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Why You Should Give a Sh#t: Accessibility Issues for Persons With Disabilities in Northern Uganda


Dane Macri | Posted July 16th, 2013 | Africa

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Why You Should Give a Sh#t: Accessibility Issues for Persons With Disabilities in Northern Uganda

The Royal Throne, the John, the Loo, the Turd Room on the Left…

Whatever you call it, all of our daily routines involve a trip to the toilet because as the profound title of a potty training book for toddlers states, “Everybody Poops”. Our routines are so ingrained that we often do not think of how fortunate we are to be able to do our business in a comfortable and dignified place at almost any time. However our comfortable realities are not universal as anyone with a disability in northern Uganda can attest to.

To give you an idea of the extreme marginalization persons with disabilities (PWDs) face in northern Uganda consider that in the district of Gulu there are roughly 300,000 people and only ONE public accessible toilet for persons with disabilities. Policies such as the 2006 Persons with Disabilities Act and the Uganda National Action on Physical Disability do exist as Uganda is one of the leading countries in East Africa for recognizing disability civil rights through documented policy. However there are extensive and persistent gaps between idealism on paper and reality in inaccessible living conditions. Given that there is only one public accessible toilet in the region it is obvious that filling the gaps between policy and actuality is not number 1 or number 2 on the government’s list of priorities.

The ONLY accessible public toilet for PWDs in Gulu
The ONLY accessible public toilet for PWDs in Gulu
 
A typical public toilet in northern Uganda that is inaccessible for people with disabilities
A typical public toilet in northern Uganda that is inaccessible for people with disabilities

I would like you to imagine the following REAL scenarios brought about by the pervasive lack of accessibility as I believe our comprehension and compassion for this neglected issue can be greater understood through empathy.

Scenario 1

Like clockwork nature tends to call fairly regularly for you before and after work. For most of us this is hardly a second thought. However in your case there is only one washroom you can use and it is 4km away from your place of work. To answer your body’s calls you make these trips twice a day using a wheelchair in the form of a hand-pedaled tricycle over bumpy dirt roads. It takes roughly one hour to travel from the washroom to your workplace.

Geoffrey enjoying the game. Geoffrey like many other people with physical disabilities in northern Uganda use a hand-pedaled tricycle to get around
Geoffrey enjoying the game. Geoffrey like many other people with physical disabilities in northern Uganda use a hand-pedaled tricycle to get around

Geoffrey enjoying the game. Geoffrey like many other people with physical disabilities in northern Uganda uses a hand-pedaled tricycle to get around

Scenario 2

Living as a young child with cerebral palsy can provide many challenges for you and the person who cares for you. Your disability severely restricts your mobility to the point where you are completely dependent on your 80 year old great-grandmother for everything, from feeding you, bathing you, even to simply sitting upright. She is unable to afford a wheelchair for you and as a result she carries you on her back. Moreover there is no accessible toilet or accessible toileting device to assist you when you have to use the latrine. It is very difficult for your great-grandmother to carry you to the outhouse and hold you upright while you use the latrine. To reduce these arduous trips you are fed only once a day to reduce the amount you defecate.

Gracias hanging out with her Great Grandma. Gracias is a sweet little girl with cerebral palsy who is being taken care of by her 80 year old great grandmother because her parents viewed her as a curse and abandoned her. Despite everything she's been through Gracias is still a happy child with a infectious laugh that'll make your heart melt
Gracias hanging out with her Great Grandma. Gracias is a sweet little girl with cerebral palsy who is being taken care of by her 80 year old great grandmother because her parents viewed her as a curse and abandoned her. Despite everything she's been through Gracias is still a happy child with a infectious laugh that'll make your heart melt

Gracias hanging out with her Great Grandma. Gracias is a sweet little girl with cerebral palsy who is being taken care of by her 80 year old great grandmother because her parents viewed her as a curse and abandoned her. Despite everything she's been through Gracias is still a happy child with a infectious laugh that'll make your heart melt

Scenario 3

You are a young and ambitious ten year old who dreams of being a doctor when you grow up. You realize the only way to make these dreams come true is by working hard in school. You enjoy school but you are having difficulties concentrating due to discomfort when you have to use the bathroom. The problem is that the school does not have an accessible toilet to accommodate your needs as you have a physical disability and are unable to walk. The only way you can relieve yourself is by dragging your body out of your chair all the way to the latrine and physically placing yourself over a hole in the ground with your hands. Not only is this unhygienic and degrading but it is also very embarrassing to drag your body up the steps to the latrine in front of your friends and other students. Having to undergo this struggle everyday can become frustrating, sometimes it is just easier not to go to school.

Why you Should Give a Sh#t

Although I only shared three peoples’ scenarios the regrettable reality is that these stories are far too common among persons with disabilities in northern Uganda. They may have been hard to hear and evoked feelings of sympathy, empathy and moral outrage which I believe is indicative of the great injustice taking place. However, the purpose of sharing these stories was not to pity PWDs in northern Uganda. The purpose was to recognize the people behind the stories, their worth, their plight, and motivate us to work together for social change not out of pity, but because our liberation and humanity are bound together.

We all have stories just as we all have human dignity and worth. Unfortunately the platform which we have to share our stories and the corresponding value we attribute to these stories is not equal, as evident by the atrocious inequities and injustices faced by marginalized populations around the world, such as people with disabilities in Uganda. Thus, I urge you to be an advocate and share these stories. Give a voice to the voiceless. It is my hope these stories can serve as a moral laxative and help us to all truly give a shit.

