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?
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.