Worldwide, it is estimated that 15% of men and women have some kind of disability. The worldwide unemployment rate for people with disabilities is estimated to be close to 80%.

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, and during my recent trip to Paraguay I wanted to highlight a group that I met with, called Fundación Saraki. The non-profit specializes in helping advance the labor rights of those with disabilities and strives for inclusion in Paraguayan society.

Members of Fundacion Saraki, a non-profit that is dedicated to laboral inclusion for those with disabilities. Photo Credit: Laura Rodríguez/USAID

Although Congress in Paraguay passed a law in 2004, which provides mandatory labor inclusion of People with Disabilities (PwD) in public institutions, there has been little compliance with the law up to 2009. Also, there is no legal requirement for private companies in Paraguay to hire PwD.

In May 2009, Fundación Saraki was granted a Cooperative Agreement for the “Effective Labor Inclusion” of People with Disabilities within the public and private sectors. With this agreement, Fundacion Saraki has started working with many private companies including McDonald’s and Supermercados España (a local supermarket chain in Paraguay).

The organization has been a trailblazer and has not stopped to advance the rights of those with disabilities. They are currently addressing the fact that there are no building standards in Paraguay for people with disabilities. Fundación Saraki decided to be innovative in their approach and worked with architecture students from local universities. They go and inspect the buildings and give suggestions to the companies so that they can be better prepared for customers and employees that have disabilities.

For example, Supermercados España for the first time took six young people with intellectual disabilities as interns in two supermarkets in Capiata and San Lorenzo (two cities close to Asuncion).  Five of those interns were then formally hired as employees of the supermarket.

Christian Storm, Director of Supermercados Espana in Capiata and San Lorenzo has pointed out that “Productivity and efficiency are some values we found in young people with intellectual disabilities we hired a few months ago.”

Executive Director Lic. María José Cabezudo Cuevas says that Saraki is really making strides in the community and next project is to work on creating standards for buses in Paraguay that currently do not have any accommodations for people with disabilities. “We are trying to work the government because in Paraguay disabilities have not been a priority, and we hope to have a greater impact in the private industry as well.”

Saraki is an organization that leads by example. They have a young woman named Regina Nogues, who works at the foundation as a secretary helping with administrative tasks in the office.

Another example of how Saraki leads by example is the case of Luis Alberto Aguilera, also known as “Beto”.  This 24-year old young man with intellectual disability has been working as Project Assistant at Fundación Saraki for the past two years.  Beto also serves in the Board of Directors as Director of Youth Affairs.

He started working with Saraki thanks to a USAID funded “Effective Labor Inclusion” program. Beto provides program support in daily activities, including receptionist and clerking work, while also participating in workshops and events meant to raise awareness on the rights of People with Disabilities.

“I am very lucky to be working, because it is difficult to find a job, and more so for people with disabilities. My life has changed

completely since I started this new stage; it feels good being important and useful for others, that people trust you and give you opportunities”.

Beto is now involved and committed member of Saraki’s Board of Directors, as Director of Youth Affairs, and is one of Saraki’s liaisons to the Vice-ministry of youth. In fact, he was just in Greece to carry the Olympic torch for the Special Olympics.

He was also one of the faces of Saraki’s media campaign called “We are equal, we are different” meant to raise awareness on the Rights of People with Disabilities. The campaign proved very successful, and received free airtime from the most important local radio and TV stations. You can watch the public service announcement here:

Be sure to follow Fundación Saraki’s activity on their Facebook page.