Further big steps forward on the VPlus vocational training programme for youth with disabilities in Gulu, Northern Uganda.
To date it seems that Covid 19, although present in the community, is not having the devastating effect that it might in a country with such poor health facilities and little public infrastructure. There are currently 2 cases registered in Gulu. those cases have come from Amoro, bordering Sudan. In the country as a whole, there are 2,384 cases registered with 346 deaths in total, out of a population of about 45 million people. The Indian variant has reached Uganda, an Indian school in Kampala has 37 positive cases, but the situation is currently stable. Of course, these figures probably do not reflect the actual situation, but it is nothing like India or the West. The Lockdown is easing, people are relaxing, although masks still worn in banks, hospitals and supposed to be worn in markets.
It seems hard to believe, but trainees have taken their mid-term exams and started their three-week internship placements. They have come such a long way since training began in January. The exam results are looking good, skills levels have improved significantly. For their internships, many of the VPlus trainees have been placed with former trainees from the ETC@GDPU programme that ran from 2017 to 2020. VPlus incorporates much that was learnt from that earlier project.
In this context, to make your life sustainable, you need so much more than basic vocational skills. Life Skills; Psycho-Social Support; Literacy and Numeracy; Health Advice; Conflict Resolution; all part of the ‘plus’ of VPlus.
In the last blog I wrote about traditional dancing and how learning the dances and taking part for the first time helps people with disabilities join their local culture. Trainees from the VPlus programme have also been taking part in a weekly radio programme in Gulu, discussing their training and taking questions; advocacy really, becoming part of the community. All this and more, they all matter in the route to sustainability.
Youth to Youth Engagement
For example, before trainees went out to their internships, they spent a day with former trainees in what is called: Youth to Youth Engagement. What these established businesses had to say was extremely useful; real life experiences.
James is a motorcycle mechanic with hearing impairment. He started at a workshop as an internship student, was promoted as a volunteer and now works full time. It has not been easy and this was an important point that all the attendees made, you will have to work hard, be respectful to people even if they are not being respectful to you.
James’ major problem was communication, most people didn’t understand him and communicating to customers was a big problem. As people got to know and like him, they also learned how to talk with him in the local sign language.
He is now doing well and wants to take in internees to train them up. This is a noticeable feature of the Disability community in Gulu, the wish to work together, to help each other if at all possible.
Lillian is the hairdresser from Acet who runs Nyeko Rach, a hairdressing group that dates back to the early days of the Youth Development Programme. She said that her business is really supporting her family, she can now afford reasonable clothing, feed the family, pay to put children through school and get to the hospital.
Like many, Lillian stressed the importance of customer relations, for example when someone comes with less money but wants you to work on her, you should know how to handle such things. In a salon, the girls should not gossip about customers because when they get to know, the customers will never come back.
You need to plan for the cycle of the year. Hair dressing work, like Sweater Weaving, is seasonal; what will you do when work is not there? And, you need to think about supply, if you live away from Gulu, how will you get products so that you can keep open? And, how will you keep those products secure so that no one can steal them?
It was interesting to see how technology is starting to affect traditional practices like hairdressing. Lillian advised the trainees to go to You Tube and learn hair styles that are trending, they will learn new things from the internet she said.
Bernard works in electronic repair and maintenance in Amuru district. He explained that the community around Amuru now know him for his good work. But in the beginning people used to discriminate against him, saying: “Where did this disabled man get his skills and the knowledge from?” He was even discriminated against at home. His parents did not send him to school, although they sent brothers and sisters.
But now, with his phone repair he is the one who supports the family. Like Lillian, Bernard stressed the importance of keeping up to date. He comes into Gulu to learn how to fix new things, smartphones for instance.
All of the attendees instructed the trainees to do record keeping, do daily savings, or open a bank account. Bernard also encouraged new businesses to apply for loans, as he did, to support his business; it helps a lot. GDPU will be working with trainees to open accounts and take out suitable loans
As Bernard and James’s stories show, to be a successful young business person with disabilities, you need your community behind you. Sadly, family support is often not strong. One of the GDPU innovations is finding ways to get the family involved in the training. To this end, and to solve problems with Post Training Support, they have asked trainees to supply their own tools. Usually, the family has to cover that cost, which means the family becomes part of the process; they ‘own’ it in the jargon and want a return on their investment. In our recent monthly Zoom meeting with GDPU, Project Manager Musema Faruk, reported that he is seeing real involvement from parents this time. The parents want to know how their child is doing and what they can do to help, a great step forward. Many more to come we hope.