Breaking down the stigma around disability in Northern Uganda

For people living with disabilities, and those caring for them, support, advice and self-help groups can have a community-wide impact. Programme Funding Manager Sarah Williams recounts her recent experience visiting the ADIMAP project in Northern Uganda. 

The tarmac roads to the remote village of Olinga in Northern Uganda soon ran out into rough dirt roads, then to small tracks, covered by long grass.  The Send a Cow Extension Workers I was with, Juliette and Louisknow this area well; they visit the community regularly and have built a close rapport with the families. Eventually, we came to a compound of huts and some chairs placed in the shade of a lime tree for our visit.

We met Quinto, a smallholder farmer who is part of the ADIMAP project. He spoke about the difficulty he’d had with his severely disabled son, Idi, and how in the past he thought he had been cursed to have him. Before the project, he struggled to care for Idi, particularly when he and his wife were on the farm. However, Juliette has since provided advice and training. 

The village of Olinga

Extension Worker Louis speaking to the group

“I am a loving father. I help Idi and have learnt to interpret him and understand his behaviour. I have seen others facing similar challenges with children who are disabled in the village, and we now talk about those issues together.”  - Quinto

The power of self-help groups 

Idi now has a wheelchair, subsidised by the government, carefully fitted to meet his needs. He can join his family in the compound, at community meetings and on the farm, where he sits in the shade as they work. During our visit Idi’s stepmother takes him off for dinner before carefully carrying him back, covering him in a colourful blanket so he could sleep as we talked.  

The project works with 300 members: disabled and non-disabled farmers and their families. Quinto is the proud Chairperson of his ‘Rubanga Mambo Group’, translated as ‘God’s Given Group’. Covering social inclusion, gender, leadership, hygiene and sanitation, farm skills and enterprise development, they support each other and share experiences. Quinto is already seeing the benefits.

Idi’s stepmother with his wheelchair

“The Send a Cow teaching has helped a lot - we learnt about rights for people with disabilities, we have constructed latrines and we grow food to eat and sell… We have had agricultural training - we used to just put the crops anywhere in the ground then we were taught to plant our soya in lines for easy care and weeding.”  - Quinto

On to bigger things 

Quinto’s wife has set up a small business selling traditional Ugandan street food near the village hall. They have a scheme to save in the group: We use a merry go round system - we are all saving to buy iron sheets for a food store. We store some rice in the house and sell it later after rice season so we get a good price.” 

The project has started conversations in the community about disability and the inclusion of everyone. It is helping to break down the stigma and negative cultural attitudes towards disabled people and improves lives in terms of hygiene, sanitation, nutrition and income. The final year of the project will see further improvements with adaptations for specific needs which have already started to happen – adaptation of tools, farm layouts, latrines and water points have been the innovations of the groups themselves.  

As we left, Quinto handed us a bag of limes to take away – we had been admiring the abundant fruit as we sat under the tree. He heard the team liked to take lime in their tea. Juliette arranged a follow up visit to the group and we headed off to find our way back down the tiny track.