Accessibility for All is an ideal that Denish and Richard hope become a reality one day
Accessibility for All is an ideal that Denish and Richard hope become a reality one day

Accessibility for All is an ideal that Denish and Richard hope become a reality one day

“Our humanity is so beautiful, but it needs to be transformed” ― Jean Vanier

Apwoyo matek and Peace,

Dane

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My Story… By Guest Blogger Ojok Patrick of the Gulu Disabled Persons Union


Dane Macri | Posted September 11th, 2012 | Africa

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I thoroughly enjoy sharing my stories and the stories of others during my experience in northern Uganda with the Gulu Disabled Persons Union (G.D.P.U.) through this blog. There are more blogs to come covering such topics as inclusive sports, yoga for children with disabilities, my Acholi family, the status and implementation of accessible toilets for persons with disabilities in northern Uganda and a certain dance off between me and an Acholi woman at a cultural performance show. However I would like to try something different and feature a guest blogger, my good friend Ojok Patrick. Patrick is a Field Officer at the G.D.P.U. and has an amazing story of success and the places you can go if you believe in yourself.

My Story…

By Ojok Patrick, Field Officer for the Gulu Disabled Persons Union

I am a male Ugandan with a physical disability. I became disabled when I was a kid. The cause of my disability was the administration of an injection on my nerves by medical personnel when I got malaria when I was 2 years old. This paralyzed my right leg and made me walk with difficulty. I did not know I was a disabled child but each time I played with other children they often insulted my disability. This made me very frustrated as a kid. By the time I started schooling that is when I started walking long distances and could feel lots of pain on my hip. This made my life in school really difficult and I would not manage to travel to school every day. I had to miss school at least twice a week until I was taken to where my father was working as that school was very close to our home in the Masindi district (western part of Uganda).

As a child while studying in primary and secondary school I did not have problems because I was doing well in class and because of that I had lots of friends as they wanted me to help them with their assignments and tests. After completing my secondary education I was admitted to University on a private sponsorship as my parents could not afford school fees. I then joined a Teacher training college where I qualified with a Diploma in Education to teach in secondary School. I taught for six years, then left and worked as a development worker with the National Union of Disabled Persons of Uganda (NUDIPU), associated with the Gulu Disabled Person’s Union. I then left to work as Program Assistant with the Private Partners Collaborating Together Incorporation (Pact Inc.) providing small grant for DPO’s (DPO’s are representative organizations or groups of persons with disabilities) in Gulu and Lira. Currently I am working as Field Officer in the inclusive disability sports project, one of GDPU programs to build the self esteem of children with disabilities through sports.

Ojok Patrick leading a training session to develop the skills of peer mentors with disabilities to counsel younger persons with disabilities
Ojok Patrick leading a training session to develop the skills of peer mentors with disabilities to counsel younger persons with disabilities

Ojok Patrick leading a training session to develop the skills of peer mentors with disabilities to counsel younger persons with disabilities

After ten years, I went back to the University and completed a bachelor’s degree in public administration and Management in 2011. This will now allow me to compete favorably in the current scarce job markets in Uganda.  In Uganda it’s not easy to get a job as there are lots of qualified people who are degree holders floating on street. This is even worse for PWDs (persons with disabilities) as most employers think they cannot perform well at a work place. Lucky enough for my case I have been able to get jobs to support my family, maybe because my disability is not very severe that is why I have been able to get jobs.

I am married man and now have two children; I also support two other children who are orphans, they are children of our close relative and have no place to stay so we agreed to take care of them. Both I and my wife have a contract job to support our family. In Uganda because of the attitude that people have on PWDs it is very difficult to maintain a relationship, more especially when you are poor and have no job. We have now been in our marriage for ten years. To be honest there is nothing impossible in this world, no matter what physical challenge you may have, if you are confident and believe in yourself you can also achieve like others have achieved.

Ojok Patrick, a Field Officer at the Gulu Disabled Persons Union achieved much success in his life through his education and belief in himself.
Ojok Patrick, a Field Officer at the Gulu Disabled Persons Union achieved much success in his life through his education and belief in himself.

Ojok Patrick, a Field Officer at the Gulu Disabled Persons Union achieved much success in his life through his education and belief in himself.

Apwoyo matek (Thank you),

Ojok Patrick

2 Responses to “My Story… By Guest Blogger Ojok Patrick of the Gulu Disabled Persons Union”

  1. Salenska says:

    Thank you for keeping us post. Great work Dane.

  2. Andrew says:

    This is a great idea Dane! Thanks for sharing Ojok, it’s great to hear that you were able to overcome the physical pain and discrimination your disability causes and achieve so much. And its cool that now you are helping others with disabilities to achieve their potential as well!

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“Even though part of me is disabled, I am able” – Irene Laker


Dane Macri | Posted August 29th, 2012 | Africa

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“Even though part of me is disabled, I am able” – Irene Laker

In the early dawn of August 28th 2002, Irene Laker left her home as so many of us do to begin the day. As she walked down her neighbourhood in Pece as she had done countless times before, her life changed instantly and without warning…

The next thing she knew she awoke in a hospital bed several days later, in pain and confused.  As she scanned the room to survey her surroundings she made a horrifying discovery. The lower half of her leg was completely missing.

Irene had stepped on a landmine.

According to a national survey conducted in 2007, approximately 20 percent of people in Uganda have disabilities. However, the percentage of persons with disabilities in northern Uganda is believed to be higher due to war-related injuries and limited access to treatment or vaccinations for illnesses.

Like countless others in northern Uganda, Irene had fallen victim to the violence of the 2o year long insurgency perpetrated by the atrocious rebel group the LRA, or Lord’s Resistance Army. Not only did she lose her leg, Irene felt as though she lost her confidence and independence. Moreover, through circumstance alone she would be forced into the arduous battle of marginalization, stigmatization and lack of accessibility that is fought by so many persons with disabilities in northern Uganda. “I felt as though it was the end of me”, expresses Irene in reference to her initial feelings after losing her leg. “I became depressed. I use to be tough, proud. I was not feeling so after it happened”.

