Field trips and the future: ETC of PWD trustees visit to Gulu and beyond

Buying from the Design and Decoration graduates at Graduation Day

Cohort 1 of the VPlus programme graduated in December 2021, they have been at work ever since. So, August 22 was a good time to visit past graduates, learn how they were getting on, what extra training and support they needed and how future programmes should be adapted.

Out To The Field

Developments

The growing quality of the training at Gulu Disabled Persons Union, (GDPU) and greater ambition amongst graduates, has expanded the range of Post Training Support. Extra training demands have moved far beyond the usual literacy, numeracy and record keeping. IT, getting involved with social media as part of the selling process or access to new information, featured heavily in our Post Training Support visits.

But, context matters. Contrast the ways in which three graduates work and sell their goods.

Apiyo Miriam

Apiyo Miriam and the Knitting group with Musema Faruk, outside their shop in Gulu

Apiyo Miriam works with Sweater Weaving groups in Gulu town: ‘Disabled Youth Living Enterprise Group Sweater Knitting’ and ‘Waneno Anyim Sweater Knitting’. They have a smart shop and a growing selection of knitting and sewing machines. Miriam’s record keeping and leadership, in this or any other context, is extraordinarily good.

Miriam with her book keeping records and graduation photo

She is very proactive, seeking out knitting contracts from local schools and individuals; the group is busy. But, as she says the future of selling is on the internet, and that was the training she needed. How to access and use, probably Facebook, to sell their goods across Uganda, certainly. But Miriam’s ambition is much wider, she realises that the West will pay much more for goods made by groups like hers and she wants to know how to do it.

Akello Brenda with Musema Faruk

Akello Brenda

Akello Brenda has sickle cell, and lives with her parents out beyond Unyama traiding centre, five kilometres north east of Gulu. Brenda trained on the Design and Decoration course and makes baskets and jewellery. Every month she takes her baskets etc on a boda (motorbike taxi) out to an auction, one of the large markets that visit outlying trading centres. She will set a blanket on the ground and sell what she can. Last months auction was disturbed by the rain and she sold nothing.

There is nowhere to set up shop around her family compound, although she sometimes sell to people who use the path leading to the centre. It was noticeable how proud her mother was of her child, and how much she wanted to help, buying materials for example. A shop in Unyama might be one possibility, although it is doubtful that returns would cover the rent. But, during Cohort 2, the GDPU Design and Decoration instructor dropped out and Brenda took over, successfully. Most instructors balance making and selling with teaching, it could be a model for her too. Past graduates have already become good instructors at GDPU, eg Aciro Brenda who helped set up the new tailoring course.

A range of Design and Decoration Goods on show at Graduation

Akello Brenda also asked for training in making more complex, and fashionable jewellery, which she knows will sell well. This is where the internet could help her; You Tube videos perhaps? Access to them is tricky without a smartphone, she would probably have to come into GDPU for that. Diversity will be the key for her, she is also a very good traditional dancer

Odong Haron Bob

Haroon Bob at work in Lira

We travelled to Lira, a town similar to Gulu, some 130 or so kilometres to the south east. Odong Haron Bob, an albino, trained in electronics and has a good placement with an extremely entrepreneurial man near the centre. Bob was being trained thoroughly, on more IT kit than I have seen outside Kampala.

Musema Faruk with a member of Gulu PWD Electronics in Gulu Main Market recently

The contrast between this set up and the Gulu PWD electronics group we have been visiting in Gulu Main Market since 2017 was significant. Gulu PWDs have not moved beyond basic feature phones, have little IT experience and after many years have still not put up a sign advertising their business. But, they are significant sportsmen, up to Olympic standard, have genuine political ambitions, likely to be realised and are great company.

Haroon Bob and other Cohort 1 trainees at GDPU

Meanwhile in Lira, all the relevant software was there: several laptops; basic coding; everything you need for modern IT work and Bob was learning it all. There is a well known saying here, “Lira is for business and Gulu is for party”, but there is more to it than that. Gulu PWDs trained in 2014-5 when aspirations were lower, less kit was available and community involvement less significant. For example, Bob’s family helped to place him with this business. The serious development of the ‘Plus’ element in the training that GDPU provides must be part of the solution too.

Back to GDPU

It was with thoughts like these that we returned to our meetings at GDPU. we would consider where the VPlus training programme had led and what should be the future path for training young people with disabilities in Gulu and surrounding districts. See the next blog for more.

