Inclusion of people with disabilities lifts rural Ugandan families out of poverty


Lawrence Akena had never dreamed of owning a cow. BRAC believes that ownership of assets such as livestock can lift people out of extreme poverty. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS
  • by Wambi Michael (oyam & gulu, uganda
  • Inter Press Service

Because of the exclusion, Akena survived from the handouts and was one of the young people living in extreme poverty in Kamdini sub-province, Uganda.

“He would leave home early in the morning to the corner of Kamdini just to hang out in the township. Sometimes he would spend nights there until I picked him up (picked up and returned),” says Akena’s mother, Lili Iram.

Akena’s condition, microcephaly, affects children born with a small head or a head that stops growing after birth. It can lead to epilepsy, cerebral palsy, learning disabilities, hearing loss and vision problems.

The 76-year-old mother says things have changed now. BRAC, the largest NGO in the South, selected him from among people with disabilities to benefit from the Disability Inclusive Graduation (DIG) project.

BRAC Uganda, the National Union of Women with Disabilities of Uganda (NUWODU) and Humanity & Inclusion (HI, formerly Handicap International) have implemented DIG in selected districts in once war-torn Northern Uganda since 2018. UK Aid has funded DIG through the Inclusive Futures initiative, Cartier Philanthropy and Medicor Foundation and Sight Savers.

DIG is designed to ensure that the four key elements of Graduation, including meeting people’s basic needs, providing training and assets for monetization, financial literacy and savings, and social empowerment, are adapted to ensure inclusion for guarantee to persons with disabilities.

BRAC supported Akena with primary livelihoods such as goats, cattle, pigs and money for small trade. Humanity & Inclusion and NUWODU have ensured that DIG’s services, including coaching, are effectively designed to support people with disabilities.

Ownership and control mean that people with disabilities, such as Akena, can create a way out of extreme poverty and be socially included.

“DIG helped us a lot. We didn’t have a cow. We didn’t have goats and chickens. Akena is (now) always at home to take care of them,” says Imran when asked about the impact of the program on her son.

As Imran describes her son’s transformation, Akena enters the loading shed to release his goats so they can graze next to two brown zebu cows. According to Iram, he suffered a major setback last year when his pigs died of African swine fever.

But when IPS visited the village of Iceme, where he lives with his mother, Akena had bought another pig that now lives in the pigsty he built.

By owning household possessions such as cows, goats and chickens, Akena graduates from the extremely poor,” said Derick Baguma, a project assistant at BRAC.

Baguma has provided household-based coaching to persons with disabilities in Iceme and other villages in Kamdini sub-province of Oyam to secure their wealth.

When asked by IPS if he had witnessed any changes, he said the difference was visible.

“This isn’t what this household was like. And the way Akena looks now isn’t the same as he was. See those goat and pig shelters? Lawrence Akena contributed more than 80% to make sure that they are what they are,” says Baguma. “And yet this is someone who spent nights on verandas in Kamdini.”

Iram told IPS that she is doing everything she can to ensure the wealth multiplies so that she can invest in her son’s future survival. She and her son regularly save with their Village Saving Loan Association (VSLA), an informal, local financial institution that relies on its members’ savings to provide emergency loans and support member businesses.

“I had always wanted to do something for my son, but I had no support. I plan to buy some (land) and plant trees for his future from the savings in our village savings box,” she says.

When asked what lessons can be learned from the DIG model, Baguma, who lives with Down syndrome, said there is a need for additional support for households with people with disabilities.

“That you should also involve people with disabilities when designing a project. And it is possible. We should not look at the costs. Sometimes people say it is expensive. But we have to look at the end results. How impactful will it be If you don’t bring that perspective of disability forward, you’re not reaching everyone,” he said.

A 2020 study by the Ugandan Ministry of Gender, Labor and Social Development found that households with a person with disabilities spend almost 39 percent more than other households.

“Future interventions to tackle poverty and well-being should ensure that the gap does not widen, leaving people with disabilities and their families behind. This may therefore necessitate the provision of additional resources to those households,” the report said.

DIG has also provided rehabilitation, psychosocial support (PSS) and aids for persons with disabilities, such as entrance balustrades, adapted latrines and artificial limbs.

One of those recipients is Denis Aboke, who lives in the village next door to Akuna’s. Aboke, a cancer survivor, says he now has an artificial limb 18 years after losing his leg to cancer.

He told IPS he would still use wooden crutches without DIG intervention.

“The cancer amputation left me completely useless. I couldn’t go out in the garden. Now I can do some farming. I can now support my family. The kids go to school,” he says.

Aside from the primary assets, Aboke also received a diesel-powered grain mill as part of the DIG program, earning additional income from fellow villagers. While Aboke sees a brighter future for himself, he hopes organizations will continue to support people with disabilities.

“My brother, I can tell you that nobody cares about people with disabilities. Landmines have disabled a lot of people, but there was no support. Health centers have nothing to offer here,” Aboke says.

Aboke’s rehabilitation was conducted at Gulu Regional Referral Hospital, more than 40 miles from his village. The hospital’s orthopedic workshop serves clients from Northern Uganda and Southern Sudan.

Principle Orthopedic technologist Senvume Kavuma Abbey told IPS the workshop has been overwhelmed by demand, but that orthopedic care is least funded in Uganda.

“The government last supplied us with materials ten years ago, so if DIG hadn’t come in, we wouldn’t be able to provide services to those who benefited from it,” explains Senvume.

Program staff organized community visits to connect orthopedic services with people with various disabilities.

“We were able to see where those people were coming from, so we designed devices that are adapted to their environment and their nature of work, and what they want to do,” Senvume says.

Although the DIG model is relatively new to Uganda, the program partners believe it can be applied elsewhere as a tool to improve the living standards of people with disabilities.

Shammah Arinaitwe, technical specialist at BRAC Uganda, told IPS that graduation is good for reaching poor households. She explained that it takes into account the needs of the recipient and what they can do and uses their experience to help navigate the way out of poverty.

“I’ll give an example. If you can’t afford 60-70 cents a day, the project will give you a boost,” explains Arinaitwe. The comparison to someone who has benefited from DIG is that the assets gained through their participation in the project mean that they are ultimately able to support themselves and grow.

“If I have one cow, eleven goats and thirty chickens, you can’t compare me to someone who doesn’t have one,” explains Arinaitwe. “I am pleased to tell you that the same model of the project is being launched in Tanzania, drawing on lessons learned from Uganda.”

Report of the IPS UN Office

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© Inter Press Service (2022) — All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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