So he sits in class with children who have hearing impairments and signs the lessons for them. The kids absolutely love him and he’s an involved and engaging teacher.
After class, he races down the road and covers the 2km commute to his other job, a voluntary, unpaid role at the office of Sightsavers’ Connecting the Dots project in Masindi district. It’s enough of a walk that most of us would complain about doing it every day, twice a day. But Joseph not only does it uncomplainingly, he does it with a huge smile on his face. And for him it’s no easy walk.
Joseph only has the use of one leg – the other was badly affected by polio in his childhood – so he relies heavily on a walking stick to get from A to B. The polio also resulted in his damaged leg being significantly shorter than the other, and he can’t afford a built-up shoe from the hospital as the cost is far more than his earnings, so he designed and built himself a whole structure – a metal splint with a wood and leather shoe. He wears it until it falls apart, then he builds a replacement.
“I did not go very far in education because of my father’s attitude. He thought disabled children couldn’t be educated and he didn’t pay my school fees for secondary education. I could read and write after primary school. I wanted to go to secondary school but I had nobody to support me. Then an NGO [the Uganda Society of Disabled Children] came in to support me in attending vocational training – and I am where I am now because of the training.
“I got involved with the Sightsavers programme when it first came to the area. Whenever they [need me to come], I inform the head I will not be around; wherever Edith is going to meet the youth I move with her in the field or the office so I can act as an interpreter. I go to all regions the project is working in to talk to the deaf community. I do it voluntarily (sometimes when there’s a small allowance they give it to me) – I really do it willingly. I feel that I need other people to be like me, the way I am now.
“It’s quite common for there to be difficulties between children with disabilities and their parents. Parents here, they think when you have a disabled child or person or youth, it is a curse to them. They have the negative attitude towards disabled persons generally. If they have a visitor who asks how many children they have, they say ‘I have five and one disabled child.’ It’s not correct… it’s the segregation, they don’t think we are also people like them.
“Sightsavers has come in came and it has improved greatly as it has gone deep in the villages, trying to sensitise [people]. There have been radio talk shows, workshops, home visits. Radio talk shows are the most effective – home visits have done a great job too, parents have been sensitised. Some still have negative attitudes but some parents are willing and take encouragement. It gives them more encouragement when they see their children doing well – those that never wanted to support start to do so.
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.