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
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.