However this was not the end of Irene, it was simply a new beginning. Through her incredibly supportive family and friends, her faith and her determination Irene would continue to live her life, and live it well. “My family, friends and my church were with me since the hospital, even till now. I knew I would be ok.” Irene was fortunate enough to receive a prosthetic for her missing limb, an assistive device that is unfortunately seen as more of a privilege than a right for persons in need of such support. Although adjusting to her limited mobility was difficult, Irene refused to adjust to the societal stigmas of persons with disabilities in northern Uganda.

Irene Laker helped to from the Gulu/Amuru Landmine Survivors Group in 2003
Irene Laker helped to from the Gulu/Amuru Landmine Survivors Group in 2003

Irene Laker helped to from the Gulu/Amuru Landmine Survivors Group in 2003

In 2003 Irene, along with some close friends and fellow landmine survivors, formed the Gulu/Amuru Landmine Survivors Group which officially launched in 2005. Since this time Irene has been serving as a voice in her community for women with disabilities, tackling such as issues as gender based violence and advocating for more opportunities for women with disabilities. She currently serves as the Treasurer of the Gulu Women with Disabilities Organization.

In addition to her roles as an advocate and treasurer Irene is also a mother of two. Shortly after losing her leg Irene’s husband left. A cruel reality in northern Uganda is that it is very common for men to leave a woman if she is disabled or develops a disabling injury. When asked if she could ever think of such a case when a man has stayed with a woman who became disabled Irene paused silently, contemplated, and gave the heartbreaking answer of “I have not seen”. Despite the complete lack of involvement from her former husband, Irene’s support network is very strong and she raises her children with the help of her brother and sister. She found work as a hairstylist, a job which she loves as it allows her to be social in addition to making women look as beautiful as they feel.

Irene works as a hairstylist and loves her job. Here she is straightening the hair of one of her many valued customers.
Irene works as a hairstylist and loves her job. Here she is straightening the hair of one of her many valued customers.

Irene works as a hairstylist and loves her job. Here she is straightening the hair of one of her many valued customers.

In her personal life Irene remains very active and refuses to limit herself and her experiences on account of having one fully functioning leg. Even though part of me is disabled, I am able”.  Her favourite pastimes include playing inclusive sports such as wheelchair basketball and handball with many of her close friends at the Gulu Disabled Persons Union (GDPU). Not only that, Irene is an amazing singer! I can attest to this as I am privileged enough to hear her sing every day on my walk to the GDPU office. She has yet to take me up on my offer of touring Uganda as a ukulele/singing duo.

Given Irene’s situation it is hard to imagine how most of us would react. It could have been easy to retreat into self pity and depression, submitting to the notion that one’s fate is controlled merely by chance and circumstance. However, Irene is happily living her life in a way that she chooses and is encouraging the same for other women with disabilities. When thinking of her story of courage, self determination and freedom I believe an excerpt from the poem ‘Invictus’ by William Ernest Henley sums it up best,

“It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul”

I am honoured to know Irene, and I am honoured to call her a friend…even if she will not form a ukulele/singing troupe with me,

Until the next blog,

APWOYO MATEK (thank you) and peace

Dane

Next Blog Topic:  Basketball Jones: Changing  Perceptions Through Public Demonstrations & Sensational Crashes! (title pending)

11 Responses to ““Even though part of me is disabled, I am able” – Irene Laker”

  1. Salenska says:

    Hola Dane, keep up your excellent work.

  2. Natasha says:

    Hi Dane,

    As a new Advocacy Project intern, I am inspired by the stories you have shared and the work you are doing in Uganda. Irene is an incredible woman and I can only imagine the importance of an organization like GDPU for her and other disabled residents of Gulu. I am looking forward to hearing more as you continue your fellowship!

  3. Heather Webb says:

    What an inspiring woman and what a great entry! Such great work :)

  4. Dane Macri says:

    Why hello Ms. Orr, statistics about the number of people who have become physically disabled from landmines is unknown. It would be great if the government or a group were to determine such a figure as it would make determing services a lot easier. As far as I know the demining of landmines was taken on by an NGO called AVSI with help from the government

  5. Andrew says:

    So inspirational that not only was Irene able to overcome her situation and not only provide a model way to live without letting circumstances affect you, but also help women facing similar challenges! She seems like a selfless and awesome woman.

  6. Karin Orr says:

    I think we can all learn from Irene and her resilience. What are the efforts by the Ugandan government to demine these UXOs? Do you know how many people have been disabled as a result of these? Does GDPU’s work address this issue at all?

  7. Mallory says:

    Beautiful story, Dane. Thanks for sharing!

  8. Dane Macri says:

    Thanks Mom, love the use of your internet slang btw lol. Talk soon!

  9. Karin Macri says:

    Dane. Just read your latest blog ! OMG -you are such a talented and riveting writer!!!!!!!! I enjoyed it immensely and can’t wait for the next one. WAY TO GO -YOU ROCK!!!!!!!!!!!!!MOM

  10. Dane Macri says:

    Hug is on the way tomorrow Stephanie! 1 day service from Canada to Uganda, faster the FedEx!

  11. Stephanie says:

    Dane, give Irene a big hug for me.

    When I first lost the ability to walk, I faced everything on my own. My spouse ignored what had happened and me. I was a nonentity to him, he left my life. I had my children to raise, recovery to attend to and education to seek. If it were not for the support of my friends, I don’t know what I’d have done.

    It’s been a long road, and I am hoping that I will be well enough to return to work in October. I cannot imagine what it would be like to actually lose a leg. I am proud of Irene and what she has done with herself and her life. She is truly an inspiration to me.

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Move aside Kelly Clarkson, Women with Disabilities in Northern Uganda Really Know about Being “Stronger”!


Dane Macri | Posted August 28th, 2012 | Africa

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Move aside Kelly Clarkson, Women with Disabilities in Northern Uganda Really Know about Being “Stronger”!

