Posting by an Ugandan Friend: Prossy Nanyunja

<-- Prossy on the left. She inspired me in many, many ways!
I am Nanyunja Prossy by names and I work with National Union of Disabled Persons of Uganda (NUDIPU) as an Accounts Assistant. I am a person with a physical disability who has gone through all the stages from primary, secondary and higher institutions of learning. I got this disability at the age of three, my mum told me it was one afternoon when I got a high fever, was rushed to the hospital and given an injection immediately. In a few hours the fever had cleared but the legs became very weak, since then, I’ve lived to be a person with a disability for 28 years now.

So this story is all about the challenges I have encountered as a person with disability right from the age of three (3) when I was a child and the opportunities I got on the way to where I am now. But the challenges seem not to stop or reduce because at each stage of life, they become totally different and the fact that I am to remain with the disability for as long as I am alive, I have come to terms with whatever happens anytime.

As I was growing up, my mum did her best to see me go to school. I did my primary level for seven years after which I had to go to another school for the ordinary level. That is where my problems of being a person with disability started. First, my real father disagreed with my mum, telling her that she shouldn’t bother herself with me because after all, no employer would ever give a job to a person like me even if I studied hard. He then advised her to take me to a vocational school to learn tailoring. My mum cried over it but later decided to continue with her struggle of educating me with the little earnings she would get. By then they had even separated and she was working in one of the big markets in the city centre selling green vegetables.

To my own and my mum’s disappointment, I was again denied admission in two boarding schools and the denial was attached with a reason that being a person with disability, she will not be able to cope with the school environment and that they didn’t have special facilities for such people. This is the time when I started realizing so seriously that I was different from other people, because in my former school where I did my primary, we were all disabled children, so I didn’t see myself any different from others and I believed I had the potential to do what they could do. People always say that persons with disabilities are different because they are not physically able. But what is able? Because for sure they know able within a culture and not within a person. Surprising! So I ended up joining a day school, which made my attendance of classes irregular because I had to walk four (4) kilometers everyday from home to school. And whenever it rained in the mornings, to me it would mean not going to school. The school buildings were all multi-storied, so I always reached my class tired because going up the stair cases everyday was not anywhere near my adventure. I studied there for one year and later joined a boarding school.

I persevered and managed to complete my secondary levels, but with a lot of psychological torture because of the negative attitude that surrounded me from all sides. First from the school administrators, fellow schoolmates, relatives at home and the community. At home, as a child who was growing up, I was seen as an extra economic burden. I needed crutches and calipers to enable me cope with my physical limitations, and they were very expensive. My siblings were also against me because our mum always protected me from doing any chores at home. They could not be taken to boarding schools, it always had to be me just because of my disability.

I then finished both my ordinary and advanced levels and then looked forward to joining a higher institution of learning where graduated with a Diploma in business studies. After getting my diploma, everyone started doubting whether I would be able to get a job. I remember a friend of my mum telling her that, ‘nowadays employers, especially men want to first sleep with these young girls after which give them jobs. But there is no man in his right thinking capacity, who can sleep with a person with disability’. She even asked her why she bothered to waste her time and money to take me to school. It really demoralized me because I was listening to their conversation, and the fact that they were talking about me, made me listen attentively. Unfortunately I couldn’t even respond to their conversation to defend myself.

As I was looking for any possible employment opportunity to come my way, I used to do handwork where I use to weave mats, table mats and table clothes from which I got money to facilitate me with transport and making photocopies of my academic transcripts so I could leave copies to wherever I went to look for a job. Fortunately, I got a job after two years of serious searching. I got to know of a job advertisement in NUDIPU through a person I studied with in primary school and that I had the qualifications required for the job. So I decided to put in my application, was shortlisted, did the interview and passed. I did the interview with four people, two of them were persons with disabilities and the other two were not. I came first and took up the position. It is now six years down the road and I am still working there happily. Getting a job was my turning point because it came as a surprise to everyone as many people didn’t expect to see it happen.

But that was not the end of my problems brought about by disability. Now they started looking at me as someone who was overgrowing and should find a man just to help me get a child who will look after me in my old age, ‘after all, she has a job and getting enough money that she can use to look after her child even if the father of the child doesn’t take up full responsibility’. Even up to now, am being told that crap, can you imagine even by my own mother. It really bothers me a lot when it also comes from my mother because I always saw her as a person who knew and believed that I had the potential to do and achieve whatever I wanted to do without the word disability being fronted.

Being a woman with a disability is a very big challenge here in my country. You are not expected to get married because no man will be willing to genuinely fall in love with you because of the fear of being seen with a cripple. And you are always expected to give in to any proposal of whoever comes to you because he would just be helping you to sleep with him. I remember in the year 2007, there is a man who proposed to me for more than seven months, and I remember asking him why he was insisting on me when I had already told him that I was not willing to start a relationship with him. It still sounds fresh in my ears as if it were of yesterday when that man replied me saying that because ‘YOU ARE NEGLECTED’. Neglected meaning that no man can, and has ever or will ever love me. So he was just going to help me. Awful, not so? I hated myself for that.

Most times I try to put everything behind me so that I continue with my life minus what people say about me, but sometimes I lose out and end up being weak and emotionally touched. It really works me up when walking down the street and people start looking at me in a strange and inhuman way after which they start talking about you, not even minding about what you feel with their comments regarding your disability. Living with a disability is a big challenge that I wouldn’t wish even my worst enemy to become disabled.

To me, the worst challenge as regards living with a disability is having to depend on other people financially. Once you are very poor and not having any income generating activity to rely on, can really complicate the life of a Pwd (persons with disabilities) completely. You are looked at differently when you are a Pwd with money as compared to another Pwd who is in absolute poverty. Personally, I am not rich but at least what I get makes me able to cater for most of my needs. And the way my siblings and other relatives look at me now is totally different from the picture they had of me ten years back. I can even support our mother financially, which some of them cannot do.

And working with NUDIPU has helped me a lot to build my self esteem and to look at things and myself positively. First, because some of my workmates are Pwds, and secondly NUDIPU being a membership organization, all it’s membership is comprised of Disabled people’s organizations with different categories of disabilities. Looking at all these people in their different capacities, how they have struggled with life to sustain their families makes me proud of myself because most of them didn’t even attain the education that I got.

With my earnings I’ve even managed to sponsor myself and go back for further studies to supplement on the Diploma that I’ve always had. I am now pursuing a degree in Business Administration majoring in Accounts and I am yet to complete in May month this year (thus, becoming a full accountant). I am also paying fees to one of my sibling who is now in secondary school and always supporting my relatives financially where possible.
Prossy Nanyunja