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’



How are things pushing on at GDPU: Instant Apprenticeship Scheme Part 1

The Ugandan Covid 19 Lockdowns in June and July 2021, shut all schools and many commercial activities. Recent announcements allowed some easing, but the situation is still unclear.

Vplus Design and Decoration trainees

Lockdown and GDPU

Gulu Disabled Persons Union (GDPU) had to shut its doors. Training for the the VPlus programme (for youth with disabilities in Gulu and surrounding districts), stopped at the centre itself in July. Covid had challenged the programme from the start; originally due to begin in October 2020, it eventually opened in January 21. But, the ingenuity and flexibility of GDPU staff has kept training going somehow, when similar programmes have long since halted.

GDPU sign by a Design and Decoration trainee

The last Lockdown was the biggest challenge yet. The Delta variant significantly increased infection and trainees were at a tipping point; to stop now meant losing all they had learnt. Trainees were due to return from internship placements in external workshops. The last steps were to complete training at GDPU and start up businesses for six months of post training support. How could GDPU continue their upward curve? Their trainees had gained so much, but that all important self-esteem would be lost if the only option was ‘go home and sit’ as the local phrase has it. What to do?

Instant Apprenticeship

Musema Faruk, the VPlus programme coordinator, had a proposal: extending the short internships into a full apprenticeship programme. Payments to workshop owners would ensure full participation, with goals and expectations set, learning recorded and regular support visits from GDPU staff, either virtual or actual.

Electronics Repair Trainee at at his apprenticeship workshop

It was not easy to set up, but monthly reports show that his solution is working. Much praise should go to the GDPU team for getting it going under such circumstances. 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.

Not only that, 2 trainees have already set up on their own and are doing well, GDPU has given them aprons and overalls, they are very smart and customers appreciate that. GDPU are very proud of them and they will be good for other learners to see.

Hairdressing apprentices with a customer

Covid 19 and GDPU

We have just had the bad news that three senior GDPU staff have tested positive for Covid 19. So far they report that, apart from loss of sense of taste and smell, they are OK. But this is extremely worrying for them and of course for their families. Although the infection has been found in Gulu, trainees and staff had managed to avoid it in the past, but the Delta variant is making that impossible. The public health service barely exists and there is little in the private sector, even if anyone could afford it. Vaccines are few in Africa, the promised rollout of vaccines from the West to Africa has, of course, hardly begun. We can only send our best wishes and hopes for their safe and full recovery.

GDPU sign by a Design and Decoration trainee

Our best wishes too, to another senior member of the GDPU staff who also recently caught Covid. She was she says, very ill and feared for her life, but managed to stay out of hospital and is now recovered. We send her and her family all our very best wishes for a full recovery as well.

The Next Newsletter

There will be more on the challenges to Instant Apprenticeship Scheme in the next ETC of PWD newsletter.

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’



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.

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