Diversity and Music

Odong Sunday plays his music at Cohort 2 Graduation Day

Thinking of the diversity many VPlus graduates use to become self supporting This video, taken during the Cohort 2 graduation at GDPU, shows Odong Sunday and his group playing one of his songs. He has already recorded a more contemporary song that is getting attention, he has many more and appealed for funds to pay for more recording. The Deputy Mayor no less, put forward a significant sum, she knew real talent when she heard it. The role of music and music technology (performed, recorded and sold) in skills training became a significant talking point in our subsequent meeting at GDPU, see the next blog for more.

Want to Know More?

If you would like to know more about the ETC of PWD charity please go to our Home page. If you would like to give something, please go to our Donate page. If you would like to know more about Gulu Disabled Persons Union (GDPU) please go to their website or Facebook page. 

Many Thanks.

This programme is funded by aid from the British people

How are things pushing on at GDPU: Cohort 2 reach a crucial stage

Three busy months have gone by very quickly and the second cohort of the Vplus programme for youth with disabilities in Gulu, Northern Uganda, have just completed the first part of their six month vocational training. They are now out for industrial placement; an apprenticeship process that builds on the first cohort ‘instant apprenticeships’. Instant apprenticeships were a quick solution to the Uganda wide Covid lockdowns that closed Gulu Disabled Persons Union (GDPU), but they have proved to be a great success and are now integral to the programme.

Design and Decoration Training

Disability, and behaviour towards people with disability, is a complex subject in any society. One of the fundamental aims of GDPU and subsequently, the Vplus programme is to “change the mindset of the community” as Musema Faruk, the Vplus programme manager puts it.

Training April 2022: Design and Decoration

Perhaps this change is best shown by a story he told us about the recent School Open Day, which marked the end of the first part of Cohort 2 training. GDPU opens up to parents, elders and VIPs from the District. Trainees show off their vocational skills, take part in sports, cultural activities and dance the traditional dances (Many trainees are from communities that do not allow them to participate in cultural life).

Motorcycle Repair and Maintenance Training

The programme gives them training so that they can participate with confidence. One father’s motorbike broke down on the way to the Open Day, the father pushed it into the centre expecting to phone for a mechanic. His Motorcycle Repair and Maintenance trainee son took the bike, gave it both a full service and a full repair. Musema reported that the parent was astonished and really proud, he said: “I didn’t know that he could learn so much in three months, I never believed that he could do such things”.

School Open Day: Traditional Dance, the Bwola

Equal pride was shown as parents queued for trainees to mend their phones or plait their hair, while stalls sold trainee design and decoration products and more. But apparently, the biggest source of enjoyment came from watching trainees dance two traditional Acholi Dances: the Ajero and the Bwola. Few members of the community expected young people with disabilities to be able to dance at all, let alone dance so well – they have been practising very hard.  As Musema Faruk said in his recent monthly report:

School Open Day: Design and Decoration and Hairdressing stalls

“All youth were encouraged to participate regardless of their disabilities, deaf learners for example were concentrating on the traditional dances. Many people wondered how the deaf could dance so perfectly to the tune of the drum, it was a mindset shift to many among their colleagues at school and in the community.”

School Open Day: Traditional Dance, the Ajero

“Nelson and Sunday are students with visual impairment, they were so perfect in the drumming that impressed many during practice and the School Open Day. Nelson specialized in drumming and Sunday concentrated in playing local guitar. Everyone was so impressed with what the two can do to beat the odds around visual impairment; many had thought blind people are not good in playing instruments.” Musema Faruk: VPlus programme manager.

School Open Day: Wheelchair Basketball match with past etc@gdpu graduates (PWD Electronics)

When the trainees return from internships next week, they will spend time discussing what they have learnt. Instructors will organise lessons to fill the gaps identified in trainee knowledge. Business plans are put together ,and applications are made to the ‘Revolving Loan’ scheme. This innovative scheme (more on the Revolving Loan in the next blog) helps finance the future businesses that trainees are planning to begin

Training April 2022: Hairdressing

As their training at the centre ends, trainees enter six months Post Training Support, when instructors and managers from GDPU go out into the field to work with workshop owners or trainees in their new businesses. Everything is aimed at making these determined young people fully self sufficient and active members of their community.

Things are pushing on well.

School Open Day: Traditional Dance, the Ajero

Want to Know More?

If you would like to know more about the ETC of PWD charity please go to our Home page. If you would like to give something, please go to our Donate page. If you would like to know more about Gulu Disabled Persons Union (GDPU) please go to their website or Facebook page. 