“Behind every great man there is a great woman”.  Like Sir Issac Newton’s law of gravity this statement is pretty much a universal constant. Some men may disagree with this declaration but get a pretty lady to smile at them and studies prove that not only will their minds change but they will actually regress into a state of drooling buffoonery. Ok maybe the last part of the study may lack empirical evidence. However, I believe we can all say that women are pretty amazing and deserve to be appreciated.

Working on the premise that beyond great men are great women, in northern Uganda there are millions of great women. To truly do justice to the strength, beauty and incredible perseverance of these great women I would like to share a poem by poet David Mwenga,

Look at the woman,
Tired, hungry baby
Clinging to her back,
And she herself so tired
She drags her legs,
The firewood, bundled on her head,
Weighs heavily,
But still she trudges on.
Her skin, once smooth and lovely,
Is now muddied and dark
Her clothes are dusty and torn,
Her feet dirty and cracked.
The child cries.
With parched throat but gentle voice
She sings a soothing song.
She refuses to pity
Her aching, burdened back,
A back that has submitted to the hoe
For hours on end.
Neither old, nor ugly
She is gentle, tireless and brave.
When she reaches home
She fetches water from the well.
Lights the fire, prepares the food. There is more work in the fields
Till the sun sets.
Dear God! When will she rest?

Now could you imagine if the woman in this poem had a disability?  Could you imagine if she faced cultural prejudice as well as gender based abuse due to the vulnerability of having a disability? If you are able to imagine such a case you are getting an idea of what it is like to be a woman with a disability in northern Uganda.

Grace, an amazing young woman with a deformed leg due to polio. Despite the full use of her right leg Grace does an amazing job taking care of her younger cousins
Grace, an amazing young woman with a deformed leg due to polio. Despite the full use of her right leg Grace does an amazing job taking care of her younger cousins

Grace, an amazing young woman with a deformed leg due to polio. Despite the full use of her left leg Grace does an amazing job taking care of her younger cousins

Specific and common challenges

According to Adong Caroline, Local Councillor Representing Persons with Disabilities in Gulu, women with disabilities in northern Uganda face the summative challenge of gender based issues in conjunction with the discrimination and hardships of having a disability. Challenges can be specific depending on one’s disability. For instance, persons who are unable to hear have incredible difficulty overcoming communication barriers to access basic services such as education and healthcare. Reproductive health in particular for women who are unable to hear is a constant concern as healthcare professionals are unable to communicate with these women. In an interview with Human Rights Watch, Erica, an Acholi woman who is deaf, expresses how she lost one of her children during childbirth because the nurse did not communicate to her that she was going to have twins.

However some challenges are prevalent across the entire spectrum of disability for women. After 20 years of displacement and war in northern Uganda, women with disabilities, whether physical, sensory, mental or intellectual, face an even more complex and grueling process of return and relocation than their neighbors. They experience stigma and sexual violence and are often denied access to health care and justice. Poverty often results from a lack of equitable opportunity and access to services for improving one’s livelihood, such as education and employment prospects. As mentioned in my previous blog, meaningful and lasting relationships for women with disabilities are hard to come by due to discrimination and apathy. Women with a disability who give birth are often abandoned by the male counterpart and the woman is left to take care of the child by herself.

How to improve conditions for Women with Disabilities

Adong Caroline says that the way to improve the conditions for women with disabilities in northern Uganda is to improve access to communication for services in addition to improving physical structures in the community. Could you imagine not being able to access the post office, hospital, school or the bank because the physical composition of such institutions prevents your entry? Could you imagine traveling 5 kilometers via wheelchair to school on a bumpy dirty road and being forced to control your bodily functions for the entire day because an accessible toilet is not available? Such conditions serve as barriers to a group who already experiences marginalization on the basis of gender. Caroline also advocates for training in skills such as tailoring, small business and computer technology as way for women with disabilities to become empowered and overcome negative societal assumptions of one’s abilities and character based on the irrelevant criteria of having a disability.

Women with disabilities at the GDPU who have found employment through trades
Women with disabilities at the GDPU who have found employment through trades

Women with disabilities at the GDPU who have found employment through trades

In terms of strength, perseverance, adversity and marginalization I believe it is safe to say that the women of northern Uganda with disabilities are second to none. We should take a moment to appreciate them, their struggle and their humanity. May these moments lend themselves to hours and hours to recurring thoughts. The voice of these women is one that is needed to be heard, it is beautiful and inherently worthy of dignity, just like yours.

Until the next blog,

Apowyo matek and Peace,

Dane

Next Blog Topic:  “Even though part of me is disabled, I am able” – Irene Laker
 

One Response to “Move aside Kelly Clarkson, Women with Disabilities in Northern Uganda Really Know about Being “Stronger”!”

  1. Andrew says:

    Good job explaining how these women have to deal with two layers of discrimination, gender-based and disability-based. This also makes me think about how much of a difference the American Disabilities Act made in the US; before that, some of these situations were probably the reality here too!

    It’s great that GDPU helps these women bypass the discrimination and find employment and gain skills that may have been denied to them simply because of their physical disabilities.

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Understanding through Advocacy and Awareness: Crucial Steps by PWDs for Social Change


Dane Macri | Posted August 13th, 2012 | Africa

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Understanding through Advocacy and Awareness: Crucial Steps by PWDs for Social Change

Math. It’s a part of everyday life yet the simple uttering of this word can draw such a strong polarizing reaction similar to that of the New York Yankees… either you love them or you hate them. Most notably these negative feelings towards the field of mathematics are drawn from a lack of understanding which may manifest itself in fear, frustration and sometimes the pride swallowing lie of a deceased grandparent to get out an exam. Arguably the key ingredient for this volatile perception towards math is misunderstanding. How can one remedy this situation so Granny can safely come to your graduation without having to hide her from your professor? The answer lies in awareness, working through false preconceived notions of the subject matter and allowing understanding to come through the logical presentation of information.

