For a long time they shared the prevailing belief of the community that educating and training young people with disabilities wasn’t worthwhile.
Harriet explains that her parents were told by her sister-in-law and others in the community: “‘You are wasting your time. That girl, she is useless. She has nowhere to go. You are wasting your money.’ And from that time they stopped paying for my school fees.”
“When I left school, I lived in the village, I did nothing,” she continues. “Digging, fetching the water, collecting firewood, helping my parents. I felt bad, because I had nothing. To sit at home without working or doing something, I was feeling bad. It was difficult.”
Despite feeling crushed to be missing out on her education, Harriet felt strongly that she had potential, if only she could be given a chance.
That chance came one day when she was listening to the radio and heard an announcement about the Connecting the Dots programme. “After listening, I told my father they have called for young people with disabilities. When I went there, they told me they are sponsoring young people with disabilities to study. I told my father I am going to join the course… I am going to do knitting.”
The course was harder than Harriet had expected. She found it hugely frustrating and was often in tears. She thought about giving up, but told herself she’d been through hard times before, and forced herself to persist. It eventually paid off.
“It was difficult,” she says. “I didn’t know if I’d manage to make a sweater. But when I did, I was proud. I was happy, because it was not easy. I’m an expert now!”
Harriet is now in her second term at Nile Vocational Institute in Hoima district, and she eventually wants to be independent, earning her own income so she doesn’t have to rely on anyone else. “When I finish my school, I’m going for industrial training,” she says. “After my training, if I find somewhere I can make a workshop, I can teach others, I can get more knitting machines. That is my target.”
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.