Many Thanks.

This project is match funded with UK aid from the British people’

Cohort 2: New Beginnings and Old Routines.

Cohort 1

In December 2021, the first cohort of VPlus trainees at Gulu Disabled Persons Union (GDPU), Northern Uganda graduated. Those graduates have moved into their own businesses, or they are working in other workshops. The programme will now give them six months of Post Training Support.

Cohort 2

Cohort 2: Hairdressing Trainees

The next cohort of 65 trainees has also begun at the centre; a very busy time indeed for the team at GDPU. Immediately the ‘Plus’ aspects of the training programme have started too: training on hygiene and sanitation for example. Or, the Friday debates, building self-confidence and the ability to speak in public for the many who have never been listened to before. And, the crucial elections of student leaders who will work with, guide and set the tone for their peers.

Cohort 2: Hygiene and Sanitation talk

Age Range

There is a considerable age difference between trainees in this cohort, from 16-35. Therefore, a range of life experiences which the older trainees can use to support the younger. The oldest trainee is visually impaired, this is the first time in his life he has had any opportunities at all.

Cohort 2: Hairdressing

Staff Meetings and, Yes, the Dress Code!

Evaluation at the end of the last cohort identified poor communication between staff and programme managers. New weekly staff meetings have begun. Issues in the first minutes are familiar for any teacher anywhere: Schemes of Work and Lesson Plans; weak discipline; late arrivals; trainees not wearing the right uniform, girls showing too much of themselves, (many, many years as a sixth form girls tutor in the UK made this topic very familiar indeed).

A training visit for instructors, to Gulu Community College.

The fact that staff in a town in Northern Uganda, working with 65 disadvantaged trainees coping with a wide range of disabilities and experiences are struggling, like teachers across the world, with the mundane problems like the dress code; well, it’s reassuring somehow. It shows that GDPU has got the balance about right.

Student Leader Elections

Cohort 2: Leader Elections

The school has an electoral commission chaired by the school accountant. Leadership development for youth with disabilities is a significant part of the programme, so these elections are, deliberately, a formal process, The commission advertised the vacant leadership positions, trainees were given a week to campaign, some students even printed their election posters.

Twenty-one positions in all, in hard fought contests rigorously carried out in proper democratic process to give trainees their first sense of political involvement. It is noticeable how many past trainees from previous projects have subsequently become politically involved in their local community. And, of course Ojok Patrick, GDPU coordinator is now LC5 for Disability in Gulu and district; a very senior position indeed.

Cohort 2 leaders elections

Tailoring

Recruits for this second VPlus cohort made a clear distinction between wanting to learn Sweater Weaving and, mostly the visually impaired, wanting to learn Tailoring. Mama Cave who runs the Sweater Weaving is not a specialist tailor and has too many trainees to run another course. Rather than recruit outside the team, Musema Faruk the VPlus coordinator, suggested developing the skills of an existing member of the community.

Cohort 2: Tailoring with Mama Cave and Brenda

 It was always the intention of the Vplus programme to develop the capacity of GDPU; to support it in creating a self-sustaining disabled community. Brenda has been a mainstay of the Gulu Disabled Persons Knitting Workshop, set up after the VSO YDP programme back in 2015 and then supported by the subsequent etc@gdpu project funded by ETC of PWD. She is an innovative tailor, able to make styles that the market wants rather than just copy the templates she was taught.

Madam Brenda’s Tailoring Class

Brenda has all the core skills needed to teach new tailors, she was willing but lacked confidence. With suitable support, Faruk’s recent reports show that Brenda is doing well as the new Tailoring Instructor, her pupils are learning and she is finding the right ways to communicate with them. A successful development and a route to follow in future.

Covid Restrictions

Despite the Ugandan President relaxing all Covid restrictions recently, GDPU is very aware of the vulnerability of its staff and trainees. So, the Standard Operating Procedures are still in place there; which is good to hear, they have kept the centre largely Covid free so far. And, the Guidance Counsellor is pursuing ways in which to get all the trainees fully vaccinated.

Cohort 2: Youth Leaders Electioneering

Pushing on Well

It was so exciting to see the first cohort begin the next phase of their working lives and now the second cohort start that process. But it’s also great to know that the team at GDPU takes nothing for granted, they continue to innovate and explore ways to benefit the disabled community in Gulu and surrounding districts: pushing on well indeed.

Cohort 1 Graduation

Want to Know More?