A group of people in Northern Uganda that is often misunderstood are persons with disabilities (PWDs). This misunderstanding towards PWDs in the northern region of Uganda has exhibited itself in neglect, abuse and gross infringements of the most basic of human rights which has lead to extreme suffering and a drastically reduced quality of life.

Richard Omona advocating about persons with disabilities to Acholi elders, cultural leaders & village council members in the Pabwo region of Northern Uganda
Richard Omona advocating about persons with disabilities to Acholi elders, cultural leaders & village council members in the Pabwo region of Northern Uganda

Richard Omona advocating about persons with disabilities to Acholi elders, cultural leaders & village council members in the Pabwo region of Northern Uganda

When there is a lack of knowledge towards disabilities in Northern Uganda it is often the case that a child being born with a disability is believed to be the result of a woman doing something wrong in her life. Fathers sometimes abandon the family to rid themselves of the shame and increased responsibility of taking care of a child with a disability. The child may be forced to live far away from home in neglect and isolation due to misplaced resentment. Opportunities for educational and social development are often nonexistent. A devastating reality is that it is not entirely uncommon for the child to be fed only once a day to reduce the frequency of the child’s bowel movements as there are no adequate and accessible facilities for a person with a disability to use the washroom.

Paul, a funny and charismatic sixteen year old from St. Jude’s Orphanage for Children with Disabilities. St. Jude’s is able to provide many services for children with disabilities.
Paul, a funny and charismatic sixteen year old from St. Jude’s Orphanage for Children with Disabilities. St. Jude’s is able to provide many services for children with disabilities.

Paul, a funny and charismatic sixteen year old from St. Jude’s Orphanage for Children with Disabilities. St. Jude’s is able to provide many services for children with disabilities.

Women in particular with disabilities are having incredible difficulty forming meaningful and lasting relationships. Men sometimes do not recognize the humanity of woman with a disability and refuse to publicly acknowledge having a relationship with her. Like many people it has always been a dream of mine to have a loving wife to raise children with and grow happily old with together. Could you imagine not being able to even fathom the idea of this dream as its reality is so far gone that having hope will most likely result in unbearable disappointment? Men will often pretend to have a meaningful relationship (in secret) with a woman with a disability to simply gratify their own sexual desires. Should a child ever be conceived from this misleading relationship the man would simply run away leaving the woman with a disability to raise the child all by herself.

However, the Gulu Disabled Persons Union wants to change this and the views towards persons with disabilities in Northern Uganda. Once understanding is gained the GDPU is hopeful that social change will follow.

Advocacy and Awareness by the G.D.P.U. to increase understanding towards PWDs

The G.D.P.U. is making great strides to increase Northern Uganda’s understanding of PWDs, especially in remote regions outside of Gulu where services for PWDs and understanding of PWDs are limited. Through passionate and informed presentations tackling the myths and facts regarding disabilities perceptions are beginning to change. Richard Omona, the man who I mentioned in my very first blog, advocates for the rights of PWDs by sharing his experience of having a disability as a result of polio. His voice is able to facilitate understanding through empathy by informing people about the challenges a person with a disability routinely faces.

Acholi elders, cultural leaders & village council members of Pabwo learning about persons with disabilities.
Acholi elders, cultural leaders & village council members of Pabwo learning about persons with disabilities.

Acholi elders, cultural leaders & village council members of Pabwo learning about persons with disabilities.

 

The G.D.P.U. is strategically advocating to specific stakeholders essential for facilitating social change. Such groups include Acholi elders, cultural leaders & village council members, Parents of children with disabilities, Service providers and Learning institutions. The positive benefits of these awareness and advocacy presentations are evident through the closing remarks of Opyio Andrew, Parish Chief of the Pabwo region. After hearing the presentation by members of the GDPU Opyio made a plea to other cultural and council leaders in Pabwo to “advocate and create awareness about PWDs so that persons with disabilities can feel loved and less isolated knowing that their community cares about them”. Furthermore, he publicized that “when you are in love with a person you need to stand by them, even if they have a disability”. He concluded by saying that the presentation will help people in Pabwo to strongly consider accessibility issues when constructing homes, toilets and schools in the future.

Parish Chief Opyio Andrew telling his community of Pabwo about the importance of PWDs
Parish Chief Opyio Andrew telling his community of Pabwo about the importance of PWDs

Parish Chief Opyio Andrew telling his community of Pabwo about the importance of PWDs

On the road to social change you must first know where you are going. The GDPU is providing Northern Uganda with the directions to this road through creating understanding by awareness and advocacy. Moreover, the GDPU are empowering PWDs and giving them the opportunity to tell their story to the community.

Giving a voice to the voiceless can do amazing things

Until the next blog,

APWOYO MATEK (thank you) and peace

Dane

Next Blog Topic: To be determined shortly

(On a side note I was able to accidently provide comic relief during one of the presentation when the topic of discrimination against albinism came up. One of the Acholi elders did not know what an Albino looked like. What transpired next can only be described as wave of 30 Acholi elders’ heads turning to me in unison followed by what might be possibly the longest silence next to accidently passing wind in front of a date for the first time. I gave an awkward circular wave and said in very broken Acholi, “something like me I guess”, which was met by a roar of laughter and applause.)

8 Responses to “Understanding through Advocacy and Awareness: Crucial Steps by PWDs for Social Change”

  1. Sara says:

    Great blog Dane!

  2. Karin Orr says:

    good work

  3. Karin Orr says:

    Great stuff here Dane. I often think of the physical challenges that PWDs face but not the emotional as much, thank you for bringing that out in this blog. I think that this is also why organization’s like GDPU, AEPD (Vietnam) and BERDO (Bangladesh) are so important too. I think that good things will come of your summer there this year.

  4. Laura says:

    Thank you for the insight into the GDPU’s attempts to promote better understanding of PWDs and their situation–increasing awareness and dispelling harmful stigmas is an important part of advocacy work. The part of this blog that strikes me the most is the vulnerability and mistreatment of children with disabilities, who it seems are often neglected if not abandoned. Does the GDPU have any programs devoted to this demographic, or do they participate in any work through other organizations such as St. Jude’s?

