“Disability is not inability” was the phrase being chanted by hundreds of schoolchildren, teachers, families and committee board members, throughout the day at Atira Disability Support Group.
What I expected to be a humble group of ten or so adults and children with disabilities, turned out to be a sea of people from all over the community ready and willing to stand with their brothers and sisters who have been born with, or acquired, mental and/or physical impairments. The attitude within this inspiring community is so counter-cultural to the way in which the rest of Uganda treats people with disabilities.
On the drive from Kampala to Soroti, a billboard advertising a brand of milk claimed in large text: ‘strong bones = healthy mind’. Not in Atira. This community don’t want your pity, they want to change the way Uganda views disability; and it’s working, one schoolchild at a time. Their bones aren’t strong, but their brain power and resilience to whatever life throws at them is remarkable. As a group within the community they are not pitied, they are envied.
The group was started with Global Care’s help, but is fully community-led and largely self-sustaining. For example, a woman from within the support group has a young boy with cerebral palsy. She was supported by the group in the form of a goat. When the goat gave birth to kids she was instructed, like others in the group, to give the firstborn kid back to the community to sustain the numbers. This system allowed the woman to slowly build her assets, she sold the goat’s milk until she had enough money to buy another goat, and another, and another. Eventually she had enough goats to trade them for a cow. This story shows the community’s initiative, and determination to not settle for less than they deserve.
Unfortunately not all people share the goodwill of the community. Someone who envied this woman’s strength and perseverance to create a better life for herself and her son, decided to take advantage of her and sold her a cow that could not produce milk. The cow quickly became ill and died, leaving the woman with nothing. In that moment, all the hard work to provide for her son was meaningless. The community at Atira stepped in, and provided her with another goat. And so it begins again.
Wherever you go in the world you will find people who think they are better than others because of the way they look, act, think and speak. Thankfully, alongside them you will also find kind-hearted people like those in Atira. People who care for disadvantaged and marginalised communities. I praise God for the selfless work of Atira Disability Support Group and look forward to when I can visit them again, to see more of the good work they are doing.
Global Care has been pioneering work with children and families with disabilities in Uganda since 2012.. Support services are extremely limited, and cultural attitudes are very negative. Establishing the Atira Disability Support Group has been part of a broader initiative to support children and families affected by disability, which also included our day centre, The Ark, which ran in Soroti from 2012 until 2020, when it was replaced by a Disability Outreach Programme; a more cost effective way of supporting more children. We have also established a work in Rukungiri, south-western Uganda, helping children with mobility difficulties access education.
by Ella-Sophia Peaple
Donor Development Officer, Global Care.