If you would like to know more about the ETC of PWD charity please go to our Home page. If you would like to give something, please go to our Donate page. If you would like to know more about Gulu Disabled Persons Union (GDPU) please go to their website or Facebook page. Many Thanks.

This project is match funded with UK aid from the British people

The day we thought might never happen: VPlus Graduation Day

The Chairman of the GDPU Board (Geoffrey Allii) with VPlus Trainees and staff on VPlus Graduation Day

Gulu Disabled Persons Union (GDPU) re-opened, after Lockdown in Uganda, in November 2021. After a months intensive catch up on the premises in Gulu the 52 trainees on the first cohort graduated on the 10th December. Congratulations to all for succeeding despite the many challenges. The next cohort for the VPlus programme has been recruited and will start next year; a busy time for all.

The Instant Apprenticeship Scheme

The VPlus Guidance Counsellor visiting an electronic repair trainee during his apprenticeship at a Gulu workshop

The instant apprenticeship scheme kept the VPlus programme going during the second Lockdown from June till November.  A potentially disastrous shutdown became a bonus offering some interesting opportunities for the future.

Closer contact with other working people and the wider community has begun to break down prejudice against people with disability. Participating workshop owners are now becoming part of the training process.  Examples from apprenticeships were used throughout the lessons on return and trainees had a real sense of purpose now they had experienced actual work.

The next cohort will benefit from a longer apprenticeship, greater connections to workshops and a growing market awareness in all the core skills. GDPU took the opportunity to try a new model, it was very successful and full of promise for the future.

VPlus Graduation Day: Traditional Dance

In the run up to graduation Trainees practiced their Music, Dance and Drama for the big day and got ready for their skills tests and Literacy and Numeracy exams. Those tests would provide their all-important certificates, showing that they had been trained and were fully competent to work. Education is so important in this context.

Community Engagement

Vplus trainees on community engagement at Gulu Main Market

Amongst other activities on their return, trainees also took part in general cleaning at Gulu Main Market. There has been very good feedback on this community activity, partly because the VPlus trainees went out early in the morning to get the work done before the day began. They worked with many people, e.g. security and market administrators, and changed many attitudes to show that PWDs could work hard.

Graduation Day

VPlus Graduation Day: GDPU coordinator, Ojok Patrick, opens the proceedings

The graduation of the first cohort was a joyous affair, workshop owners were invited, alongside many honoured guests from the Gulu community (the Mayor, MPs, District Education Officer and other dignitaries) and of course, the families of the trainees. A busy and important day that will build for the future and change attitudes.

VPlus Graduation Day: getting the certificate

The day was a celebration of the achievements of 52 determined young people, the majority of whom had little or no education. They face stigma in the community, viewed as unable to contribute economically or socially, in a place where community matters so much.

VPlus Graduation day: getting the certificate

Move forward to the day when that very community gathers to honour your achievements, when you can truly begin to make your own way with pride and you can begin to understand the joy on receiving that certificate. The families in these photographs show how much they believe this training will change lives, and give young people with disabilities in Gulu real hope for the future.  

VPlus Graduation day: getting the certificate

The next step for the first cohort is Post Training Support. They will set up their own businesses or join others, for the next six months GDPU will continue to support them with visits, targeted extra training and support. Meanwhile, Cohort Two take the first steps on their own route to self sufficiency; exciting times.

VPlus Graduation day: getting the certificate

Donations

If you would like to make a donation, please go to the Donations page.

This project is match funded with UK aid from the British people’

How are things pushing on at GDPU: Instant Apprenticeship Scheme Part 2

Gulu Disabled Persons Union (GDPU) shut its doors after Covid 19 Lockdowns in Uganda were announced in June and July 2021. Lockdown is still there, easing a little, but when and how it will finish is still unclear.

Covid and GDPU

At the end of the last newsletter we had the devastating news that three of the senior GDPU team were diagnosed positive for Covid 19. It has been a tense and very worrying time since then. But, we are so pleased to discover today, that all three are on the way to recovery. The virus does not appear to have spread throughout their families or the centre. We can only praise them all for their precautions and be thankful that everyone at GDPU is returning to health

Hairdressing Apprenticeship

Lockdown and the VPlus programme

The last ETC of PWD newsletter showed the impact of Lockdown on our programme. In September/ October Vplus Trainees (youth with disabilities from Gulu and surrounding districts) were due to return from short internships in external workshops. They would complete training at Gulu Disabled Persons Union (GDPU) and start their own businesses with six months of post training support. If GDPU was still shut how would trainees keep their momentum? This has been the problem in education across the world during pandemic lockdowns. Learning needs to be used, memory is a muscle that wastes away without practice and skills can fade away.

