What an incredible way to end this 3 ½ weeks of visiting Pilot Light Projects. I met our partner Henry from the Youth with Disability Entrepreneurs Program at a conference in Mexico last October. He heads an organization called Youth With Physical Disability Development Forum (YPDDF). We shared a very special experience when my husband, helped to get Henry who uses a wheelchair, into the ocean for his very first time. Along with my husband and I was Henry’s colleague, Moses, and various other people at the conference who wanted to be part of this joyful event. It was one of those experiences in life that leaves a lasting memory that cannot help but make you smile every time you think of it. Henry and I knew we had to find a way to work together.
In East Africa, disability is associated with bad luck and curses. Because of that, many children with disabilities are abandoned or killed. For this reason, parents must be part of the rehabilitation and training. Advocacy and human rights are also an important part of the program. Ignorance must be addressed to create changes in attitudes and practices.
Our project focuses on economically empowering youth with disabilities (age 18-30) and the parents or caretakers of younger children with disabilities. This project is only 6 months old and has already begun to have tangible results. We have two groups who are growing mushrooms, which is a very lucrative business here. We have one group growing green peppers and the fourth group is making candles.
The first group we visited was the candle making group and is comprised of 17 youths. They are making paraffin wax candles in red, blue, green and white that repel mosquitoes when they are burned. Instead of focusing on the numbers for the income generation (the numbers are great and getting better), I will tell you some other benefits this project is giving to the beneficiaries in their own words.
A young man named Paul told me that he is now able to help buy the basic needs at home. He is also using his profits to start a small bakery business on his own. He said he now feels he commands respect from people.
Another man named Kyambadde told us that he feels their success in this business will help to reduce labor discrimination when others see what can be accomplished by people with disabilities.
A woman named Harriet said that she is now happy and feels she can forget how it was before for her. She also can afford to buy things to keep up her appearance, which gives her more self esteem.
A woman named Nnzozi told us that her disabilities were caused by cerebral malaria at the age of 6. Her first child was taken from her by the child’s father and his family when he left her, as they thought she couldn’t take care of him herself. She is now taking care of a second child herself. She said the group makes her feel like she is not alone anymore and that others share her experience.
A young man name Yasini, who is very fit and handsome told us he dreams of getting a sports wheelchair, so he can compete in wheelchair marathons.
We visited the two groups of mushroom farmers. The first was comprised almost completely of parents and guardians of younger children with disabilities. We met each child, except those whose disabilities are too severe to make the trip to the shared farm. They are a truly inspirational group of families. Some of the children are suffering when there are solutions available that their families cannot afford. Two kids that we met have epilepsy, so they cannot go to school. Henry and his team are working now to connect the family to the necessary drugs. It is all about information. Another very smiley boy around 7 years old is deaf and has never learned to sign. His life is silent. He communicates with his grandmother by pointing and hand gestures. There is such love and commitment amongst this group.
The second group is made up of youths with disabilities and they walked us through the different steps that make up the very complicated process of growing mushrooms. The demand is great in Kampala and now they are focusing on being able to keep up the supply. They started by growing them on the ground, but had an issue with termites, so they have recently shifted to using hanging gardens, which are actually planted in prepared soil in plastic bags and hung from poles. They expressed the need for a latrine at the shared farm that can accommodate those who cannot stand when they use it. We agreed to supply the fund for that right away.
The green pepper farmers are a group comprised of both youths with disabilities and parent/guardians of children with disabilities. Their business is just starting out, but they are on the path to success and have plans to expand. We agreed to supply them with a pump that will allow them to grow in both the wet and dry seasons, doubling their profit.
Ending today with a celebration song and saying good bye to my dear friends Henry and Moses was the perfect way to finish this long road of visits. If I am being honest, I am very tired and I look forward to getting home so I can start raising the funds that we will need to take the next steps with our beneficiaries!