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’

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?

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 the new FCDO grant for ETC of PWD

We are very pleased to announce that the VPlus@GDPU programme, run by the UK based charity ETC of PWD, will now be co-funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO)for the next two years.

This project has been awarded the grant from UK Aid Direct under the FCDO’s Small Charities Challenge Fund (SCCF). Their fund supports civil society organisations to achieve sustained poverty reduction. VPlus@GPDU is now a project funded by UK aid from the British people as well as all the generous donors to ETC of PWD.  

New hairdressing trainees on the Vplus programme

What is VPlus?

The VPlus programme is now goes by the longer name:  Enhancing the Capacity of Young Persons with Disability through Vocational and Literacy Education and Training. We will stick with Vplus; it’s shorter! Vplus will give youth with disabilities in Gulu, Northern Uganda and surrounding districts, suitable market relevant skills. It will of course, still be delivered by our long term partners: Gulu Disabled Persons Union.

Faruk Musema, GDPU Guidance Counsellor explaining the African context for people with disability

The V stands for vocational training Plus, because that’s what the programme delivers, even more so with the new grant. Through key skills training – literacy, numeracy, financial literacy and so on – through psycho-social support which helps trainees develop the self-esteem we all need to get anywhere in life. Through employment and meaningful economic activity, VPlus trainees can gain the dignity and self-respect everyone deserves and truly become self-supporting and respected members of their community.

New student orientation on the Vplus programme

What difference will this grant make?

In a word, significant.

The grant amount, (£28,818) will match what ETC of PWD is putting in (£22,174, plus the money we have already contributed to setting up the programme. Much of the recent ETC of PWD funding by the way, came from contributions by individual donors. Now is the time to thank them again for their contributions, without their extra funds we would not have got this far. Many thanks again.

How long will the programme run?

With this grant, the VPlus programme will now run for two years. One year was all ETC could pay for and one year is never really enough to establish a sustainable training programme. There will be two cohorts of 50 trainees rather than one. Two times six months of vocational training, two times six months of Post-Training support. These extra funds mean for example that we can now afford some high-quality machines for training in Sweater Weaving and laptops for the new Computer course; machines that will last.

Sports are a vital part of the Vplus training programme

Covid 19

But, most significant in the current context is the refurbishment of the GDPU site to make it Covid 19 secure. Issues like the perimeter fence, the gatehouse for the watchman, paying for a matron/ nurse can all be solved properly now. Longer term funding brings the security and opportunities for future sustainability that underfunded organisations like GDPU need. This grant will help keep vulnerable staff and students safe and give them a real future to look forward to for the first time in their lives.