  5. Andrew says:

    Thank you for laying out the causes and consequences of discrimination against PWDs. I didn’t know that they consider disabilities the effect of something the mother did, or anything about the nature of relationships between PWDs and those without.

    It’s great that GDPU has community advocates on its side, and now they have one more who can effectively broadcast its message internationally! Good job.

  6. meags says:

    I think that I’ve met Paul! He is an amazing kid despite his challenges. Keep up the killer work Dane-o-mite.

  7. J Macri says:

    Great article sir! Very well written

  8. Stephanie Bedford says:

    Great blog Dane. I hope that with education comes understanding and acceptance. What I faced using a walker was hard, but with society against you, well, I cannot even imagine what it would be like.

    Good luck and continued success…

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Old friends, strange looks and an amazing Acholi family: Back in Gulu Baby


Dane Macri | Posted August 10th, 2012 | Africa

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Old friends, strange looks and an amazing Acholi family: Back in Gulu Baby!

My apologies for the delay in posting my first blog since I have arrived in Uganda, the electrical power in Gulu has been as unreliable and unpredictable as Oprah’s weight.  I now offer my apologies to those reading this who may be devout Oprah fans.

However, I digress…

I have arrived in Uganda! Amidst a possible Ebola outbreak, threats from the terrorist group Al-shabaab over Olympic gatherings and an upset stomach from some questionable airplane food I am in great spirits!

I met my very good friend Alfred at the airport in Entebbe and I can only describe our reuniting together as something you see in the movies. Laughing, hugging, even a slow motion running montage to ‘chariots of fire’ (A much happier scene than the Israeli hostage situation that took place in the very same airport over 3 decades ago with Dictator Ida Amin).

Alfred, his lovely wife Alice and their hilarious son Boniface are part of my amazing Acholi family that I am staying with in Northern Uganda during my Peace Fellowship. I met Alice last year through a teacher program I was involved with and when she found out I was coming back to Gulu she welcomed me to her home like I was one of her own family. Alice is a strong and compassionate who has become my Acholi mother. To do the incredible experience of staying with this family justice I will dedicate an entire bonus blog to them in the next few weeks!

M Acholi family, Alice, Aflred & Boniface
M Acholi family, Alice, Aflred & Boniface

M Acholi family, Alice, Aflred & Boniface

It has also been great seeing many of the Acholi friends I made last year, especially from the Gulu Disabled Persons Union. The culture is extremely welcoming and receptive towards visitors.  Once you have made a friend in Gulu you have made a friend for life. What works out well for me is how polite and considerate the Acholi are. Whenever something remotely unpleasant happens you will be greeted with a sea of the most sincere condolences you will ever hear. For example, I was walking through town at night with Alfred and I fell in a trench (Night in Gulu = total darkness for foreigners). Alfred thought I disappeared like David Blane. By the time we figured out what happened every onlooker within a 30 meter radius was saying sorry to me. As a clumsy individual prone to tripping and walking into things I must say it is great to have my uncoordination praised!

However despite the consideration and warmth I am also receiving many strange looks. To show my appreciation for Alice’s hospitality I have been contributing to many of the household chores, including washing clothes, fetching water and some basic cooking. Apparently such duties are reserved for women and children. As a result I have been the subject of many furrowed eyebrows from baffled onlookers. Perhaps I can be the Rosa Parks of Gulu with respect to men getting off their butts and do something!  I was even playing a children’s game involving catching a rock with some of my little neighbours that drew much laughter as this game is only played by girls.

Click this link to open up a quick video I made of the rock game!

Rock game that Acholi girls play

Gulu Disabled Persons Union (GDPU)

I am very excited about my work with the Gulu Disabled Person. After meeting with the chairperson (Onong Simon), the coordinator (Fred) and the program officer (Ojok Patrick) with regards to the needs they are looking to have met it looks like I have my work cut out for me. To facilitate the general creation of human rights for persons with disabilities (PWDs) we are looking to build a few accessible toilets in the surrounding parts of the regions where services for PWDs are extremely limited.

Another issue the GDPU is looking to tackle is to improve the livelihood PWDs. If you have a disability in Northern Uganda equitable opportunities are hard to come by and discrimination is commonplace. As a result PWDs in Northern Uganda are often associated with being the poorest of the poor according to former Gulu M.P. Margaret Baba Diri. Through a scholarship proposal designed to give PWDs equitable educational opportunities that are usually nonexistent we are looking to break the cycle of destitution and discrimination associated with PWDs in Northern Uganda.

Other projects that I will be working on include the construction of a wheelchair accessible basketball court in the former Internally Displaced Camp (IDP) Pabbo, capacity building with elected village officials with disabilities, expression of PWDs through the artistic construction of a massive scale quilt, telling peoples stories through photography, the written word and video as well as updating ICT support.

Wheelchair basketball in Gulu has been great for improving the quality of life for PWDs. Hopefully we can do the same in Pabbo!
Wheelchair basketball in Gulu has been great for improving the quality of life for PWDs. Hopefully we can do the same in Pabbo!

Wheelchair basketball in Gulu has been great for improving the quality of life for PWDs. Hopefully we can do the same in Pabbo!

Wow! It seems that I have a lot of work to do so until the next blog,

APWOYO MATEK (thank you) and peace,

Dane

Next Blog Topic:           Understanding through Advocacy and Awareness: Crucial Steps by PWDs for Social Change

 

 

 

5 Responses to “Old friends, strange looks and an amazing Acholi family: Back in Gulu Baby”

  1. Heather Webb says:

    Hi Dane,

    I loved reading your comment about people’s reactions to your doing work traditionally done by women – something so frustrating about Nepal also! I am taking my stand to attempt to change these rigid gender roles by NOT doing any cooking or physical labor. Kidding (sort of :) ) Anyways, I like your response!

