“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 Action 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 Action 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 and around Soroti, in northern Uganda, for five years. Support services are extremely limited, and cultural attitudes are very negative. Establishing the Atira Disability Action Group has been part of a broader initiative to support children and families affected by disability, which also includes our day centre, The Ark. More information about The Ark is here. We hope to develop more work supporting children with disabilities elsewhere in Uganda during 2018.
by Ella-Sophia Peaple
Donor Development Officer, Global Care.