I’m a mechanic – I do metal fabrication on motor vehicles. I have a wife and six children, and I have other children I’m taking care of after some of my brothers and sisters passed away. My father was a driver and he had many wives, so he had many children – around 20 – and I’m the oldest.
I had a rough time at school, even from family members. Students called me all sorts of names: ‘the ghost’, ‘wart’, ‘the king’. But I kept my confidence: I believed in myself, I was strong and I believed that nothing could happen to me.
After I graduated I had a friend doing motor mechanics. After seeing I was jobless, he told me I could work with him. Now I can sustain myself and train young people working in other parts of the country. At the moment I have three students with disabilities. I feel I’m important and useful in society, which people used not to believe.
In 1997 I was elected the chairperson of this county to lead people with disabilities. When the proposal for the Connecting the Dots project was supported by the EU and Sightsavers, we started mobilising. We had to go on radio talk shows to provide information. And people started registering their young people with disabilities.
Some parents have negative attitudes to a child that has a disability in the family – they don’t want to take them to school. In Africa, people believe in spiritual things like ghosts. They have small gods, traditional beliefs. So in most cases they don’t believe that people with disabilities are human beings. They say it is a curse in the family, or maybe it’s a charm – someone has bewitched their wife. Or they say it’s the spirit of the ancestors that has contributed towards giving birth to a child who has a disability.
The project has done a lot to change negative attitudes, because now they can see a disabled person doing metal fabrication. We have taken others to work in salons, with computers, tailoring, leather work, and now they are earning. We have carpentry and those who are building. So it has contributed to great change in the community that a person with a disability can also sustain him or herself, and make money like any other person. They can be useful in the community because they are earning, they are contributing to the family, and now they are seen as important.
We have counselled many parents. Now they have come to like their children, they have realised the potential that is in them. We also have ambassadors: parents of the young people who have benefited from this project. We tell the parents to go back to their communities and tell the truth – that these children have potential.
After going to school, the young people learn to communicate, they have friends. You feel very happy when you see that a youngster from Buliisa is interacting with someone from Hoima – they laugh, they enjoy themselves. It has really contributed to their change of life.
We have to work together. We have to change the negative attitudes. People with disabilities have to have self-esteem, to say ‘yes we can’, and the community has to change to believe disability is not inability.
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.