    I am also very interested to follow your blog as the rights of persons with disabilities is something I have worked in and possess an interest. Keep up the good work!

  2. Salenska says:

    Hola Dane, Gerard, Luisa and I wish you well. thanks for your postings. GBY, Salenska

  3. Mallory Minter says:

    I like Oprah…and I also really enjoyed reading your blog. Sounds like you have a great time ahead of you!

  4. Andrew says:

    Very funny as always, sounds like your fellowship will be great and very productive! Looking forward to meeting Alfred’s family in more detail, and hearing about how those plans pan out.

  5. Laura says:

    Great to hear that things are going well for you in Gulu! Looking forward to hearing more about your experiences in the culture, and especially about the projects you are working on with the GDPU.

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The Advocacy Project, the GDPU and my Expectations


Dane Macri | Posted July 23rd, 2012 | Africa

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The Advocacy Project, the GDPU and my Expectations

What exactly is the “Advocacy Project”? Aside from a potentially awesome sounding name for a rock band, the Advocacy Project (AP) is an amazing organization that helps marginalized communities to tell their story, claim their rights and produce social change. The AP is partnered with the Ugandan organization I will be working this summer, the Gulu Disabled Person’s Union [GDPU]), and aims to assist them in promoting, developing, and empowering persons with disabilities economically and socially.

The GDPU was formed to create a unified voice of people with disabilities in order for them to collectively advocate for equal opportunities and participate both in policy making and implementation of programmes that target individuals with disabilities. In order to achieve this goal the GDPU is closely working with both government and nongovernmental groups, including the Advocacy Project. All these are being done to influence provision of services to people with disabilities.

As a Fellow, I will be working to help disabled people in Gulu (whether by birth or as a result of the 25+ year war with the Lords Resistance Army) create work and gain a place in the local government. The worst of the war seems to be over, so people in Internally Displaced persons camps are moving home and starting to rebuild. However, reconstruction efforts often overlook people with disabilities, a small but eager minority group.

As previously mentioned in my earlier blog the region only has ONE functioning washroom that is accessible for persons with disabilities. That’s right, ONE!  No pun intended but it seems that meeting the basic rights of persons with disabilities (even the simple right to do one’s business) is not number 1 or 2 on the government’s priority list.  My work this summer will be to help promote and create opportunities for people with disabilities to have a say and get the support they need as they work to move home.

I have very high expectations for myself with regards to this Peace Fellowship and helping the GDPU with reaching their long term goals and creating social change. I am very motivated to play any role I can in helping the GDPU to change societal views on persons with disabilities. As an individual with a speech impediment I am familiar with false assumptions of my abilities and character attributes based on irrelevant criteria. Concrete goals I can see trying to achieve will be playing a role in the construction of more wheelchair accessible toilets in the community in addition to having village councils electing persons with disabilities to and serve as a political voice in the community for persons with disability. However, these goals and expectations may change upon an open course of effective and critical dialogue with the GDPU for meeting their needs and long term goals for social change.

What I can 100% guarantee expect to happen will be to have a wonderful experience and relationship with the people of the GDPU. I met a majority of the individuals last year through coaching and friendly conversations and I am very much looking forward to working with such a welcoming, motivated, passionate and compassionate group of people.

Dennis and I after basketball practice - 2011
Dennis and I after basketball practice - 2011

Dennis and I after basketball practice - 2011

So I invite you to come along with me and join me on this journey of serving as an advocate for persons with disabilities in northern Uganda. Read my blogs, comment, give me advice, send me chocolate if you’d like as I do think aside from missing family and friends I will miss this a lot too.

APWOYO MATEK (thank you) and peace,

Dane

5 Responses to “The Advocacy Project, the GDPU and my Expectations”

  1. Karin Macri says:

    Having viewed the video by the GDPU-seeing the strength, courage and determination of those individuals with disabilities,coupled with your own expectations and goals-I know that you\’ll affect some positive change and improve the quality of life in Gulu.Bon Chance and I hope the chocolate doesn\’t melt before you get it!

  2. Karin Macri says:

    Having viewed the video by the GDPU-seeing the strength, courage and determination of those individuals with disabilities,coupled with your own expectations and goals-I know that you’ll affect some positive change and improve the quality of life in Gulu.Bon Chance and I hope the chocolate doesn’t melt before you get it!

  3. Andrew says:

    Thanks for giving us some insight into how you are invested personally in this work. Your goals sound specific and focused, and I’m sure they will become even more so once you meet with the leaders of GDPU to discuss your game plan. Can’t wait to hear more about this once you’ve settled in a bit!

  4. Karin Orr says:

    “No pun intended but it seems that meeting the basic rights of persons with disabilities (even the simple right to do one’s business) is not number 1 or 2 on the government’s priority list.” Love it. Know you’ll have an amazing fellowship that will pave the way for serious impact in more ways than 1.

  5. Thomas says:

    You already seem to have a really good idea about what your will be trying to achieve as soon as you get out there. I hope that the people from GDPU have the same goals as you and that you will be able to start right when you get there.

    With ONE functioning washroom for persons with disabilities in the whole district there is for sure a lot of work waiting for you and I am looking forward to hear from your first experiences soon.

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Me, Serendipity and the GDPU


Dane Macri | Posted June 21st, 2012 | Africa

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Life. It’s unpredictable. It’s bewildering, befuddling and beautiful all at the same time. And if you let it, it may just guide you to your dreams, even if you’re not expecting it.

Hello, my name is Dane Macri. If you are just joining me you are coming at the start of what is to be a once in a life time experience in northern Uganda where I have been privileged enough to serve as a Peace Fellow for the organization the Gulu Disabled Persons Union (GDPU) through the NGO the Advocacy Project. For the next three months I will be working as advocate for a much marginalized community in northern Uganda, persons with disabilities. I will be working in outreach, fundraising and ICT support, telling peoples’ stories through creating profiles and videos and assisting in strategic planning with the GDPU to meet long term goals and create social change. All the while I will be sharing my experiences with you through this blog.

