We have been in contact with Gulu Disabled Persons Union (GDPU) during the lockdown. Although GDPU has been closed for most of the time, it is now starting to reopen. What follows is from the emails and messages we have had from them so far.
As Ojok Patrick GDPU co-ordinator said at the start: “The time is extremely strange as we wake up everyday and you see news of people dying in large number because of the strange diseases that has attacked the world. We are all indeed trying to keep ourselves safe by staying home and not allowing neighbours and relatives to visit. Our experience with Ebola, which affected Gulu more than any part of Uganda, makes us more alert than any part of Uganda.
Some effects of the lockdown for them:
Prices of essential commodities are extremely high, partly due to supply problems and partly due to the usual profiteering.
In Gulu the government distributed food to those who only earn from hand to mouth and the most vulnerable, once. Well-wishers are also supporting people. The government advised people to go back to their villages because giving food stuffs is not the solution but farming can also help
The Gulu Disabled Persons Knitting Group have been making masks, taught by their teacher Mama Cave, and selling them in town. It is from such entrepreneurship that people survive.
We hope to have more news of how the other ETC@GDPU business groups are doing as soon as it comes in.
As Faruk, the GDPU Guidance Counsellor and ETC @GDPU Project Officer said recently: “The government of Uganda is planning to ease the lock down starting on the 26th of this month, businesses will open, transport will be allowed with half of the capacity, school will open on the 4th of June with only finalist or candidates are expected to resume. But we are all fairing with no salaries, it’s not easy for now, hopefully if business comes back to normal then will be fine.”
ETC@GDPU was a support project for youth with disability who have already had some vocational training. So, the obvious next question is: what about the young people with similar needs in Gulu and surrounding area who have not been trained? The aim of the annual ETCof PWD trustees trip to Gulu and Gulu Disabled Persons Union was to pull together the last threads of that project and see what might come next.
ETCof PWD applied to DFID last year under their Small Charities Grant, although we do not have high hopes. But, as we all sat together in the GDPU board room looking at that bid, we began to put together a Plan B, a no-grant bare bones vocational training programme financed by ETCof PWD on what might raise in the UK.
GDPU ran vocational training for people with disability before, they are very keen to do so again. They have the expertise and the space. We finalised on five vocational training courses that are flexible enough to allow trainees to set up a wide range of possible sources of income:
MCR (motorcycle repair). But a mixed course including generator/ mowing machine/ small engine repair, and some training on gas welding.
Knitting (ie Sweater Weaving) handicrafts/ tailoring. The knitting machines are the problem here. If Gulu Disabled Persons Knitting Workshop can become a centre for mending them then the problem might be solved; after extra training a number of them can now repair machines if they have the parts. Sweater weaving is seasonal, GDPKW have shown that making clothes from strips of cloth for sale ready-made can work well. Ocira Brenda from the group has recently been trained in Mpigi on handicraft skills, another a possible income stream,
Design and Decoration. making posters and signboards in Gulu is a good business and often carried out by the deaf. A DaD course could include design for banners/ posters/ signposts, taught by different instructors. This DaD course could be a really exciting innovation for GDPU and PWDs (persons with disabilities), but see below re. computers.
Hairdressing and Salon. The DFID bid had some expensive requirements for this course, but GDPU have some equipment in stock that might bring down the price a little. And it always a good business as we have seen in Acet
Electronics. Phone repair of course, but also all small electronic machine repair. As Akera Robert has demonstrated there is a good market for this sort of business. The growing use of smartphones means that trainees will need to be able to mend broken screens and sockets (which are apparently the major repairs). But, this raises problems.
With a computer element the DaD course could move into desktop publishing, the electronics group into smart phone repair, other trainees into basic PC use and for the long held plan for a business hub/ association for past GDPU trainees/ now business people? But that begs some important questions:
Funding for a computer suite?
Where to be put?
What about power outages?
Post Training Support and computers
Post Training, what access would these young businesses have to a PC? Would training on a PC only set them up to fail at the first step. Would the business hub solve this problem?
Post Training Support
As ETC@GDPU proved, it is the Post Training support that is the key to sustainable success, including Life Skills/ Literacy and Numeracy/ Health and Sanitation/ Guidance Counselling/ Sport. These elements are probably more important than core skills training for subsequent personal development and business success. The work on extra literacy for ex-Youth Development Programme trainees in Acet for example has made a real difference.
Musema Faruk talked about running a physical literacy programme: ‘which game can you play best?’ as a way of extending the physical and therefore mental confidence of PWDs; to be included in the future programme.
As well as the usual elements of Dance/Music/ Drama and Debate. Given that many of the ETC@GDPU trainees are now looking to politics to improve their lot and that of their fellows, some teaching about governance etc would be useful. All of these inclusions have cost and timing implications for any course structure.
Exciting possibilities and some very big questions to answer, mostly solved with finance which begs the most important question of all: how will we pay for all this?
