Located about 30 kms east of Kasese, Bugoye Trading Centre serves a number of surrounding villages with daily household items like grocery, fruits, vegetables, kerosene, pop, snacks and things. There are a couple of dozen small shops selling these products on both sides of the strip of the unpaved street that runs through the Centre. There is a school, a church and a small hydro plant nearby. The population of the Centre is about 300, almost all of them shop owners and their family members.
We had gone to the Centre to watch a theatrical performance written and produced specially to sensitize community members about the issues of people with disabilities (PWDs). Instead of holding workshops, and seminars and debates, Ugandans use the theatre to convey their messages. I have seen close to two dozen skits on a wide range of issues, like, the negative attitude of able-bodied people towards PWDs and the explosion and consequences of land mines; and, I am impressed by the powerful impact of theatre in conveying difficult, and at times, sensitive messages. Acted out in the open for anyone and everyone to watch, these performances are held with a minimum of fuss. Actors wear no make-up and there are no stage lights, or hidden microphones, or any other paraphernalia that go with a stage production.
At the Bugoye Trading Centre we were in for a treat as it was a full-fledge drama. Compared to the many skits performed by amateurs, this performance was produced by a professional associated with the East African Theatre Institute. The group had the luxury of having a sound system although the two microphones were, more often than not, a hindrance than help. Actors were paid between 5,000-10,000 shillings ($2.50-5.00) for each performance depending on their role. Not much by Canadian standard. But, it’s not bad in Uganda.
The story was about a very bright young woman, Vera. She always achieved top grades and also excelled in extra-curricular activities. Her parents and siblings loved her dearly and she was the favourite among her friends and community members. She was an ideal child and a role model for younger folks. However, everything changed after Vera became disabled. She had climbed the tree to pick some mangoes. She missed a step and fell on the ground with a broken leg. As result, she could no longer walk without a stick, and even then, she could barely limp her way around.
Vera (in blanket) and family
This upset her father who left the family as he did not want to be identified as the father of a disabled child. Her siblings also shunned her. Whenever they had their friends or other relatives around, they made a point of keeping Vera out of everyone’s sight. She was treated like a prisoner in her own home as her miseries kept mounting.
Her big break came when she was referred to a social worker. He interacted with Vera with empathy and over a period of time, he provided better crutches and a walker for her to become more mobile. He introduced her to an organization of PWDs which arranged for her rehabilitation. This improved Vera’s disability considerably. Slowly but surely, she began regaining her former self. She was again cheerful and confident of herself.
Eventually, Vera found a well-paying job and through her hard work and talents, became manager of the firm. She was earning a decent salary and was destined to achieve greater heights. Noticing such a change, Vera’s family members made a complete turnaround. Her siblings became more open to her and included her in everyday activities. And, upon hearing about Vera’s progress especially her high-paying job, her father returned home.
There were a number of side plots with humorous scenes that made the performance entertaining, for example, when, in accordance with the Ugandan tradition, Vera’s parents were negotiating the dowry that they expected to receive from her would-be husband’s family. (Yes, there is a dowry system here except that it’s the groom’s side which is required to give a dowry to the bride’s family, usually 12 goats and other things like clothing.). There were a number of such incidents that made for an enjoyable performance. The drama ended with the cast leading everyone into a sing-along and dancing with the theme: disability is not inability.
On conclusion of the drama, the audience of about 100 was divided into three groups – men, women and children. They exchanged their ideas about what they had just watched. They also talked about audiences’ reactions and the messages they received. Leaders of PWD organizations confirmed afterwards that the people who watched the performance all agreed that it was realistic depiction of the plight of PWDs.
Canug Disability Support Project
All the paper work for our project to provide assistive devices to people with disabilities has been completed. A local project team of three people has been established in Kasese to manage the project, and, in Canada, we have started receiving contributions from Canadian friends and colleagues. Anyone inclined to contribute can send their cheques to Hindu Society of Ottawa-Carleton, P. O. Box 65122, Merivale Post Office, Ottawa, ON K2G 5Y3.