Sightsavers Reports

The first female plumber in Masindi

August 2017
Monica Friday photographed in her classroom on the first day of her plumbing course at the Nile Vocational Training Institute in Hoima, Uganda. She is dressed in blue overalls and holding a wrench.

In a crowded meeting hall, Edith Kagoya is doing a dance of happiness. Monica Friday has just said she wants to become a plumber.

Edith is the manager of Connecting the Dots, a training and employment programme funded by Sightsavers and the European Commission,. She loves it when gender stereotypes are broken down, and she’s sure Monica can make a good living from plumbing. Monica, who’s 24 and has a physical disability, is also keen to disprove stereotypes.

“There is a lot of discrimination against people with disabilities in Uganda,” she says. “It’s thought a disabled person cannot work.”

Living with a disability in Uganda

Fighting against misconceptions is just one reason Monica’s excited about joining Connecting the Dots: she’s also determined to use the skills she gains to earn an income. Monica is one of seven children and there are numerous cousins and other family members living with them; all are reliant on farming to survive.

They sell some of their produce but they don’t have sufficient land to make much of a living. Unable to join in with digging, Monica is desperate to do something else to help support the family. She had managed to find some work as a teaching assistant, but with no qualifications she was earning very little.

Breaking down gender stereotypes

Monica’s parents are supportive, which is not always the case for people with disabilities in Uganda, and they find it hard to see her despondent when she’s so ambitious. “Monica wants to better herself, she likes hard work,” her mother says. “People say, ‘Ah, that one is disabled, she can’t get married, she can’t do anything, she is just nothing in the community.’ I feel a lot of sorrow when I hear that.”

The opportunity to join the Connecting the Dots programme came just when Monica was starting to despair about her future. “I didn’t have any hopes of getting any opportunity of any person or organisation, other than my parents taking me for a course, [and they] couldn’t raise the money for that,” she says. “I felt so happy when I was given a course to do.”

She’s thrilled with her unusual choice of job, and pleased to be breaking barriers for women as well as people with disabilities – she claps her hands laughing when she thinks about being the first female plumber in the area.

Monica and her mother are smiling and leaning over a pot, cooking on an open fire outside.
All photos ©Annie Bungeroth/Sightsavers 2017

Inclusion in the community

Monica’s parents are over the moon too: her father used to be a plumber himself so he’s pleased she’s following in his footsteps. But more importantly, they’re happy she can live up to her potential. “I am so pleased the programme is helping Monica to do something for herself,” says her father.

Monica is determined to succeed in her training, start earning an income and teach others not to underestimate the contribution of people with disabilities.

Connecting the Dots is funded by the European Union.

Monica is leaning against a wall and smiling. She is wearing a bright green, yellow and red dress.

“A disabled person proving they can work: that’s how we change opinions in our community.”

Monica is leaning against a wall and smiling. She is wearing a bright green, yellow and red dress.

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