Sharif excelled at his new job and is now a paid member of staff at Isaac’s garage. He’s now working without needing any instruction (as Isaac proudly tells us) and is supporting himself financially. Sharif says that if he hadn’t enrolled on the scheme, he would still be at home. “I’d be in the village doing nothing! Maybe only digging [farming work] – that would be the only work… it is difficult to find a job.”
Joel and Ronald, recent graduates from the scheme, have joined Sharif as trainee mechanics at Isaac’s garage and the three have become close friends. “I thought there were only a few people with disabilities when I was young,” says Ronald, “but when I came here [to Masindi], I found a lot and I said, ‘Ah, there are many people who have disabilities…’ We are all friends, all of us taking courses.”
As a person with a visual impairment, Ronald has found that people’s attitudes towards him can often be negative and he is treated differently to everyone else. But Isaac has been supportive, encouraging and friendly: “He’s a good person,” says Ronald. “He told me that if I work hard, I will stay with him.” Ronald’s excited about staying on at the garage after completing the internship, or using his new skills to work at another big garage in the town.
Isaac has embraced the opportunity to train young people with disabilities, but he knows that this can seem challenging to other employers. “The problem businessmen face sometimes is communicating with [people with disabilities]; sometimes it becomes a problem,” he says. But he explains that the key is patience, willingness to learn, and spending time with people: “You start learning slowly and eventually you find that you can [work with] that person properly.”
Isaac and Sharif had to learn to communicate effectively. Sharif communicates by using sign language, which he is teaching Isaac whenever there’s a spare moment. “He is a very good man – not only to me, but to others,” Sharif says about his boss. “I have learned from him, and I also try to teach him some signs, because I want him to learn and for us to communicate.”
The European Commission funded the economic empowerment programme from 2012, and additional funding was awarded in August 2017 by the National Lottery Community Fund. This generous support has helped to transform the lives of hundreds of young people with disabilities in Uganda.