Shonaquip, in Plumstead, is a company that produces wheelchairs and other products for children with disabilities. Shona, the founder, began the company when she desired to make a new wheelchair for her daughter, Michelle, one that would fit her better and improve her development. The factory has expanded rapidy and Shona now also employs a number of occupational therapists who work with clients either in the office or in clinics and daycares throughout the Western Cape. In addition to wheelchairs, Shonaquip makes standing frames, sleeping forms, and specially designed wheelchairs all intended to improve the posture and quality of life of its patients.
I have spent my service learning time this semester at Shonaquip, a wheelchair manufacturing company based in Plumstead. Last semester, the Marquette service learners were actually engineers and so were able to actually help with the design end of things. I, unfortunately, have so such skills, so Shonaquip founder Shona McDonald and I decided at our first meeting that I would focus on doing work with her new Section 21 non-profit company, Wheelchair Users Forum South Africa, and the parent Empowerment Through Partnership Trust. I spent much of first term learning about disability issues and reading key documents such as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Shona knows everything about disability issues and actually was a consultant for the World Health Organization on their guidelines for wheelchair provision in less resources settings, which were published while I was here. I also had the chance to attend WUFSA’s first annual general meeting at the Western Cape Rehabilitation Centre right before spring break.
Although I was able to learn a little about web design and work with WUFSA board member Vic McKinney on finalizing some general funding documents for WUFSA’s proposed resource centre at WCRC, I started in earnest on these tasks after the break. The website is still very much a work in progress, but I have greatly enjoyed working with Mart, Shona’s computer consultant. Vic and I have applied for grants from the Shuttleworth Foundation (denied), Chevron (probably accepted), FirstRand Foundation (pending), and Community Chest (pending), with an application for lottery funding due on Friday. Shona, roaming American wheelchair engineer Matt, Shonaquip therapists Liz and Ingrid, and I are currently scrambling like mad to finish a major proposal for USAID to fund a partnership between NGO Whirlwind International and Shonaquip to create a model of wheelchair and seating service provision which can be exported to other “developing” countries.
As far as general work information, I usually arrive between 8 and 8:30 in the morning in the van and leave between 3:30 and 5:30 on the train. There is no set lunch hour. I work in the main office on my own laptop at whichever desk is open any given day.
I have really enjoyed doing my service learning at Shonaquip, especially learning more about the business model of community development instead of the NGO or government models we always learn about.
Renee Miller and Michelle Gunther
The Shonaquip company strives to better the lives of everyone with disabilities, not just those who can afford it. Many of its clients receive wheelchairs by government funding. And although they don’t receive the same amount of time with occupational therapists, Shonaquip does not deny them the quality of service or product. It is such a diverse place to work and it provides an excellent experience for us in engineering as well as a place to learn about problems associated with disabled persons in the Western Cape.