The ETC@GDPU project is drawing to a close. It was set up to give support to young people with disability who had already received some vocational training and had started their own business. As we all know, in any context, those first years of running your own business, earning your own living are hard, you need support, be it extra core skills training, maybe literacy or numeracy training or even just advice. That’s what this project gave, via project officers from Gulu Disabled Persons Union, where all the trainees gained their initial vocational training under the DFID sponsored Youth Development Programme some years ago.
The final evaluations and assessments are just getting going, but visiting the groups and individuals on the annual trustees visit to Gulu made certain things clear. Three headings: Consultation; Flexibility; Sustainability.
Consultation: different people in different situations have different needs to get their business going. Asking people what they need rather than telling them what they’re going to get, well that’s always a good idea isn’t it?
Flexibility: from the consultation you find out things like, motorbike repairers outside the town could have a range of options for other small machines to mend, adding significantly to income. We subsequently organised training in repairing generators/ strimmers/ etc. Talking to groups in Cwero and Koch Goma this year, we found that they were now building up a good business repairing small machines.
Sweater weaving work is seasonal, based around the start of the school year, learning other forms of making, ready made dresses for children for example brings income at other times.
The machines break easily, we have paid for Mama Cave, an instructor, to train up sweater weavers in basic machine repair so that their production does not stop at key times.
Hairdressers out of town need to know what the new styles will be, and how to make them. All small steps, but important ones.
Sustainability: once you establish that free cash and materials are out of the question, trainees know that their efforts must keep them afloat. In the jargon, they become ‘empowered’ and the ETC@GDPU project officers will support and train that ‘empowerment’. So many previous development programmes in Gulu have not lasted because people, based on past experience, become serial beneficiaries. Waiting for the next programme to give you money and more materials, which you can sell as you wait for the next, and so on. “Our people must not be beggars” we are told often by other PWDs.
What has been noticeable this year, is that many of the people in this programme have built on their own self confidence to become politically active, getting elected and involved in improving their own lot and that of their fellows; true empowerment.
We still haven’t got trainees to keep record books, or planning on paper. But look at the success of someone like Akera Robert. Last year he told us that he would move away from working on a veranda on the street, and yes, he has; so many congratulations to him. He has a shop, a house, his child is at one of the best schools – all through his own efforts – and he helps other trainees when they get stuck with technical issues; a star.
Or look at the team at Tam Anyim. the combination of motorbike and small machine repair and taking in students of their own means that Jokene (one of the two that runs the group) can now send his own child to school – a very important measure of success here. They also think they can put up a new building behind their existing workshop to expand the business; equally impressive and all plans kept in his head of course.
Through the ETC@GDPU project everyone has learnt a great deal about how to develop post training support that works and will last. Now that this project is ending, how can we use all this knowledge? See the next newsletter to find out. We welcome individual donations, please visit our donations page.
If it’s February it must the annual ETCof PWD trustee trip to Gulu and District. Visiting Northern Uganda to see the ETC@GDPU project, the business groups and individuals we have been supporting in their search for independence, a sustainable business, respect and dignity.
Nyeko Rac, the hairdressers group way out of Gulu in Acet, on the road to Moroto, has always been lively. When we saw them last year Lillian, their self-declared leader, (who said firmly that the key to business success was having a strong leader) asked for further literacy and numeracy lessons. We agreed, but were worried about Lakot Nancy, a profoundly deaf member of the group who wouldn’t get much from spoken lessons. Last year Nancy was withdrawn and had little communication with her fellow hairdressers, there was obvious tension.
After some discussion about Nancy with Gulu Disabled Persons Union who deliver the programme, we paid for a sign language interpreter, also asking that other local young deaf people be included. Isolation is an obvious side effect of profound deafness, particularly if you only have a little ‘local’ sign language. We were concerned that Nancy might find lessons with people who were not in her business or at her level, difficult.
On the contrary, Ajok Emma, the ETC@GDPU project officer, reported that Nancy was really enjoying it, helping out with the teaching, making new friends; company and interaction. Musema Faruk the other ETC@GDPU project officer, also told us that her sign language had significantly improved too. Nancy just repeated phrases before he said: “often it was not a conversation, she just signed the same thing over and over. Now she is ‘talking’ well.”
That improvement was clear when we met the hairdressers and new deaf students in Acet last week. Nancy was the liveliest we have seen her, sparkling someone said. She has a new business place with another hairdresser and was continuing her mobile work, travelling to clients. Her relationship with Lilian seemed good and Lilian was using some sign language with her too, which she hadn’t before; confidence all round.
As we have learnt to expect in development work, every step forward leads to a new issue. In the small hairdressing salon room at Acet were, along with their signing literacy teacher, two profoundly deaf young lads from the classes, obvious candidates for vocational training. Bright and lively but with no skills training and not much schooling. Their new teacher was very proud of them, they could now write and read their own name and were progressing well. But they need so many more lessons, who would pay for them? They were desperate to work, to learn more, but how?
