Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Disability is NOT Inability

Last Saturday, I visited the town of Mtondwe Lhubiriha in the sub-county of Karambi. It’s about 35 kms from Kasese and is right on the border with Congo. The small office of the local association of persons with disabilities (PWDs) was jam-packed with people and more were continuing to drift in. There were about 60 PWDs there – men, women, youth, children, elders, infants. Most of them were mobility impaired. Among them were many who could not walk at all. They crawled on the dirty muddy streets. A few used thongs on their hands but many used bare hands. I noticed hardened animal-like calluses on their knees and hands. There were some in the crowd who were able to walk with the help of long sticks. Then there were those few who had vision and hearing impairment. There were also a few children with physical as well as mental disabilities. And, a few mothers carried their infants with deformities.

Unable to walk, but NOT unable to work

At the meeting, we heard from about thirty PWDs. They described their disabilities and the barriers they experienced in all walks of life. Suffering from abject poverty, they focused specifically on their struggles in making a living. Except for a few who ran their own small businesses, for example, of knitting or tailoring, most of these PWDs were barely surviving. Even for those with their own businesses, life was extremely difficult. Yet, amid their miseries and difficulties and uphill struggles, there were some shining examples of individuals who proved that disability did not mean inability.

Margaret Kinene is one such role model. Margaret was stricken by polio in childhood and has no use of her legs. She moves around by crawling on hands and knees. As soon as I was introduced to her, she was eager to take me to her little stall in the town market. She is a heavy-set woman in her 40s; but she was moving on the unpaved streets going around pot-holes and rocks with the energy and enthusiasm of an able-bodied person half her age. Located besides the town’s dump that attracted goats and chickens scavenging for whatever they could find, the open-air market consisted of 15-20 sellers. Most of them sold vegetables. Margaret was selling potatoes, Matuke (unripe bananas), ground nuts and charcoal. Margaret gets her supplies from whole sellers who bring truckloads from Kasese every day. She was married, but her husband has most likely left her. I was not able to get the details because of the language barrier. But, this is usually the fate of many women with disabilities. She has three children aged 17, 13 and 11, all of them able-bodied. The children also help their mother at the market on weekends. I met her daughter who was too shy to talk to me but gave me a big smile.

Margaret And Daughter

Athletes with Disabilities

Ugandans are crazy about soccer or foot ball as some people call it here. While their national team is far from being at the world-class level, Ugandans love to watch and if they can, play the sport. And, PWDs are just as enthusiastic about the sport as other Ugandans. During my meeting in the town, a number of young men made a point of telling me that despite their disabilities, they could still play a wicked game of foot ball. I did not have to wait too long after the meeting to see them in action. When they started playing football in a small field across from the meeting place, I was amazed to see how quick these young men were crawling, almost running, on their hands and knees. They played the game with a lot of gusto and highly competitive spirit. It was a treat to watch them passing the ball and chasing it and snatching it away from each other. I have an excellent video clip, which, the system here does not allow me to download on my blog. I will share it with friends and colleagues on my return.

Tricycle recipients’ entrepreneurial ventures

During my previous placement, we had given tricycles to a few men in the Karambi sub-county and I was wondering about how they were progressing. The answer to my curiosity was provided by a group from the Disabled People’s Organizations Denmark (DPOD). While visiting the same town earlier on a fact-finding mission, the Danish group was pleasantly surprised that a few of the tricycle recipients had become entrepreneurs. They carry tax-exempt goods like soda, beer and mineral water in their tricycles’ carriages across the border and sell them to Congolese shops. On their return, they bring back salt, oil and other goods to sell to Ugandan shop owners. Because of tax exemption, they make a decent profit both ways. Not bad for people who were struggling to make a living before they possessed tricycles. Another testimonial for our project!

Tricycle and Trade

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