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.

f you would like to donate, please visit the Donations page

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?


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.


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.

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

How are things pushing on at GDPU? The Vplus programme, a New Year 2021 update Part Two: How did we get here?

How do you know when something has worked and what do you do with the ‘something’ subsequently?

The essence of the ETC of PWD approach has always been that the people we we work with already know what they need to make their lives and the life of their community strong and sustainable. Our role is to support the skills training to fill the needs they identify. We have seen far too much generic training, imposed by others, that misses its targets, so we work with people with a track record in getting it right, who are from the very community that needs the support. These people are of course: Gulu Disabled Persons Union (GDPU).

GDPU Offices 2020

How does this work in practice?

Here are some examples of how we all worked on the new courses for trainees on the Vplus training programme for youth with disabilities, opening at GDPU on the 20th January.

Most of the new programme was worked out during the ETC of PWD trustees visit in February 2020:

  • The courses should be market driven, the training should be as flexible as possible.
  • The numbers should low to allow as one to one contact.
  • Psycho social support and sport/ physical literacy should be heavily involved at all stages.
  • Literacy, numeracy and financial training must be more than an add on.
  • We also spent hours on the difficult issue of Post Training Support, its where many vocational training courses collapse.
Socially distanced induction training for new GDPU teachers

Market Relevance

Next week the new teaching staff will carry out Market Relevant Assessment for each of their training areas, so that each course can be structured towards each student earning their own living.

Research has already told us that, for example, there won’t be a metalwork course. Under the old VSO/YDP programme metalwork was very popular, really well run by an inspirational teacher who worked with students afterwards to set up their own welding shop. But it is so expensive to establish yourself as a metalworker and, sadly, Gulu is overrun with existing metal workers and small companies. Their welding shop has closed, the market cannot sustain any new trainees.

The old Welders Workshop


However, during the subsequent ETC@GDPU programme we realised that basic welding skills are highly marketable for motorbike repairers. For instance, ‘Danger’ a young man working out of the Lubanga Lakicha workshop in nearby Koch Goma has learnt simple welding. He hires the kit at a reasonable price per hour and mends bikes, cars; anything metal. Danger makes good money supplementing his main motorbike repair income and incidentally it allows him to pursue his real interest, music; hence his name. So, inspired by this knowledge and others like him, in the new Motorcycle Repair Course, there will be a welding module.

Beyond Core Skills

‘Danger’, loading his bike with welding kit

Likewise, Sweater Weavers will learn how to use, not only sweater weaving machines, but also sewing machines, how to make simple clothes, baby clothes in particular and, crucially, how to repair and maintain their machines. Hairdressers will have a ‘Body Beautiful and Cosmetology’ module to expand their repertoire. Electronics trainees will learn how to repair more than just mobile phones. We will also be introducing the new Design and Decoration course for applied design, signboards, posters, basic computer art etc. The laptops (laptops have batteries and can ride out the constant power outages) arrived this week. The plan is to establish a working computer room so that all trainees will leave with some basic computer skills.

A member of Gulu Disabled Persons Knitting Workshop with a child’s dress made for sale

Post Training Support

The training on site lasts for six months, what happens after that is equally important. There is also a post training course of equal length with dedicated skills training, psycho social support, literacy and numeracy extensions and so on, to help each trainee set up their own business or support them working for someone else.

Psycho-Social Support

ETC@GDPU members 2020

But you can’t learn new skills if, for example, discrimination and abuse has left you with such low esteem that you don’t believe you can ever learn anything; you believe you are literally, fit for nothing. Which is why the psycho social support element of the programme (that GDPU specialise in) has been and will continue to be, so important; hence ‘Vplus’, ie vocation training plus.  As the previous ETC@GDPU programme drew to a close, it was fascinating to see that most of the participants now have the self-confidence to publicly represent their community: we hope to replicate that community engagement with these new trainees. Many of the ETC@GDPU beneficiaries will also become peer mentors on the new Vplus programme, sustainability in action!

ETC at GDPU Reflection meeting

How are things pushing on at GDPU? The Vplus programme, a New Year 2021 update. Part One

So far, very well.

Working on the new gate at GDPU

The Vplus training programme for 50 new trainees with disabilities at Gulu Disabled Persons Union (GDPU) should still open in January. It has been put back from the 15th to the 20th January to avoid the Ugandan General Election on the 14th. Travelling for persons with disability is always very difficult, around election time even more so. There has been more violence than usual during this election with a heavy loss of life, although mostly in Kampala. Covid restrictions have stopped the big and often very disruptive campaign meetings of the past. Gulu has been largely peaceful and we are told that it will probably remain so, although people are fearful of the return of the military to ‘keep order’.

How about Covid 19?

Cases are rising in Uganda, though nothing like the West. In the last two days 120 cases were reported in Kampala and 3 in Gulu. In fact, the cases in Gulu came from some way away and were brought to the hospital for treatment. The disease is certainly in the community, but without mass testing the levels of severity are unknown. Anecdotally, the virus is reported as present but not rampant, and of course everyone hopes that remains the case.

Ready to Open?

The finished new gates, fence and ramp at GDPU

Under these circumstances, GDPU staff, their Board of Governors and the trustees of ETC of PWD felt that the new Vplus programme could open this month, once certain conditions had been met. The site is now secure with a new fence and a working gate with a proper entrance ramp for wheelchairs installed! A gatekeeper appointed and trained, a hut built for him to shelter in, a temperature gun bought for him to test each entrant onto site. Toilets have been refurbished, cesspits drained, washrooms built, handbasins installed and water supplied to site.  Classrooms extended, isolation zones created, boarding facilities rearranged to make suitable social distancing spaces. All staff have been trained in Covid procedures.

Registration of new students in Anaka


52 trainees have been recruited, their families and communities consulted and reassured. New teaching staff for the five courses on offer have been interviewed, appointed and received full induction.

Inception Meeting

Socially distanced Induction training for new GDPU teachers

The key action for all this to work is the Inception Meeting and Inspection by the District Education Officer. He will inspect the site, assess the preparations and check that staff know what they are doing. This was to have been on Friday 8th, but not all Government and District offices have fully re-opened after the Christmas break, it will be re-arranged for next week.

So, fingers crossed all involved in the Vplus programme can look forward to the future, and not only the 52 new trainees themselves and subsequently their families and community that they will, we hope, support. But also, for  the new teaching staff who now have work and an income in challenging times. And, of course, for the staff and Board of Gulu Disabled Persons Union who have, at last some stability and activity on site. As Ojok Patrick the GDPU coordinator said in a recent email: “We are so happy that after many years of no activities, we are back on our feet again and the place is getting busier.”

Working on the toilets

Exciting Times!

For more news and details about what courses will be run, try the next blog here.