INTERVIEW: Changing perceptions of disability through education

As lockdown reached Uganda, the impacts of COVID-19 on education and disabled children were felt across the country. We speak directly to disabled people and service users about the power of education to eradicate disability stigma.

Fred Semakula

Motivation is a charity committed to providing wheelchairs to people in developing countries and working to end disability discrimination through education. Dedicated to bringing disabled people independence in developing countries, the pandemic made a significant shift backwards for the disabled community.

However, the team at Motivation has been working tirelessly on the ground to continue providing critical care.

COVID IMPACT

Fred Semakula, Motivation’s Uganda country manager, working directly with disabled children in Uganda and their families, remembers: “At the start, it was full of uncertainty and fear.

“We were very scared, knowing well that it could be worse for Ugandans due to our inadequate medical facilities.” 

To ensure everyone was as safe as possible, fieldwork immediately came to a standstill with members of the Motivation team working from home calling project participants to encourage them to follow government advice set to supress the spread of COVID-19.

Providing training and practical support to ensure that disabled people in developing countries can develop confidence and skills to use their wheelchair and participate in all aspects of life – removing face-to-face support and education would have had a huge impact.

GO REMOTE

Despite the fear and challenges, the charity set up remote calls to keep families connected and educated on disability.

Fred explains: “We soon realised that many people didn’t know what to do, so in the calls we were sharing guidelines. Importantly we could advise on how these translate to the life of a child with disabilities and their care takers.

“The remote calls ensured that, despite the stalling of field activities, we were still together in the spirit and could connect with them during a really difficult time,” enthuses Fred. 

“They also allowed us to tailor our support to their specific needs and identify the most vulnerable.”

VITAL SUPPORT

Prior to COVID, Motivation was an imperative tool in the local community providing group support meetings alongside disability education.

80% of disabled people in developing countries live in poverty

Unfortunately, for many people in Uganda living with a disability it is common for them to be ostracised as disability is not widely understood. This is part in parcel to the work that Motivation do: changing perceptions of disability through education and supporting families with a disabled child or loved one.

Joyce, a village savings group leader with Motivation in Uganda, lives in the outskirts of Kampala with her husband and three children. Thanks to the support from Motivation, Joyce has been able to gain more knowledge of disability to help her son Simon, who lives with cerebral palsy.

PERCEPTIONS

“The fact is that I had got to the end point of not loving Simon anymore,” confesses Joyce. “I was fed up of my child. 

“But the training helped me learn to love him. I have learnt how to teach him independence. He can now drink by himself and feed himself… He can even use a fork.”

Nakanda has also been supported by Motivation, as when her daughter Raima was born nobody told Nakanda about cerebral palsy.

“I first realised that Raima was disabled at one year old because she couldn’t sit, crawl or stop drooling,” explains Nakanda. “I was scared of her condition. I didn’t even know how to make her sit.”

Nakanda’s husband rejected Raima‘s disability and said it must be Nakanda’s lineage. Raima’s grandparents rejected them too. Nakanda’s friends began to mock her and isolate her. Eventually, she began to lock herself indoors with her child

Joyce also runs a roadside restaurant and – before lockdown – she had been making enough money to send her children to university. However, despite the loss of support from group meetings, Joyce is getting to connect with Simon in a way that was not possible before.

“During this lockdown, I have been able to give Simon ample time and got to understand him more,” enthuses Joyce. “I learnt new things about him; for example, what he likes the most, what he needs most and the challenges he goes through when I am away from him.”

REDESIGN

As the pandemic changes daily, the team at Motivation are continually adapting how they support families in Uganda.

Fred explains: “We have redesigned some activities to suit the situation, including work to ensure the training facilities allow social distancing and prevention of the infection.

“We are also considering how activities will happen in smaller groups to limit any meetings between schools.

“It’s been really important to make sure nobody involved feels pressurised to start the project, but rather that all partners and participants feel comfortable with the activities,” adds Fred. “We are collectively finding solution that put the safety of every participant first.”

Alongside changing and redesigning how they provide help; Fred and the wider team have continued to make calls to Motivation participants and run their village savings groups to ensure families can get loans or withdraw from village savings to buy food for their family.

Joyce says: “Through the lockdown, I have regularly received phone calls from Motivation to find out how we are doing. They showed that we were not forgotten during this lockdown period. They shared knowledge and explained how to stay safe.”

“Through the phone calls, Motivation has been mindful of us as parents and showed us that they care for us as a family,” adds Nakanda. “They listened to us and made sure we did not feel alone. They provided advice on staying safe.”

GIFT IN MOTION

Now the charity is running a new appeal, Gift in Motion, where you can donate a virtual gift to help change the life and opportunities of disabled children in Uganda.

“First and foremost, I want to thank those that support Motivation’s work. Your contribution makes a huge impact in the lives of people with disabilities and their family member,” enthuses Fred.

“In a country like Uganda, where disability is still not a priority for competing needs and scarce resources, the government’s support is very low. When you buy one of the Gifts in Motion, you play a tremendous role in helping Motivation to provide some support.”

Each Gift in Motion enables someone in a developing country to gain independence, creating a fairer and more accessible society where all disabled people can live the life they choose.

Find out more about Gifts in Motion (or add a Christmas present that could change a life to your shopping bag), by visiting Motivation’s website here.