Eastleigh, a bustling suburb of Nairobi, is known for its vibrant commercial activity and diverse population.
But for many persons with disabilities, especially those with hearing impairments, finding employment and acceptance in this busy environment can be challenging.
Ismael Omar, a 29-year-old entrepreneur and student, is determined to change that.
He is the managing director of Safamart Supermart, a youth-owned supermarket that employs 28 deaf workers, making up 60 per cent of its staff.
His vision is to create a haven of opportunity and inclusivity for persons with disabilities in Eastleigh, where they can showcase their talents and potential.
The supermarket stands out from the crowd, not only for its quality products and services but also for its unique feature: exclusive cashier counters staffed by deaf employees.
Customers can communicate with them using sign language or write down their requests on paper. The deaf workers are also trained in other skills, such as baking and back-office operations.
Ismael's journey to establish this inclusive business began in 2018 when he hired his first deaf employee, a relative of a friend who had just finished high school and was looking for a job.
"It was something we had never tried before, but we took the chance and said, ‘Let us try,’” Ismael recalled.
The experiment proved to be a success, as the deaf worker performed exceptionally well and impressed Ismael with his abilities.
Encouraged by this, Ismael decided to expand his inclusivity initiative in 2019, hiring more deaf workers and providing them with training and mentorship.
“With that, we were able to understand that persons with disabilities are limitless and can do anything that any other person can do,” Ismael said.
Ismael’s vision has not only benefited his employees but also the wider community of Eastleigh.
He has changed the perception and attitude of people towards persons with disabilities, inspiring them to support and respect them.
He has also promoted the use of sign language, which is now taught in some local schools.
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"This is a great motivation for the young children who are in primary and high school with disabilities because, at the end of their education, someone wants to work,” Ismael said.
Ismael, who is also pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration at Kenya Methodist University, balances his academic and entrepreneurial pursuits with passion and resilience.
He is constantly looking for ways to improve his business and empower his employees. His phone rings frequently as he attends to calls from clients and suppliers.
"We've changed a lot in Eastleigh, especially on the perception people had about persons with disabilities,” Ismael said as he welcomed us into his office, a cool and serene space amid the hustle and bustle of the supermarket.
Ismael’s efforts have not gone unnoticed, as Safamart Supermart was voted the most supportive corporate of the year during the Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities Awards, which were held during the International Day of Persons with Disabilities on Sunday.
The awards, sponsored by Africa 2 Africa Mediations, recognize individuals and organizations that have made significant contributions to the inclusion and empowerment of persons with disabilities in Kenya.
He has become a trailblazer in Eastleigh, creating a legacy of empowerment and breaking down barriers, one transaction at a time.
Ismael is out to inspire other persons with disabilities to pursue their dreams and aspirations and to challenge the stereotypes and stigma that often limit them.
He is also showing the world that Eastleigh is more than just a commercial hub; it is a place where diversity and inclusion thrive.