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Trip To Mbale Uganda Proves Disability Is Not Inability

  • Synopsis: Published: 2017-07-31 - Story of a Welsh woman with disabilities who travelled to Uganda to find out how disabled people there are creating their own income. For further information pertaining to this article contact: Purple Shoots at purpleshoots.org.

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"I was in a very dark place after the relationship ended and I needed something to help rebuild my confidence again."

Meeting the people of Mbale in Uganda has changed Swansea woman Sarah Evans' life.

For any amputee who uses a wheelchair, getting around in the African country is a huge challenge.

The terrain is difficult. In the towns, there are uneven pavements - or no pavements.

There are huge gutters or kerbs to negotiate, steep steps, and in the rural areas which Sarah's group visited, the ground is dirt tracks or grass.

Sarah is helped up a hill on a dirt road by Cwmbale Nature Reserve wardens David Werikhe and Gabriel Alenyo.
Sarah is helped up a hill on a dirt road by Cwmbale Nature Reserve wardens David Werikhe and Gabriel Alenyo.

For someone with epilepsy, neurofibromatosis, osteoporosis, and arthritis, as single amputee Sarah has, the situation could have been all-the-more difficult.

Yet, that didn't deter Sarah.

After a difficult relationship split in 2011, Sarah, who is in her thirties, came to Swansea Vale (part of Swansea Social Services) as a volunteer.

She said: "I was in a very dark place after the relationship ended and I needed something to help rebuild my confidence again."

After following some community based courses in art and craft, she began volunteering for Swansea Vale Resource Centre and then joined a group supported by them.

Sarah meeting members of the self-reliant group in Mbale who banded together because of their disabilities.
Sarah meeting members of the self-reliant group in Mbale who banded together because of their disabilities.

Swansea Vale had to withdraw its support, but the group members wanted to continue.

So, they became involved with microfinance charity Purple Shoots and became one of their self-reliant groups.

It became entirely self-sustaining, operating a savings fund between the members and making handicrafts which they sell at craft markets. It is now called Crafty Buddies.

When the opportunity arose for Sarah to join a trip to Uganda, she seized it enthusiastically.

There were numerous people who told her that she wouldn't manage there, that she would become ill. Sarah was determined to try.

Her mum Rita came too, partly to help her but also as a member of the self-reliant group herself and to share in the experience.

It was a long journey to get there, with changes of flights and long waits for wheelchair assistance onto aircraft. When Sarah arrived in Uganda, the adventure began.

The difficult terrain was an immediate challenge.

In the worst places, Sarah used her artificial leg. In most communities when the group arrived, however, she was overwhelmed with the welcome she received and there was no shortage of enthusiastic helpers to get her where she needed to be.

The people did not seem to see her as "disabled". They saw her someone who had taken the trouble to travel thousands of miles just to meet them. They wanted to know all about her and to learn from her.

Sarah meeting women in Mbale whose crafts are helping to create their income.
Sarah meeting women in Mbale whose crafts are helping to create their income.

Sarah said: "This has been a life-changing opportunity for me. To see the way that self-sufficient groups there overcome so many difficulties and just get on with their lives. While we were there we had the opportunity to share skills and learn from each other."

Since coming home, Sarah has been actively working to support the people she met in Uganda.

The team met one group of people with disabilities who were a self-reliant group just like Sarah's in Swansea. Through the group, they are making a living together.

They are running a small business making heavy duty bags and tarpaulins.

They have contracts with international companies and people seek them out because they are good at what they do.

The business earns them a living and they pay themselves equally.

The group members support each other and succeed against all sorts of odds -- such as a building riddled with termites, machinery which is unusable because it needs parts they don't have, insufficient stock and poor equipment for themselves (broom handles for crutches, no wheelchairs).

Sarah has already gathered wheelchairs, crutches, and other equipment to send out to Uganda and is working with others in the team who went out there to try to find companies willing to solve the termite problem and repair the machinery.

She is also working with the group from Wales who visited to import products made by the Ugandan groups and sell them here alongside her own group's products. The aim is to help them towards independence and a steady income.

Sarah's confidence has been boosted by the trip. She said: "I am definitely going back!"

As one of the Ugandans said to the group, "disability is not inability". Sarah is proof of that.



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