However, if you are going to join me electronically for this journey I feel we should start at the beginning of this story, the very beginning. The unlikely beginning of this journey started 5 years ago with a reluctant trip to the mall, a cinnabon and a little bit of fate, otherwise known as serendipity.

(The cinnabon really has nothing to do with the story, it was just too delicious not to mention)

Serendipity and the Cinnabon

Five years ago I reluctantly went on a mall- date with a girl who just wanted to ‘look around’.  This concept of looking at clothes always baffled me. If you were going to ‘just’ look at something it might as well be interesting and entertaining. Needless to say my alternative of ‘just’ looking at the basketball game was declined.

While standing around aimlessly as my lady friend perused jeans that were purposefully pre-ripped (a baffling concept to me) I came across a documentary about Uganda. Now I am not an experienced shopper by any means. In fact, I dislike going to the mall so much I usually reward myself for the unwelcomed trip with a cinnabon. However, despite my low shopping I.Q. I am aware that movies are not typically sold in clothing stores, especially movies documenting the issue of child soldiers in Uganda. This is where I believe fate stepped in.

In addition to my habitual cinnabon purchase that day I also bought a documentary about child soldiers in Uganda entitled Invisible Children: The Rough Cut. After watching it I instantly became disgusted and inspired by what I saw. I was made aware of the human rights violations occurring in Uganda and had developed a thirst for learning more about this issue. If children were being abducted by the thousands in Canada, forced to kill their own relatives and systematically conscripted through fear and traumatic abuse to become soldiers for a heinous rebel group something would be done to stop this. Why not in Uganda? I became inspired to get involved to some capacity.

This inspiration led me to northern Uganda in the summer of 2011 where I served as an instructor for the Invisible Children Teacher Exchange program, team teaching with a Ugandan teacher and focusing on critical pedagogy, student-centered methodologies and initiating an after school ultimate Frisbee club. During my stay in Gulu I met a wonderful man named Richard Omana while walking down the street. Richard literally rolled up next to me. He was in a bulky three wheeled wheelchair that looked more like a Roman chariot than the wheelchairs I have been accustom to seeing in Canada. Richard exercised his mobility in his chair by using his hands to peddle a chain similar to that of a bicycle. Richard and I had an instant connection and became great friends. He introduced me to the place which he described as ‘the only place where he could use the bathroom’. This place was the Gulu Disabled Persons Union, otherwise known as the GDPU. This place also had the only wheelchair accessible washroom for a person with a disability in the entire region. During my stay in Gulu in 2011, this was the place I felt I had been called to. On my days off from teaching I helped coach the youth wheel chair basketball league. I also met a Peace Fellow named Rebecca who told me ALL about the Advocacy Project and the wonderful work they do. And the rest they say, is history.

Richard and I after he made me a traditional Ugandan shirt. Richard makes a living through being an excellent tailor
Richard and I after he made me a traditional Ugandan shirt. Richard makes a living through being an excellent tailor

Can you believe I wanted to watch basketball that day instead of going to the mall?!

APWOYO MATEK (thank you) and peace,

Dane

 

Next Blog Topic: The Advocacy Project, the GDPU and my Expectations

 

13 Responses to “Me, Serendipity and the GDPU”

  1. Gerard says:

    Hope all is well and see you soon.
    From Luisa, Salenska, and Gerard.

  2. Heather Webb says:

    Such a captivating blog entry! Serendipity, indeed, glad GULU has you on their team this summer!

  3. Dane Macri says:

    Thanks Jason I really appreciate the feedback!

  4. Jason says:

    This is an inspiring piece of work Dane! I really enjoy the emphasis in the story. It is likely to be inspired by something in life, but this taught me that inspiration can really change your life & how you view things. In the end, this article really pulls in the reader as soon as you dive in and read it from the beginning to the end.

  5. Sue says:

    Dane, i am standing with you from afar.

  6. Oluwatooni Akanni says:

    Dane, I really enjoyed reading your blog! You had me from your title. This is a great introduction to the work you’ll be doing in Gulu.

  7. Jesse Cottrell says:

    Dig the story. The wheelchairs I see out here in Vietnam are also bulky, often made of rusted scrap metal.

    Excited to hear what comes next and whether or not you can secure a position as a regional rep for Cinnabon in Uganda.

  8. Peter says:

    Dane, we’re all pretty happy that you went to the mall instead of watching the basketball game! I hope that you can really make a difference. Hope the washrooms go well!

  9. iain says:

    Welcome aboard, Dane. If this first one is anything to go by, your blogs will be a delight to read. I wish ripped jeans and Cinnabon had changed my life for the better!

  10. Karin Orr says:

    Well Dane, seeing as you incorporated basketball in Uganda, looks like in the end you have the best of both worlds. Great blog. We’re so excited for your fellowship and believe in your ability to make accessible facilities.

  11. Thomas says:

    Hi Dane,

    is the video “Invisible Children” related to the “Invisible Children Inc.” and the “Knoy 2012″? I know that the Kony Video got really big here in the US, do you know if people in Uganda heard about it? Did it have any affect on the people working for GULU and the child soldiers??

  12. Alicia says:

    Who knew ‘just looking’ at clothes could be so inspiring? What a great story, a true act of fate! The GDPU sounds absolutely wonderful, and I am really looking forward to learning more about them. Safe travels, and enjoy yourself!

  13. Andrew says:

    Great blog Dane! Funny, interesting, and engaging. It really does seem like fate has led you to this fellowship! Keep up the good work, I’m looking forward to hearing more about your work with GDPU.

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Fellow: Dane Macri

Gulu Disabled Persons Union


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