Working for Water funds to survive. Gadra director Roger Domingo said it was hoped the project would double in size this year and employ five more disabled people.

"There are virtually zero opportunities for people with disabilities and most barely survive off a disability grant of R1 350 per month."

By: David Macgregor

Article Source: DAILY DISPATCH

Source:Daily Dispatch