When something bad happens you have three choices. You can either let it define you, let it destroy you or you can let it strengthen you. 70-year-old Martha Moletsane chose the latter.
Born and raised in Hennenman, Moletsane had a good job at Tiger Milling when her husband was tragically killed. Five years later from the stress of his passing, Moletsane suffered a stroke in 1998 and returned to Phomolong township in the Free State. “As the sole breadwinner, I was always worried about what work I could do,” recalls Moletsane. “At the milling company I was an administrator, but after my stroke I couldn’t do that kind of work any longer.”
Moletsane knew she had to make a choice, and that choice was driven by her own disability. “When I came home to Phomolong, I realised that I was not the only one living with a disability. There were so many children with disabilities living in Hennenman who were struggling,” she says. “Some of the parents were ashamed to let their children outside where other people could see them, so they kept them inside. They couldn’t even attend school.”
Moletsane was adamant something needed to change, so she rounded up some of the ladies and decided to open a centre to help those living with disabilities. “We literally went door to door to find all the children with disabilities in the community,” says Moletsane. “We found not only children and women, but men as well.” The group formed a committee and registered it as a nonprofit organisation (NPO), which opened the Tshoarahanang Centre for the disabled in 2004.
There were two NPO’s in the centre—Tshoarahanang, which helped people living with physical disabilities and were involved in farming vegetable and sewing. The other, the Tlamahano Association, assisted persons who are blind and partially sighted weave handmade baskets using cane.
The DPSA (Disabled People South Africa) acted as an umbrella body, helping the group find donations to sustain both NPOs. Moletsane recalls the day when they were introduced to INMED South Africa, a registered nonprofit organisation that together with USAID had made significant progress in bolstering the capacity of people with disabilities to adapt to climate change.
When INMED South Africa came on board it made sense to combine the two NPO’s to form the Phomolong Disabled Centre cooperative. The participants were all introduced to INMED’s Adaptive Agriculture Program (AAP), which aims to alleviate malnutrition and food insecurity. The cornerstone of INMED’s AAP program methodology is INMED Aquaponics®, an intensive food production technique combining aquaculture (fish farming) and hydroponics (soilless crop production) in a closed system that dramatically conserves water and space, and yields abundant and marketable high-quality fresh produce and fish.
“They taught us how to plant vegetables using aquaponics. The vegetables are so different because they are chemical free— fresh, big and beautiful,” enthuses Moletsane. In addition to technical training, INMED South Africa taught the group business development, marketing and business management.
Phomolong Disabled Centre cooperative sells the vegetables to the community and provides produce to the local schools. “Our aim is to get a big market where we can sell so that our kids can continue our legacy,” says Moletsane. “I want future generations to come and work so they get a better life.”
Her advice to women young and old living with some form of disability is to accept themselves. “I always say to the people who we work with that we are just like them. One must never be ashamed of what God has given us. I didn’t know that one day I would live with a disability. I did not apply to have a disability,” she says. “Anyone can have a disability. Accept anything that God brings your way and find a way to push through. Being disabled does not mean you’re not capable of doing things. I believe there is virtually nothing that I cannot do and achieve.”