Design and Decoration trainees

How can trainees be kept ‘match ready’?

Assuming that schools would open eventually, how could GDPU make sure that trainees would be ready? Ready for the next big step they had been training for: earning their own money; making their own lives; becoming a valued part of their community at last?

Traditional Dance Performance for the community at School Open Day

Instant Apprenticeships

Musema Faruk, the VPlus programme coordinator, had a proposal: extending the short internships into a full apprenticeship programme.

It was not easy to set up, but monthly reports show that his solution is working. After placing 49 out of the original 53 students in apprenticeships, GDPU have now followed them up. 42 are still at their workshops, quite a success given the conditions; there are many challenges on the ground.

Sweater Weaving

Challenges to the Apprenticeship scheme

Some trainees have severe disabilities, making placements difficult. 3 out of 5 of the VPlus instructors have workshops in Gulu.  Instructors identified those who needed support and these trainees stayed at their workshops. This seems to have worked well.

Prejudice

There has been prejudice, particularly against Albino trainees in far flung districts. The number of trainees with Albinism on the course was initially surprising; previous programmes had included few if any. But, as Ojok Patrick, GDPU co-ordinator explained, in the past they were hidden away, against prejudice and of course against the sun.  

Mechanics Class with Sign Language Interpreter

The nature of a trainee’s disability can cause challenges, equatorial sun is life threatening without skin pigment for example. An Albino hairdressing trainee has skin cancers on her hands, the pain means she can’t work. She is desperate to carry on her apprenticeship and the workshop owner wants to help, but the family cannot afford the relevant operations. GDPU is liaising with The National Union of Women with Disabilities in Uganda and others to find a solution for her.

Distance

Some trainees live far from their placement. Travelling with a disability in any country is always difficult, in rural Uganda it is doubly so, particularly if you use a wheelchair. The usual solution is to find somewhere to stay during the week. For a young, vulnerable person with disabilities who needs support, this is not always suitable.

A hairdressing salon

Work in the garden

It is the planting season, parents are pulling their children out to ‘work in the garden’, mostly planting G nuts (groundnuts or peanuts). This is often a problem with training programmes for young people. Parents rely on their produce to eat and surplus to sell, their children’s labour is crucial.

Skills

Some workshops do not have the full range of skills. E.g. in Opit a knitter cannot make open sweaters, so GDPU is involved in training the owners as well.

Literacy Class at GDPU

But what about Life Skills/ Literacy/ Numeracy/ Business skills etc?

Workshop owners, will share their own Life Skills, the Guidance Counsellor will also provide support. Some numeracy and business skills are part of any workshop and all these areas will be covered on trainees return to the centre.

How will workshop owners communicate with deaf trainees?

Sign Language interpreters are in the follow up programme. But, Musema Faruk made an interesting point and, incidentally, it shows why ETC of PWD depends on its partners ‘in country’. Self-reliance is an essential aim of the VPlus programme and as Faruk points out, deaf trainees are already finding ways to communicate without their interpreters. Sign Language support will be there but not intrusively, interpreters will talk mainly to the owner, so that trainees can steadily learn to socialise without them.

GDPU Staff Sign Language training

By the way, he also reports that one owner of a hairdressing salon has become so fond of her deaf trainees that she has been, voluntarily, to sign language training sessions at the centre.

Conclusions

We will not really know the full results of the apprenticeship scheme until trainees return to GDPU.  But, it is fair to say that the GDPU team have helped at least 42 out of the original 53 rise above these challenges.

Guidance Counselling reports have always shown that being with other people with disability brings confidence and self-esteem. Final training at the centre, the last Life Skills, Literacy, Numeracy and Business courses, a final exam and a full public Graduation should start to meet this. It is a difficult balance in the current situation, but we all hope the instant apprenticeship scheme has met this balance. As we all know, we learn better when we learn together.

Hairdressing Apprentice, Workshop Owner and VPlus Guidance Counsellor

Next newsletter

What about the future? See the next ETC of PWD newsletter for more.

Want to know more?

If you would like to know more about the ETC of PWD charity please go to our Home page. If you would like to give something, please go to our Donate page. If you would like to know more about Gulu Disabled Persons Union (GDPU) please go to their website or Facebook page. Many Thanks.

This project is match funded with UK aid from the British people’