Another trip to Uganda with Global Care, another trip full of surprises. This time it wasn’t the resolute acceptance of poverty that took my breath away, but the phenomenal impact of two disability projects: Global Care works with a Disability Support Group (DSG) in Abeko, in Northern Uganda, and in the South West, the Rukungiri Disability Project helps children with mobility difficulties to access education. Both projects have changed the lives of children, families and whole communities – in only a year!
We visited the Abeko DSG Playscheme first. It receives a grant from Global Care to enable 24 disabled children to attend two days a week and receive food, play and basic education. Most of these children were isolated – locked at home while their caregivers looked for work, stigmatised by their neighbours and community or neglected in favour of able-bodied children. The Playscheme was full of activity when we arrived, a play parachute provided a brilliant opportunity for children at the playscheme to mix with children at the school where the group is housed. We were excited to learn that thanks to the playscheme, six children should be starting school next term.
In Rukungiri we visited 13 children with disability enabled to start school thanks to Global Care’s support. The project provides transport, fees, extra food and mobility aids. Schools and homes are miles apart, reached by rough tracks. Rukungiri schools have glorious views … distant mountains and lakes, lush vegetation and rolling hills, but for many disabled children, the geography makes it impossible to access school. All the disabled children we met were happy to be at school, enjoying learning and thriving on interacting with peers, making friends and no longer isolated at home.
Rukungiri views are astonishingly beautiful, but the real splendour and magnificent reality is the children and the impact of one year of Global Care support for these projects. The emotional rollercoaster started in Abeko when a Grandma told me her granddaughter never used to move or interact with others, now she takes herself into the shade of the sun or out of the rain, and plays with her siblings. We watched *Gerald walking – a child never expected to walk. Gerald’s mother told us he fetches his own water for washing, she’s relieved that he has a measure of independence. My composure went when *Timothy climbed out of his special chair and walked to hug me. It went again when *Robbie, shy and disinterested on our visit in February, ran to wash his face and change his clothes then chatted about school (he used to run away from home and school). My heart melted as we watched children run and play on crutches and walkers supplied by Global Care, when *Connor smiled as his grandmother told us how his wheelchair ended his isolation and gave back his life.
Both these projects are new ways of working for Global Care. There are many lessons to learn in terms of understanding the best ways to support disabled children living in poverty or without access to education. And of course, there are problems to overcome. But children’s lives are changed.
These children needed encouragement, people who believed in them, who showed them they are as important as anyone else, who will fight for their right to education and dignity, who don’t give up when obstacles appear because they believe in the worth and potential of every child. I’m incredibly grateful for the privilege of working alongside Global Care local staff who do just that, and who are bringing changes in attitudes to disability for families, communities, local governments and education authorities.
Barbara Heyes, Volunteer