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

VPlus Cohort 2 Graduation

Running to get the graduation certificate

This graduation was the second joyous celebration of the achievements of youth with disability in Gulu and surrounding districts of Northern Uganda.

Waiting for the rain at GDPU

The rains had begun earlier in the week, but luckily, they held off for most of the occasion. Allowing the speeches, traditional dance and display of goods and skills to take place. Gulu Disabled Persons Union, our delivery partner, organised the day very well and many important local people were there.

Motorcycle repair graduate explaining his new skills. Note the Gulu City District Education Officer behind and the Sign Language Interpreter in front

Ability in Disability

The attendance by dignitaries, and the subsequent affirmation of people with disabilities, matters a great deal in this context. The theme for the day was ‘ability in disability’ and it was interesting to note how many of the speeches described the speakers own involvement with disability, through perhaps a child, a sibling or training. It was a day that highlighted the inclusivity that will be crucial for the future lives of those graduating.

Vplus trainees march out to present themselves to visitors, honoured guests, friends and families. The Deputy Mayor is clapping along

GDPU Success

It was also the first time in over two and a half years that the ETC of PWD trustees could get to Gulu, it was wonderful to be back, and in time for such an important occasion. It was also important to have the chance to publicly applaud the success of GDPU, in particular the work of Ojok Patrick GDPU Centre Co Ordinator and Musema Faruk, VPlus programme manager (and now Head Teacher at GDPU). Their efforts have been boosted been by Ajok Emma, Guidance Counsellor and Mary Paul Lakot, Accounts Manager. It is their integrity, dedication and endless hours of work throughout Pandemics, Lockdowns and every other sort of challenge that has delivered the change to the disabled community in Gulu. Not forgetting of course the crucial role of the highly committed team of instructors and support staff.

Running to get the graduation certificate, with family and instructors

Parental Involvement

The first cohort of the VPlus programme was older than the second and parental/ community involvement had not been so strong. This gap was identified in Reflection Meetings and for the second cohort Faruk and the team tried hard to get greater involvement. Parental attendance at their graduation was much higher this time and support for trainees more noticeable. It is a pre-condition of the course that trainees come with at least some tools for their training, supplied by parents. To qualify for the VPlus Revolving Loan Scheme, that helps start up new businesses post training, parents also have to contribute. Faruk reports that parents have been far more willing to give something and much more involved in the training programme this time around; a big step forward.

Tradiitional Dance: the Acero

Joy

The usual bandwidth problems prevented us livestreaming the graduation, but I hope these images and video give some flavour of the joy with which parents, family and friends greeted the public recognition of the graduates (or graduands as they are called here).

Buying from the Design and Decoration graduates

Setting out their stall

The stalls with goods made by trainees were busy, selling clothes from the new tailoring course, jumpers, scarves from the sweater weavers, bags, jewelry and more from the new Design and Decoration course. The motorcycle repair graduates talked everyone through their new skills and the electronics graduates offered to mend everyone’s phones; there were many takers for that.

Tradiitional Dance: the Acero

Continued Support

The genuine interest and buying of goods was a great start to their new careers, but we know that continued support is vital to any long term success and sustainability. The next phase of the VPlus programme for Cohort 2 is six months post training support for all these new businesses. But, as the training part of this programme draws to an end, and as our field trips to Cohort 1 graduates showed, there are many questions to ask and answer about the future for ETC and GDPU. For those questions and some possible answers please see the next blog.

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: Cohort 2 reach a crucial stage

Three busy months have gone by very quickly and the second cohort of the Vplus programme for youth with disabilities in Gulu, Northern Uganda, have just completed the first part of their six month vocational training. They are now out for industrial placement; an apprenticeship process that builds on the first cohort ‘instant apprenticeships’. Instant apprenticeships were a quick solution to the Uganda wide Covid lockdowns that closed Gulu Disabled Persons Union (GDPU), but they have proved to be a great success and are now integral to the programme.

Design and Decoration Training

Disability, and behaviour towards people with disability, is a complex subject in any society. One of the fundamental aims of GDPU and subsequently, the Vplus programme is to “change the mindset of the community” as Musema Faruk, the Vplus programme manager puts it.

Training April 2022: Design and Decoration

Perhaps this change is best shown by a story he told us about the recent School Open Day, which marked the end of the first part of Cohort 2 training. GDPU opens up to parents, elders and VIPs from the District. Trainees show off their vocational skills, take part in sports, cultural activities and dance the traditional dances (Many trainees are from communities that do not allow them to participate in cultural life).

Motorcycle Repair and Maintenance Training

The programme gives them training so that they can participate with confidence. One father’s motorbike broke down on the way to the Open Day, the father pushed it into the centre expecting to phone for a mechanic. His Motorcycle Repair and Maintenance trainee son took the bike, gave it both a full service and a full repair. Musema reported that the parent was astonished and really proud, he said: “I didn’t know that he could learn so much in three months, I never believed that he could do such things”.

School Open Day: Traditional Dance, the Bwola

Equal pride was shown as parents queued for trainees to mend their phones or plait their hair, while stalls sold trainee design and decoration products and more. But apparently, the biggest source of enjoyment came from watching trainees dance two traditional Acholi Dances: the Ajero and the Bwola. Few members of the community expected young people with disabilities to be able to dance at all, let alone dance so well – they have been practising very hard.  As Musema Faruk said in his recent monthly report:

School Open Day: Design and Decoration and Hairdressing stalls

“All youth were encouraged to participate regardless of their disabilities, deaf learners for example were concentrating on the traditional dances. Many people wondered how the deaf could dance so perfectly to the tune of the drum, it was a mindset shift to many among their colleagues at school and in the community.”

School Open Day: Traditional Dance, the Ajero

“Nelson and Sunday are students with visual impairment, they were so perfect in the drumming that impressed many during practice and the School Open Day. Nelson specialized in drumming and Sunday concentrated in playing local guitar. Everyone was so impressed with what the two can do to beat the odds around visual impairment; many had thought blind people are not good in playing instruments.” Musema Faruk: VPlus programme manager.

School Open Day: Wheelchair Basketball match with past etc@gdpu graduates (PWD Electronics)

When the trainees return from internships next week, they will spend time discussing what they have learnt. Instructors will organise lessons to fill the gaps identified in trainee knowledge. Business plans are put together ,and applications are made to the ‘Revolving Loan’ scheme. This innovative scheme (more on the Revolving Loan in the next blog) helps finance the future businesses that trainees are planning to begin

Training April 2022: Hairdressing

As their training at the centre ends, trainees enter six months Post Training Support, when instructors and managers from GDPU go out into the field to work with workshop owners or trainees in their new businesses. Everything is aimed at making these determined young people fully self sufficient and active members of their community.

Things are pushing on well.

School Open Day: Traditional Dance, the Ajero

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’