Not only that, we were introduced to a primary aged school girl, also profoundly deaf and awkward and shy with so many strangers, especially white people, although very smart in her uniform. Her father had brought her, there is no provision in this district for the deaf and he didn’t know what to do. She goes to a local school, yet there was no support there and the teacher could not help, we saw the girls school book, it was just scribbles. During our time in the salon, the girl slowly opened up, started to enjoy the company. Although her signing was rudimentary, she began to use it well, lots of ‘chatter’ with the others, lovely to see but her overall situation was heartbreaking.
ETCof PWD is not set up to deal with disability as such, what we know about is vocational education and project management, we rely on delivery partners like GDPU for specific expertise. To date we have been working with those who have already had some basic training. So, what to do about the young lads and the small girl and probably many more like her? Apparently Acet is a notable cluster for profound deaf cases.
Because the father was there, Faruk and Emma the two project officers from GDPU could tell him that there were possible primary schools in Gulu for his daughter, although she would have to board and there would be extra costs. They would continue to advise him.
And the two young men? They are very keen to become motorbike repairers: “Otherwise we just sit” they signed to Faruk. Currently there is nowhere for them to train, and no fund to pay for the literacy, numeracy and signing lessons to get them to the level they need. Can ETCof PWD help? Will there be a new vocational training programme for them? Well, interesting you should mention that. Why not see the next installments of this newsletter to find out?
PS We have just had an email from Ojok Patrick (GDPU Co-ordinator) to say that he has arranged an interview for the girl and her father with Laroo Primary School in Gulu. It has good provision for the deaf. He hopes they can also find a sponsor to pay for her boarding. We keep our fingers crossed.
Exciting times for the Gulu Wheelchair Basketball Club, they soundly beat the Kampala team at the National Paralympic games in Mpigi in September and, after training in Kampala will go on to the East African games in Nairobi at the end of October. The Gulu team go from strength to strength. However, for those team members who are part of the Gulu PWD electronics group it means their businesses as repairers of phones are on hold again.
After all, in the choice between sport and work, sport is always going to win isn’t it? Especially if you are young and nationally and, we hope, internationally successful.
In other great news, Faruk the ETC@GDPU Project officer and GDPU guidance Counsellor was accepted onto a training course with the Kanthari Institute (“Scholarships for social change makers”) in Trivandrum, India earlier this year. A wonderful opportunity for him to work on his proposals for disabled sports and schoolchildren; very exciting.
In his absence we have a new project officer Emma Okello. She has been working very hard, supporting the business groups and organising new training in financial skills, literacy and numeracy and generator and small machines repair for the motorbike groups.
Okumu Morris has continued Financial Training all the groups, record keeping; savings; micro finance; access to credit and so on. He has faced the normal challenges (the babies in the room are not that keen on finance apparently), but the biggest challenge is the trainee’s basic literacy levels. There is a strong link between low literacy and retention levels; improving literacy improves students’ ability to remember what they have leant and to apply that learning away from the classroom.
Many of the groups have already had basic literacy training in English and Luo the local language, more is clearly needed. Nyeko Rach, the hairdressers group in Acet, have asked for extra literacy lessons for exactly this reason.
One of the hairdressers is profoundly deaf, and getting a signing interpreter out to Acet at the same time as the literacy teacher (neither skills exist in Acet itself) has been complicated. We think we’ve solved that now, although transport out to Acet on a murrum road during the rains is tricky
Peer to peer lending and developing businesses.
Developing a business is a slow process. Once you get that first big order, as Gulu Disabled Persons Knitting Workshop did, with an order to knit hundreds of sweaters for nearby Layibi College, it is still not easy. How do you buy in the materials you need to fulfil your first big order when you have no money, no bank account, no credit history and no access to credit? Emma Okello, the new ETC of PWD project officer was able to organise a short-term loan from the Gulu Wheelchair Basketball Club to the knitters. Peer to peer lending, as it is known, could be a good way to go in the future.
GDPU was also able to help with initial negotiations between the knitters and the college, to bank payment cheques as they came in and transfer money out to buy material. Emma will now support the group as they open their first bank account, making sure that some of the money will be retained for the repair of the all–too delicate knitting machines. We have also arranged that the group will be trained in basic machine repair, so that they can be kept in working order.
What next? There are other challenges that come with success. Whilst you work flat out to bring in your first major order, you forget about future work. Emma is helping Gulu Disabled Persons Knitting Workshop think about where the next orders should come from and where diversifying might take them.
Our discussions with repair groups during this February’s trustees visit, emphasised that the different context of town and village means different machines to fix, and therefore different training regimes for trainees. Some, like Akera Robert the electronics repair man, have used this difference to their advantage. He works on small scale electronics from a veranda in Gulu town, often with his original teacher. Robert can rely on a steady supply of portable repairs coming in on the buses from out of town for him to mend; a clever solution.
But others need support, so Emma has arranged for instructors to go out from Gulu to Paicho and Koch Li to train the motorbike groups in generator, small machine and different motorbike repairs. She reports that new work is now coming in