Sightsavers stories

The business owner training young people with disabilities

Isaac sits outside his mechanics.

Sightsavers’ Connecting the Dots initiative in Uganda offers young people with disabilities the opportunity to learn a new trade and gain valuable work experience.

We speak to Isaac Bolingo, an employer who has welcomed five interns at his business and is now championing the scheme to other employers.

Over 500 young people in the Masindi area of Western Uganda have taken part in Connecting the Dots, a scheme that links them up with training and employment opportunities. After completing a three-month course learning a trade of their choice – including construction work, welding, tailoring or hairdressing – they are connected with local employers where they spend three to six months working on the job.

Isaac is a local businessman who owns a thriving mechanics shop in Masindi town called Isaac’s Motorcycle Spares and Garage. He has taken on five young people with disabilities as part of our programme to become trainee mechanics and is training graduates from the scheme for the second year running. One of his first trainees was Sharif, a 24-year-old who is deaf. After completing his course at a local technical college, he took part in the employment programme’s careers fair in town, where he joined other young people from the scheme to celebrate their hard work and connect with potential employers. At the careers fair, the graduates were each given a toolkit for their trade, so they would be fully equipped to begin their career.

A young woman working at a sewing machine.

Connecting the Dots

Our training and employment programme has transformed the lives of young people with disabilities in western Uganda.

About the programme

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.

Learning to communicate

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.”

Creating opportunities

The employment programme has transformed the lives of more than 500 young people like Sharif in this area of Uganda. Many young people with disabilities struggle to find work and often end up staying at home and relying on family members to support them. Connecting the Dots offers these young people more independence and a chance to earn their own income.

The programme is also helping to shift negative attitudes in the community by showing that people with disabilities can be valued, productive employees for local businesses.

As an employer, Isaac has found the experience very positive and wants to encourage more businesses to take part. His advice for other employers? Take the time to understand your trainees. “Handle the students [you] receive according to the way they are, because if you start now to mishandle the students there will be no understanding between each other. Work hard and give them your all,” he says. “If they are given the chance of working they can do something good – they surprise you.”

Following the success of Connecting the Dots, Sightsavers has launched a new employment programme in four countries (Uganda, Nigeria, Bangladesh and Kenya). Inclusive Futures, funded by UK aid, is testing innovative ways to improve job opportunities for people with disabilities of all ages, enabling them to find decent work, earn a living and pursue their career goals. We want to see more people with disabilities, such as Sharif, have an equal chance to reach their potential.

“If they are given the chance of working, they can do something good – they surprise you.”

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.

Sharif working at the garage.

“We can do the same work as any other person who is non-disabled.” - Sharif

Sharif working at the garage.

Find out more about Inclusive Futures

Find out more

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