When I’m squeezed into cars I feel pain in my left hip. When I sit, this leg gets paralysed so much, it does not have much energy.
My mum told me I was not born with this impairment. When I was about four years old I needed to have some teeth removed, so they had to inject me, but… those people were not qualified. My whole body got paralysed and from that, one leg does not have enough energy. My left leg is small, this one is big.
My mother and grandmother told me that every morning they had to make me stand on this leg to see if I could balance. They’d have to take my leg and stretch it in order for those muscles to be strong enough. My mum cared for me a lot, she spent all this time with me.
When I started school, I was the only younger boy with a disability. It was around 2001. All the boys were nicknaming me ‘Butcherman’, ‘limping’, ‘disabled’… So I grew up like this. But in life you need a challenge, you need to use it as a stepping stone. So I kept doing other things that impressed people – I was playing football, basketball, volleyball, and later on they realised that disability was not inability.
I had that feeling in my heart: “If others can do it, why not me? Why not a person with a disability?”
I was doing agricultural work in the village when I heard about the Sightsavers project on the radio, announcing that [the Connecting the Dots programme] was looking for young people with disabilities, to take them for training. I had to apply. They said: “Which course do you like to do?” I had previously had an introduction on how to use a computer, so I said: “Let me study computers, because in the next generation everything will be computerised.”
I joined the programme in 2014. I enjoyed my time in Nile Vocational Institute a lot. When I finished I had to go for industrial training at a quality supply centre that deals with computers. I went there for three months.”
After studying and doing a one-year work placement, Atugonza joined the Connecting the Dots programme team as a volunteer.
“Now I go into the field and monitor those students of Sightsavers. I visit students in their homes, to see whether their parents are supporting them. I report this back to the office – this one is doing well, this one has a challenge.
My mission is empowering young people with disabilities to get self-worth, to see that they can also earn a living, to lobby for them to know their rights and benefits. Also I help them benefit from government programmes, such as special grants.
The European Commission has funded the economic empowerment programme since 2012, and additional funding was awarded in August 2017 by the Big Lottery Fund. This generous support has helped to transform the lives of hundreds of young people with disabilities in Uganda.