New Lockdown in Uganda

Design and Decoration Course: computer training

There has been a significant and frightening increase in cases of COVID-19 in Uganda and Gulu. Gulu and Kampala have suddenly, been hard hit by the virus. In Kampala, at least I in 3 have it, Gulu has been registering over 100 cases per day which is worrying everyone. This is a country with no real testing, no comprehensive health care and no mass vaccination programme, so the true situation is and will be, much worse.  On Sunday 6th the President announced, among other measures, the closure of all learning institutions/schools by Monday 7th June for 42 days, and that all teachers must be vaccinated before they get back to school.

Sweater Weavers and Tailors at the School Open Day

VPlus closure

How will this affect the Vplus vocational training programme for youth with disabilities in Gulu? Based on these directives, Gulu Disabled Persons Union (GDPU) who actually run the programme,  has closed the VPlus school for 42 days. They have encouraged trainees either to go back to their internship placements if possible and COVID-19 safe to do so, or to try to begin their businesses at home. No one knows about anything about possible teacher vaccinations, sadly it seems unlikely in the context.

How to keep going?

Subsequent meetings between ETC of PWD (the UK based charity who match fund the Vplus programme with UK Aid) and GDPU agreed, that the fundamental aim was to combine safety with the underlying aim of keeping the programme going. There is of course no Government furlough system in Uganda and, traditionally, if you don’t work for whatever reason, you don’t get paid; there are no retainers.  Primary school teachers for example will not be paid. But we do want to keep and look after the staff on the Vplus programme. Apart from the unfairness and basic obligations, if you don’t pay people they will find something else and not return.

Sign Language Training for VPlus staff

Decisions made

In a meeting on the 8th June at GDPU, the programme managers asked the instructors and support staff how they could keep in touch safely with trainees and GDPU. The brainstorming session on how they could be useful to the students and justify continued payments, agreed on the following resolutions: 

1- Each Instructor, Sign Language Interpreter, Literacy Facilitator and Guidance Councillor will have 6 students to follow up and support them remotely. 

2- They will be facilitated with airtime of UGX 5000 each, to pay for phone contacts.

3- There will be a meeting every two weeks to give feedback, learnings, challenges and best practices on the follow up. 

4- Sign language training to continue for the instructors and support staff every Wednesday to Friday morning 9:00-11:00am. 

5 – Payment for June will be full and July will be half for the instructors. 

6 – Matron will not get payment for July but her payment will come from her cleaning services. 

7- GDPU has created a Vplus WhatsApp group page for easy communication and feedback sessions.

8 – Project coordinator will do the physical random follow up to check on the safety and well-being of students back on internship. 

9 – All staff must take precautions and stay safe during these hard times. 

10 – Security/watchmen will continue with full payments and are encouraged to be more vigilant.  

Traditional Dance at the School Open Day

The Ugandan Ministry of Education and Sports has released the new time table for reopening of schools: 19-July 2021 All learners are expected to start school then. So, fingers crossed hoping for the best.

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’

Big Steps Forward for VPlus

Further big steps forward on the VPlus vocational training programme for youth with disabilities in Gulu, Northern Uganda.

Mid Term Exams on the VPlus Programme: Hairdressing

Covid 19

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.  

VPlus

Mid Term Exams on the VPlus Programme: Tailoring and Sweater Weaving

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.

Life Skills

Conflict Management classes

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.

Youth to Youth Engagement: past trainees explain how to run a business.

James

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.

Mid Term Exams: working on a motorbike

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.

Youth to Youth Engagement: past trainees explain how to run a business.

Lillian

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.

Members of Nyeko Rach at their salon in Acet

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.

Mid Term Exams: Electronics

Bernard

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.

Record Keeping

Youth to Youth Engagement: the importance of record keeping

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

Family Involvement

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.

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School Open Day, a group photo of some of the participants, friends and families
This project is match funded with UK aid from the British people’

VPlus: What does the ‘Plus’ stand for; Part Two.

Welcome to a second look at what the ‘Plus’ in VPlus (the vocational training programme for youth with disabilities in Gulu, Northern Uganda) actually means on the ground. Alongside the core vocational training in Design and Decoration (Computer aided); Electronics Repair; Hairdressing; Motorbike Mechanics; Sweater Weaving and Tailoring and the training in Literacy, Numeracy and basic business skills, what else adds up to the Plus?

