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Sightsavers Reports

“People will start to see me as a human being”

November 2017
A man sitting in a darkened room with his back to the camera.

I’m called Nicholas Mpairwe and I’m 28 years old. I live with my father and my mum, I have a wife and three children, one boy and two girls.

I wasn’t born disabled – I got polio when I was young [this has affected Nicholas’s right arm, which has very little strength in it]. I stopped school in primary five, and when I was at school, the other students [laughed] at me, joking: “You have a very small hand, how do you eat?” Those questions. They made me feel not free with them.

I cannot get a job. [Working] is too difficult with one hand. This hand doesn’t help me much – if I pick it up it just falls, there is no energy in it. The most important thing for the house is to have food, but money is a problem. The little we get, we try to balance so we stay well. My son has epilepsy; he needs regular medication and it is expensive – too much. Sometimes I go to the government hospital and I can get the medicines there, sometimes it’s finished and we need money. It is difficult; I worry about it. He needs these drugs and the money I get is not enough.

A family of five people - mother, father and three children - standing in fromt of a straw-roofed dwelling.

Facing discrimination and stigma

It was so difficult for me to get a wife. Most [women] were saying, “You are disabled, if I am sick will you manage to carry me to the hospital? You have one hand, you cannot drive a motorcycle or bicycle.” There were so many questions I failed to answer. I thank God because my wife said, “It is not you who asked to be disabled, it’s the plans of God. So I will come and be with you, helping you.” I always liked her so much [for that]. She loves me and I love her. If she couldn’t help me I wouldn’t be in a very good condition.

Most of our people think those who are disabled cannot help much. For work, I tried to ask for work surfacing the road – I can do that with one hand – but they said I should wait for next year and they would call us for an interview. They said I came late, they had already given the jobs for this year.

Before I heard about the Sightsavers programme I felt unhappy, like I wouldn’t have a good future. My heart has so many things to think about. I see people who have money, they are free and happy, they can buy anything for their family. And when I think of those things, I just go and sit [on the verge of tears]. I think maybe one day [my wife] will leave me because I can’t help her, I don’t have enough money. It puts me in a bad mind.

A woman holding a farming hoe over one shoulder walks with a man in a field.

How the right opportunity can make a difference

But then I found out I could go for training, and I felt very happy. The first person I told was my wife, and after that I told my father – they asked me, “Why today you are too happy?” And I told them Sightsavers wanted me to go for teaching, which can help me. I told them I will do salon [hairdressing]; you use the machine with one hand, you can cut. [People] come with [a lot of] hair and you clean, you cut, and you find the person is very smart!

The first thing I want when I start to work is to buy the goats and grow [my savings] maybe for three months to one year, [then] I will see what I can buy for my family – maybe help for school fees for my kids. That’s my plan.

I will feel very free [when I have a skill and a profession]. People will change their mind and they will start to see me as a human being who can help them so I will feel very happy.

A man sitting in a hairdressing salon.

Update: eight months later

It’s mostly as I imagined. My family are very OK: I got a call early this morning asking how I am here and I told them I am free! I am going well – my teacher is here for hair cutting. We are now cleaning the classrooms so we will learn where things are – I haven’t been round hairdressing equipment before. I will enjoy my course, I am happy with my teacher. She said it’s better when you teach men; girls love it when there’s a male hairdresser! The teacher has been showing us some activity and use [of the salon tools], how to handle our customers when they come and how to welcome them. That’s what we’ve learned today. I think I will be happy here.

The European Union and National Lottery logos.

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.

A man in a classroom standing by a large hairdryer.

“I got a call early this morning asking how I am here and I told them I am free!”

A man in a classroom standing by a large hairdryer.

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