A supportive family helps overcome disability barriers in Zambia

COVID-19 emergency cash transfers for the most vulnerable

Precious Nkandu and Mulapwa Mukopole
Elais, a man with a visual impairment,  walking in his community
08 April 2022

Elias Mubita remembers the night as a young man when he went to sleep at work and woke up unable to see.

As a young builder in Zambia’s Choma District he had shown talent and quickly built up a good pool of clients, got married and began raising their two children. One evening he had just finished building the walls and laying the roof for one of his clients and was planning to start plastering the following day. Since it was a demanding task, Elias and his team had to spend the night at the construction site. When he woke up the following morning, he could not see anything apart from a cloudy mist. He tried everything but it just got worse. The doctors prescribed some medication, but nothing changed over the coming days. Elias became visually impaired.

“When I became blind, things started getting tough for me,” says Elias. “I had to start learning how to get around and do things without eyesight. At first it was really depressing. My wife of many years deserted me, and I found staying alone very difficult as my children were also very young. I had to make the most difficult decision which was to move back into my mother’s house. I am grateful that my mother and siblings welcomed me with willing hands.”

Elias, his mother and sister at the homestead
Elias, his mother and sister at the homestead

Through the Ministry of Community Development and Social Services (MCDSS) and the Zambia Agency for Persons with Disabilities (ZAPD), Elias was able to connect to other people with different disabilities.

“Soon, I learned how to navigate my way around the house and later the community. I continued building small structures with the help of my brother and other people I would hire. I opened a small shop that is run by my sister and it has been doing very well. My mother is growing old and as a way to reciprocate her support, I have been able to improve mum’s house by installing water and electricity. I have also been able to buy a number of household goods such as a fridge, and a television set.”

Elias at the shop run by his sister
Elias at the shop run by his sister

Elias has shown determination to overcome whatever challenges life has thrown at him.

“As a hobby, I joined a team of runners and participated in the Zambia Paralympics Games  held in Lusaka and came out the best in the 100-metre race. I won a trophy and some money that I invested in duck rearing which is another business that has kept me going.”

Elias is one of the beneficiaries of Zambia’s flagship Social Cash Transfer (SCT) programme, and during the COVID-19 pandemic, he has also become a beneficiary of the COVID-19 Emergency Cash Transfer (ECT) programme as well.

To respond to socio-economic impacts of the pandemic, the Ministry of Community Development and Social Services with technical support from UN agencies (UNICEF, UNDP, ILO, WFP) has been implementing the C-ECT programme to support over 200,000 households in 25 districts in Zambia.

The COVID-19 social economic impacts have been felt worldwide. The C-ECT programme was launched to address these challenges and help families avoid negative coping mechanisms such as removing children from school, selling property or reducing on the number of meals.

“The support through the regular social cash transfers has been helpful”, he says. “The additional lump sum of 2400 Zambian kwacha I received through the COVID-19 ECT made it possible for me to start building a shop right by my mother’s house.”


“Disability is not by choice and can be very depressing but when you have people around who are willing to support you, it becomes very easy to adapt and live a happy life. Support coming from different donors is also very helpful as sources of income for myself are very limited due to my disability. My dream is to one day have a big shop in my area where people can get most of the day-to-day groceries. The COVID-19 funds I received has allowed me and my family to start investing in this dream. Thank you.”

A shop being built by Elias and his brother out of the COVID-19 ECT
A shop being built by Elias and his brother out of the COVID-19 Emergency Cash Transfer

The Zambia National Disability Survey of 2015 estimated prevalence of disability to be 10.9 per cent among adults (18+ years) and 4.4 per cent among children (2–17 years). Persons with disabilities in Zambia continue to face barriers that prevent them from enjoying their full civil, political, economic and social rights mainly due to ignorance and prejudice on disability in communities.

Working closely with the Ministry of Community Development and Social Services and the Zambia Agency for Persons with Disabilities, UNICEF and other implementation partners prioritised persons with disabilities as beneficiaries of the COVID-19 ECT programme, given they are disproportionately affected by COVID-19 amidst other already existing inequalities. The UN programme is financially supported by the European Union, the governments of Germany (through the KFW development bank), Ireland, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom.