Today is the first day of my visit to meet disabled people in Uganda.
Disability is the great neglected issue in development. I am here to learn how we can make a greater difference on the ground.
I am extremely grateful to UK paralympic star Ade Adepitan for taking the time to join us on this trip. I wanted his unique perspective and understanding about the daily challenges faced by disabled people at home and abroad.
Our first stop was a state school at the side of a dusty, rural road. 901 children attend classes there everyday. With only 14 extremely dedicated teachers, class sizes are large and teachers’ time is very stretched.
There are five million disabled people in Uganda, so it came as no surprise that there are many children at this school who also live with a disability.
We heard some truly inspiring stories – like Dorothy, a blind girl whose father carries her two and a half kilometres to school and back everyday to make sure she has an education.
Half way through the visit, the skies began to pour. A handful of children quickly huddled in one of the school’s small, dark classrooms. The rain on tin roof made it almost impossible to hear what anyone was saying. This would be a challenging place to teach one child even without a disability. Here they were teaching scores of children in each classroom.
Water Aid, a charity supported by Britain’s own development budget, is helping to improve school facilities. We saw a ‘inclusive toilet’ which is especially designed to ensure disabled children have the facilities they need to go to school in the first place.
We then moved to Bobole village – a tiny settlement at the end of a rutted and muddy track. We met Margaret, a disabled women living in an improvised wheelchair. She makes a living from a specially adapted sewing machine which she turns with her hands.
With WaterAid’s support, she has her own accessible toilet and washing facilities. Despite its simple construction from local wood and leaves, it is giving Margaret the dignity and opportunity to thrive. They have also constructed a water butt to catch rain water to help water her crops. The only other option is a bore hole far from her village – a virtual impossibility in her wheelchair.
Despite these inspiring stories of determination and spirit, the challenge in my mind is clear.
Simple changes and alterations can make a tremendous difference and ensure every one has the chance to succeed. we need to do much more to identify these and ensure all our aid programmes prioritise them.
Tomorrow I will update you on the next trip.