Elizabeth: a Hairdressing Trainee explains how the VPlus programme will help her, in a video made by Musema Faruk from GDPU

ETC of PWD (Enhancing the Capacity of Persons with Disability, the UK based charity that part funds the VPlus programme along with UK Aid) have just had our first couple of monthly reports from Gulu Disabled Persons Union (GDPU) who run the programme. The reports describe some of these activities, so we can begin to get a real picture of the ‘Plus’ in action. The last blog talked about debating as a means to public self-confidence and the ability to construct and present or follow an argument. This blog follows some of the other activities

Safeguarding teaching: the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse

There has been a lot of work by the GDPU Safeguarding team on important areas like hygiene and sanitation, as student leaders have pointed out, the disabilities many of the trainees are such that they have to crawl, poor sanitation makes their life not just unpleasant, but medically dangerous. Sexual health, teenage pregnancy and substance abuse, particularly alcohol (see below), has featured too.

Teachers have been to visit other institutions, this has been invaluable, they have learnt much about basic lesson planning and how to operate equipment. Coupled with their recent market assessment trips to check the relevance of their teaching means their classes are really starting to take shape.

Music and Dance training before the big day

And of course, the Music, Dance and Drama sessions have started up again. The dramas are usually short moral plays acted by trainees with great gusto, warnings about drunkenness are the favourites with ‘drunk’ acting carried out with wonderful relish. Alcoholism is though, a serious problem, cheap plastic packets of gin, called Suckits (or Arege in Luo), are cheaper than water, technically banned they are still widely available. Recent Safeguarding work with trainees has focused on the devasting social and physical effects of alcoholism.

Dance Performance School Open Day

And most importantly, the traditional dancing. The earlier YDP programme featured traditional dancing as a way of embedding youth in their own culture. But, people with disabilities are often excluded from their own society, by refusing to let them take part in cultural activities for example.

Dance Performance School Open Day

Training in traditional dance at GDPU is another of way helping people with disabilities ‘belong’. You can see the excitement in these pictures, taken at the first School Open Day, they are dancing the Ajere, an Acholi courtship dance. The first trainees on the ‘Plus’ programme are performing for their families, local elders and members of the community; an important statement of inclusivity. The film on this page on the website by the way, shows one of the older GDPU graduations.

School Open Day

I am so glad to see that dancing has been kept as an integral part of the Vplus programme. Some of the ETC of PWD trustees hope, Covid restrictions willing, to visit Gulu in June for the graduation ceremony of this first cohort, where the dancing will be prominent. Sadly, we expect it to be a forlorn hope for the trustees, but it will a big day and a great step forward for these trainees. It is very exciting to see the programme up and running, and so much counting towards the ‘Plus’ aspect of the V Plus programme and the future of these determined young people.

School Open Day, a group photo of some of the participants

If you want to read more about the plus in Vplus please read the next blog.

f you would like to donate, please visit the Donations page

VPlus: what does the Plus stand for?

Literacy Class

So what does the Plus in the VPlus programme mean on the ground? Alongside the core vocational training in Design and Decoration (Computer aided); Electronics Repair; Hairdressing; Motorbike Mechanics; Sweater Weaving and Tailoring and the training in Literacy, Numeracy and basic business skills, what else adds up to the Plus?

ETC of PWD

Mechanics Class, note the sign language interpreter for the deaf trainee

ETC of PWD (Enhancing the Capacity of Persons with Disability, the UK based charity that part funds the VPlus programme along with UK Aid) have just received our monthly report from Gulu Disabled Persons Union (GDPU, who run the programme) it describes some of these activities.

Debates

A key point is made in the debate

For example the debates, a standard feature of Ugandan education. They are both formal affairs with timekeeping marked by energetic bell ringing, a chairman, and due process, and they are also lively, inclusive and hugely enjoyable. Ugandan debating calls for lots of shouts for points of order and vigorously displayed arguments; debates are taken very seriously with great enthusiasm. They are wonderful opportunities for people, like our own trainees, who have little experience of public speaking or formal presentation. They can gain some self-confidence and learn how to put together and then express a considered argument.

“ kwano tic cing ber loyo kwan me karatac”.

