Early this week, I interacted with a one Fred Katumba, a resident of Kajjansi in Entebbe Municipality. Katumba is 48 years old and suffers from Pectus carinatum also known as pigeon chest. Pectus carinatum is a rare chest wall deformity that causes the breastbone to push outward instead of being flush against the chest (Medical News today). Due to this condition, Katumba’s legs were also deformed and he now walks with the aid of crutches.
Katumba works as a shoe cobbler, a skill he acquired after attending Kajjansi Vocational School some time back. With this skill, Katumba says he can earn 10,000 or 15,000 shillings on a good day and then nothing at all on a bad day.
After a long day’s work, Katumba crosses the busy Kampala Entebbe road to go back to his home. For him, home is a one room house behind a row of shops in Kajjansi. Here he pays, 70,000 shillings a month to have a room over his head and a bed to sleep in.
In our conversation, Katumba notes that he was raised by his grandmother in Nakasongola after his parents passed away during the Luweero insurgency. Because his grandmother was poor, she could not afford to take him to medical centres for treatment but only used local herbs. Katumba further notes the he never went to school to gain any form of education and instead remained at home. It was only luck that brought Katende together with a district official from Nakasongola who took note of his plight and processed for him some documents that helped him to be accepted into Kajjansi Vocational Institute where he trained to become a shoe cobbler.
Katumba with sadness in his eyes observes that he does not earn a lot from his job and he sometimes goes to bed on any empty stomach. His wife left him because she could not continue leaving in abject poverty. He was forced to take his two sons to stay in the village with their elderly grandmother because he could not take care of them himself. To make matters worse, he leaves under the constant fear of eviction by his landlord for failure to pay rent arrears going back four months.
What bothers Katumba the most is failure by district officials in Wakiso to take care of people living with disabilities. He notes that many times, they have been called for seminars and workshops on sensitisation for PWDs but they are never given the funds that they are promised to improve on their conditions of living. As a result, many of them have now given up on government and have instead turned to scrunching for a living any way they can. Many PWDs have been reduced to begging on streets in addition to doing other odd jobs so as to make ends meet while a lucky few get employed.
To some extent, people living with disabilities have been catered for by government in the same way it has done for other marginalised groups through their representation in the national assembly in addition to other areas of leadership at the district and village level. However unlike the elderly persons who have been offered the Social Assistance Grants for Empowerment (SAGE) and the youth lively hood program (YLP) for the youth, the PWDs have been offered nothing.
Multiple calls which have been made to government to start up a separate fund for PWDs to enable them have access to funds so as to look after themselves since their chances of access to gainful employment are limited have still gone unanswered. According to the 2014 National Population Census, persons with disability constitute 12,4% of the country’s population. Access to services like education, health care and employment for people with disabilities still remains a challenge. In addition, the unavailability of assistive devices such as wheel chairs, hearing aids and other auxiliary support tools to enable PWDs to live dignified lives continue to impede their access to the various services offered by government.
With the continued dismal funding to people living with disabilities in Uganda, many of them will continue to wallow in poverty and government’s efforts of lifting Ugandans out of poverty will remain but a myth.
Joyce Nakato is a Reporter at SparkTV Uganda.