Godfrey’s Story – Overcoming the Challenges of a Physical Disability in Kyenjojo, Western Uganda
“I dropped out of school because I am lame!” - Rubalema Godfrey, Kyenjojo district
By Harriet Akullu and Tusiime T. Samuel
KYENJOJO, 16 June, 2012. Godfrey Rubalema, 15, is a child that knows about disability. He knows the challenges a disability can present, including the stigma it carries within a family and a community, but each day, he is learning how to overcome these challenges.
Born into a polygamous family in Western Uganda, Godfrey developed an abscess above the left knee on the lateral side at age four. His condition worsened when a person without medical training used a hot, sharp object to incise the abscess, which led to post-trauma paralysis of the entire limb.
Orphaned at a young age
Godfrey is an orphan – when his parents died, he became homeless, and most of his extended family members were unwilling to take care of him because he had a disability. Eventually his step sister Byamugisha Nduhukire Kellen offered to foster him alongside the three other orphans under her care.
When he enrolled for his primary education at Bwera primary school, his guardian and other older siblings carried him to classes. But as he gained weight with age, he became too heavy to carry, and he could not regularly attend classes.
Godfrey eventually learned to walk with the aid of a stick, but this effort became too cumbersome due to the long distance he had to travel, so he dropped out of school altogether.
With the provision of a tricycle, new hope
Godfrey’s plight was brought to the attention of the district and local leaders, who recommended that a wheelchair be provided to enable him to continue with school. He was given a tricycle, and his only challenge was to overcome the stigma he suffered from his peers and some of the community members.
Today, Godfrey mostly worries about repairing his tricycle should it break down.
In Uganda, children with disabilities like Godfrey face daily stigma from families and communities, and still have little in the way of comprehensive services in their villages and schools.
With support from UNICEF and other partners in the district, Kyenjojo plans to conduct a district-wide assessment of children with disabilities in order to facilitate better planning and limit sporadic responses.