The debate

The first debate, they take place weekly, was on the important topic: Non-Formal education (or practical vocational skills training) is far better than Formal (or academic) education, This in Luo, the local language, is “kwano tic cing ber loyo kwan me karatac”. Luckily, as the trainees are after all on a vocational training programme, the non-formal team won! The winning argument for many was that skills-based training needs no particular level of education, as most of our trainees have little if any education, compared to formal education where every level is important. Skills training helps someone to become self-employed, compared to formal education which prepares people become jobs seekers. The main points in favour of Formal education were based on the raising of status, a white collar career and higher levels of income, possibly. Although, as many pointed out, an academic education does not prepare you for actual work. Further debates concern self-employment, sexual behaviour and: “the Future Holds More: planning is necessary”.

Leadership Elections

Electing the Student Leaders

Student leaders have also been elected; they play a big role in running the place well. As a school leader will always tell you, student leadership, apart from keeping the programme going, plays a powerful role in developing young people, not just leadership skills, but how to work with responsibility and how to organise others are some of the areas not to mention an understanding of how voting processes work.

POSITION
Guild present
Head girl
Entertainment prefect
Asst entertainment prefect
Welfare prefect
Asst welfare
Health and Sanitation
Asst health and sanitation
Game and sports

These are the positions by the way.

This is a short video by the newly elected Head Boy/ Guild President, explaining why he think this course matters.

Pushing on Well

So as they would say at GDPU, things are pushing on well.

If you want to read more about the plus in Vplus please read the next blog.

If you would like to donate, please visit the Donations page

Announcing Vplus@GDPU

The old toilet block at GDPU: blocked

As the old ETC@GDPU project draws to a close we have good news to announce: the first steps on our new vocational training programme at Gulu Disabled Persons Union have been taken. It will be called Vplus@GDPU, – V is for Vocational Training and ‘plus’ showing the extra elements that make training successful.

Old classrooms, waiting for a new programme

Vplus@GDPU: The New Programme

50 disabled young people will be trained at GDPU on a six months training programme, followed by six months post training support. ETC of PWD (Enhancing the Capacity of People with Disability, our UK based charity that has worked with GDPU for some time) is funding the start of the programme, and we are searching hard for other funding to expand it. There is a possibility of a major grant, but in the international development world nothing is certain so we are keen to find new ways to make this exciting programme work.

Old classrooms waiting to be refurbished

Covid 19 in Uganda and Gulu

Of course, nothing is certain in any part of the world at the moment. Africa, apart from South Africa, has been hit relatively lightly by the Coronavirus. To date there have been 14,403 cases in Uganda, 132 deaths across the whole country and 10 in Gulu with seven possible new contacts in in the district notified today. The Lockdown in March affected everyone, but was hardest on those who have the least.

Covid 19 security at GDPU

Working on the toilet block at GDPU

For the new training programme to go ahead in Gulu, the GDPU site has to be made Covid 19 secure. That means proper access to sanitation: new handwashing sinks and toilet blocks for example. Every person allowed on site must be Covid 19 free, so access must be controlled by repairing the old fence, making a proper gateway, installing a new gatekeeper, buying temperature guns for the gatekeeper to use on each entrant. We are keeping the numbers of new trainees down, partly to make sure that every trainee gets proper attention but also to keep to social distancing rules. That will demand new classrooms, extending and refurbishing existing ones and making specialist isolation zones. And lots more and lots of extra training for everyone. A busy time!

Working on the toilet block at GDPU
Working on the toilet block

Vplus@ GDPU from now until January 2021

All being well, the actual training will start in the second week of January 2021. Recruitment, including discussions with parents and communities should start shortly. There are many ifs and buts that might stall the process, but everyone working on the programme in Gulu is feeling positive, and we join them in looking forward to an exciting new start.

The gates at GDPU

Vplus @GDPU: what next and how did we get here?

There is much more to come: how we all arrived at choosing the new training courses for instance; what was learned from the old ETC@GDPU programme? What has happened to people on that programme and what role will they play in the new one? How have the sportsmen at Gulu PWDs electronics been getting on? Will sport play any role in Vplus (spoiler alert: yes). But for now, in these challenging times it is just wonderful to be able to spread some good news.

Wheelchair basketball at GDPU

Donations?

Just to remind you, our donations page is always open; every little helps.