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

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 Gulu Disabled Persons Union under the current Uganda Lockdown?

In response to the Delta variant raging through the country, on the 6th of June the Ugandan President announced severe restrictions for 42 days: markets and businesses closed; most travel prohibited; schools closed; heavy curfew. This had profound implications for the country, for those on the margins and for our Vplus programme, as reported in the last blog. But, Lockdown is really the only weapon against Covid in a country with few vaccines and little public health infrastructure. Has it been working?

A Design and Decoration trainee on the Vplus programme receives training materials during Lockdown

Lockdown Easing

On July 30th, the President subsequently announced some easing: greater freedom to travel; some forms of businesses to open; schools and colleges to stay closed. In Gulu, Northern Uganda our partners, GDPU are delivering VPlus@GPDU our current vocational training programme for young people with disabilities; the picture is mixed. The Lockdown has worked to some extent, case numbers are dropping apparently, although without much testing it is difficult to know. The Lockdown has been observed, but the effects on those who have so little and depend on small day to day earnings, restrictions are devasting. That in fact, explains any success the Lockdown might have. As Musema Faruk, the Vplus project coordinator explained: “they fear the Lockdown more than the disease, so they do what they are told to make sure the Lockdown can end”.

Internship Training: Hairdressing Workshop

Internships

When the July Lockdown was announced, after careful discussion, it was agreed that instructors on the VPlus programme should support trainees, by phone and by visit where possible. Trainees would be encouraged to return to their internship workshops. To begin with this was successful, some 21 out of the total of 52 trainees returned to internship. Sadly, as the restrictions began to bite that number has gone down to 12, as workshop owners lose work and opportunities to provide for an intern. Workshop owners are now asking for payment before they will host a trainee.

Internship Training: Electronics Workshop

Training Materials

Plans for providing training materials are developing. Initial thoughts had been to support instructors in making short training videos, distributed by phone, through Whats App, You Tube etc. But, under 40% of our trainees have a smart phone and with signal and electricity hard to come by in many areas, this not the complete solution. Paper based training materials have always suffered from the usual problems based around literacy. Diagrams, drawings and notes made during the course help, but more solutions are needed and will be worked on.    

Discussing training with the Design and Decoration Instructor

Apprenticeships

During our meeting this week, Musema Faruk explained that, far from the July 19th date originally proposed by the Government, it was unlikely that schools would reopen before September, possibly even October. The current plan he is putting together is for a full apprenticeship scheme. Our trainees, i.e. the VPlus programme, will pay a small amount to work and train in those workshops that can open now. Many of the instructors have their own workshops that can function in this way. Instructors will continue to support all their trainees, and the final certificated exam will be in the workshop under supervision. And, of course when circumstances allow, there will be a full graduation ceremony at GDPU. Local leaders, elders, families and member of the community will come together to celebrate the success of these determined young people.

Mr Onyango Patrick, Design and Decoration Instructor, handing over training materials

Case Study

However, there is more to learning and becoming self-sufficient than core content. Okello Emma, the VPlus Guidance Counsellor has been working on a fascinating case study with a young Design and Decoration trainee. Time spent at GDPU with the PWD (People with Disability) community made this trainee realise she was not alone, and this has radically changed her approach to life. With the support of her Guidance Counsellor, her brother and her instructor (who has been supplying her with training and materials), she is now making baskets to sell. She has a purpose and a place, is feeling more positive, constructive and rebuilding relations with her family and community.

Okello Emma, Guidance Counsellor supporting a trainee.

The Plus in Vplus

This case study reinforces the basis of the ETC programme; hence the Plus in Vplus. The Life Skills element is vital, it cannot be neglected despite current conditions. To an extent this can be remedied by a final ‘Reflections’ week before graduation, whenever that might be. But it is a difficult balance that all involved must try to keep and will work towards in the future. It is a simple, almost cliched lesson but nonetheless true: we learn better when we learn together.

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’