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.
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.
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.
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).
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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