Everyone supposedly has a dream, especially one that is a reflection of a desired future.
It takes jumping several hurdles to achieve these dreams. But when it comes to persons with disabilities, surrounding environments usually make it almost impossible for one to dream.
Hence, with support from the Norwegian Association of the Disabled, the National Union of Disabled Persons of Uganda (Nudipu) has, for the last five years been implementing the Operations Day Work youth project in the districts of Rubirizi and Kasese in western Uganda.
And according to experiences, the project is having quite an impact. What is most important is that it provides useful lessons for other stakeholders in how to support persons with disabilities.
For Grace Ngabirano, a visually-impaired youth, it never occurred to her that she would get the slightest feeling of making a family. She knew it was her right to get married and make a family, but the community’s negative attitude often made her ‘shelve’ her sexual feelings.
Like many women with disabilities have often put it, access to sexual relations is usually by chance and not choice, the evidence being the many disabled single mothers. Ngabirano kept largely to herself, only for the ODW project to open her eyes.
Life skills training:
“I have trained in entrepreneurship as well as other life skills. I have able to change my way of life including my attitude. I am also the chairperson of the youth with disabilities in Rubirizi district,” says Ngabirano, a primary one teacher at Kagarama Seventh Day Aentist (SDA) nursery and primary school.
And Ngabirano is now married, despite having been haunted by the spectre of being used and abandoned – as happens to many.
“I was so fearful and I hated men. But after the project interactions and trainings, I was able to see a different world. I realised that women with disabilities can actually get married and have a happy life so, I decided to make up my mind to actually get married. I am actually married to my head teacher.” she notes.
As youth chairperson, Ngabirano, alongside other players, has been able to identify six schools – two secondary schools and four primary schools – where youth with disabilities (YWDs) can access education.
“I am sure my colleagues will now be able to access education.Initially, we were having challenges where YWDs would drop out of schools because they felt they could not continue with their education after primary level since most schools for instance had inaccessible environment. There were no learning materials and the teacher’s attitude was negative. Now the story is different,” she says.
One key issue, Ngabirano notes, is creation of awareness regarding access to education by YWDs. Schools have improvised ramps and with support from the project, some of them have received learning materials such as braille and sign language materials, although still limited.
She is equally happy that this project trained her in making pads. This is a big challenge to most young women with disabilities especially where they have no resources to afford modern pads. She can now make one for herself and intends to start producing them in large quantity so she could earn some income.
“I see a bright future ahead of us,” Ngabirano says.
Just like Ngabirano, Alex Abiine, 25, of Nyakasharwa town council is visually-impaired. He also has the ODW youth project to thank for his resurgence.
Before the project, his mother used to confine him. She didn’t want him to do any work by himself because she thought by being visually impaired, Abiine could not do anything.
“I have gained my freedom and I am able to work for myself. I can take care of my goats. I used to fear even walking by myself due to stigma, now I can walk on my own,” says Abiine, who is also involved in brickmaking. “I believe I will be able to take care of my future unlike before.”
After the house construction, Abiine plans to marry and have a family. On the other hand, 22-year-old Alex Bigirwamukama always wanted to be a doctor. Unfortunately, two years after he joined secondary school, this dream varnished following a mental disability.
As a result, he has been admitted to Butabika hospital on two occasions. Every time he recovered and attempted to return to school, the attacks recurred. This is because he hadn’t yet learnt how to manage the depression. In senior three, he quit school and stayed at home.
During our recent visit to Bigirwamukama, at his home in Nyakasharwa town council in Rubirizi district, he narrated how the ODW youth project had helped him cope with his disability, and is now able to manage his depression. He attained skills in carpentry, was trained in human rights protection and promotion, and also entrepreneurship skills, which to him will go a long way in shaping his life.
“I could experience attacks most of the time due to loneliness,” he says. “However, after the project identified me and helped me, I realised that I am not alone. My life slowly started changing.”
Bigirwamukama specialised in making sofa seats, and although he is working under somebody, he feels happy because “I know one day I will have a better future despite my disability”.
One thing we can note from the above experiences is that youths with disabilities, especially young women, need more than just Nudipu’s interventions, but rather a concerted effort by all stakeholders. While Nudipu was able to make a contribution to changing the lives of these three, there are many more that the project has not been able to reach.
Bigirwamukama’s story, for instance, only demonstrates the ability each of us has. Unfortunately, youths with mental disabilities always miss out on development opportunities because government has relegated their future to non-governmental organisations such as Nudipu.
Where they (NGOs) are not, the future of youths such as Bigirwamukama and Abiine is left to chance. If the government borrowed a leaf from best practices as ODW to improve the lives of PWDs, more Bigirwamukamas and Ngabiranos would be much happier.
The author is the communication manager at the National Union of Disabled Persons of Uganda.
Source : The Observer