Today I realized how important our visits are to the success of the projects. It was also a day where we experienced incredible joy and a feeling of purpose and commitment, despite the fact that our Youth With Disability Entrepreneurs Program is not doing nearly as well as we would like it to be doing.
Our groups are made up of people with disabilities and, in the case of the very young, also their parents or caretakers. They are farming mushrooms, green peppers, eggplants and making candles. We found that the income that these businesses are generating is not sufficient to make a big enough impact on the lives of the members of the groups. HOWEVER, because we take the time to visit all of our projects, we were able to ask questions to understand exactly why this is the case. We now have a very clear understanding what is needed to turn this situation around and will work with our local partner on this project to fix the issues. We are confident that we will see these businesses producing good results in the near future.
The people in this project are very special. They struggle with all of the same problems that come along with being poor and living in Sub-Saharan Africa, but in addition to all of that, they are fighting against the discrimination and neglect they face as people with disabilities in this country. There is very little offered to them in the way of aid. Both times I have visited them, I have been overwhelmed with the love and joy and support they offer each other and to us, as well. Every small triumph, no matter how tiny, is celebrated and appreciated. Most of us could learn much from these people.
Today we saw a deaf boy of around 9 years old sign the alphabet after spending 6 months in school for the first time. Last year when we saw him, he had never in his little life been able to communicate with anyone but his grandmother, who he lives with and even then only through gestures. His smile, both then and now is huge. His spirit is huge. He drew a picture for me, which I treasure and will keep next to my desk.
We were sung to by a 3 year old boy with spina bifida. The farmers joyfully showed us the harvest of eggplants they were collecting. The mothers and grandmothers made us a wonderful lunch that we all enjoyed together, laughing and chatting all the while. We discussed solutions that will make this project more successful.
A young man who is albino and part of the candle making group told us that he is thankful to us for forming the group, because before he was part of group he had thought about suicide and he knew others felt the same way. He said that, although he was not yet earning much money, the group had given him a feeling of belonging, of not being alone, of knowing others who understand his struggles and pain. He said he felt his life had purpose for the first time and that he is proud of what he does with this small business. We have been traveling for three weeks, spending hours every day on bad roads. As we come to the end of the trip in a couple of days, we are truly exhausted, but this day…wow…It could not be more worth it.
Side note: Tomorrow we have a meeting with the food manager at our hotel here in Kampala to try to convince them to buy mushrooms only from our farmers. I will report back on that!