“My visa got rejected three days ago because I have a refugee passport instead of a Zimbabwean one,” said 28-year-old Charles Nyakurwa. Nyakurwa, the founder of Deaf Hands at Work, had been selected as one of 1000 African entrepreneurs to participate in the Tony Elumelu Foundation’s Entrepreneurship Programme (TEEP), an all expenses paid skills building boot camp in Nigeria.
“I am supposed to fly to Johannesburg next week ahead of the boot camp which is from Thursday to Sunday,” he said.
However, the Nigerian embassy said they could not accept his refugee passport for a visa application because there could be no guarantee that he would be allowed to return to South Africa stated Nyakurwa.
Deaf Hands at Work is based in Cape Town and aims to bridge the gap between the hearing and the deaf with a team of skilled carpenters, painters, domestic workers, and seamstresses. The non-profit groups also seeks to promote South African Sign Language (SASL) and provide work experience for deaf graduates.
Nyakurwa’s younger brother Peter is deaf. In 2007, Nyakurwa fled Zimbabwe for South Africa where he eventually found work as an apprentice, saving up his money to send Peter to school. Nyakurwa learned sign language in South Africa so that he could one day better communicate with Peter and finally sign to him that their parents had passed away.
A few years later, Nyakurwa opened up a carpenter’s workshop. In 2012, a fire destroyed most of the workshop. Adding to his trials and tribulations, Nyakurwa’s non-profit was in 2014 robbed of essential assets like laptops.
However, Deaf Hands survived and has, among other projects, been chosen to rennovate a fellow non-profit’s community-run library and aftercare centre in Redhill informal settlement, Cape Town.
The Zimbabwean social entrepreneur said he hoped government officials would yet respond to his requests for assistance. “Everything is paid for and everything is in order. This is my plea for someone to help get me there,” said Nyakurwa.