John Steies

John Steies (Gulu Disabled Persons Union – GDPU): John received his Bachelor’s degree in political science and economics from Minnesota State University. At the time of his fellowship John was pursuing a Master’s of Public Policy degree at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs where he also served as president of the student group Dialogues in International Security and Peace (DISP). After his fellowship, John wrote: "I can’t speak enough about the power of people from different backgrounds, and those thousands and thousands of miles away from one another, coming together to collaborate on such a wonderful and worthwhile cause."

A ‘Straight Talk’ with people with disabilities

12 Jun

People with disabilities from Gulu and nearby sub-counties gather to learn more about safe sex and HIV/AIDS prevention


Yesterday was a pretty remarkable day here at the GDPU. Our facility hosted a Ugandan Civil Society Organization, Straight Talk, to come and speak exclusively to people with disabilities from Gulu and four surrounding sub-counties about safe sexual practices and awareness regarding HIV/AIDS and how to prevent its spread. The day would then culminate in free HIV tests for whoever was interested in participating.  While U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced just Monday that the Millennium Development Goal of reversing the spread of AIDS by 2015 will be reached, Uganda and other nearby nations are bucking that trend and instead, cases are increasing. In Uganda’s case, HIV infections are on the rise with cases moving from 6.4 to 7.3% from 2005 to 2012 (Uganda AIDS Indicator Survey).

Attendants fill out registration forms for HIV testing

People with disabilities are especially susceptible to the various sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS as they have often been targets for sexual violence. In addition, those with hearing or visual impairment have difficulty finding information on these topics that is accommodating to their disability. In addressing this problem, a sign language translator was present throughout the discussions. Furthermore, there is a misconception among some that people who are disabled cannot contract HIV and that if contracted, antiretroviral drugs will simply control the infection anyway. This discussion was helpful to dispel these erroneous notions.

Billy Chris and I
I met a young man with quite possibly the biggest smile of anyone in attendance who was interested in speaking with me about the day. Billy Chris had attended HIV educations sessions in the past but explained it was always good to, “refresh” your information on such important topics. Billy was paralyzed around the age of 8 when he was given a shot for malaria that was not properly diluted or administered. This is still a problem today in Uganda and is seen as the ‘new’ Polio here. The story is more tragic however as Billy was likely misdiagnosed with malaria after being poisoned by his step mother. Billy explains that men inherit property from their fathers in Uganda and his step mother was worried that nothing would be provided to the two daughters she shared with Billy’s father. Billy cites his birth mother as a source of support through his difficult transition to life with disability. He now describes himself as a born-again Christian which has led to increased interest in HIV/AIDS prevention. Billy loves to talk to people and he has a passion for sharing his story and proving that you can overcome. Stating simply, “love others, and there will be no hurt”, Billy certainly exemplifies the spirit of people with disabilities here.

Free HIV testing is provided at the conclusion of the discussion

After my enlightening conversation with Billy, I observed the HIV tests that were being administered to those who wanted them. These tests were provided for free by a joint presence of the Uganda Aids Information Center and Uganda Peoples Defense Forces (the Ugandan military) even providing a free Pepsi if you were tested which to me is quite the consolation for getting blood drawn! It’s clear that yesterday was a success and important information was provided to people with disabilities regarding critically important issues. The GDPU has provided another wonderful service to those disabled in the community and it is just another small step for this marginalized group of people to be ushered into a new era of acceptance in Uganda.

Posted By John Steies

Posted Jun 12th, 2013

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