“For the success of persons with disabilities at least every school should be having ramps and an accessible toilet”
– Adokorach Jennifer
Jennifer’s story of her time in school is not unique. It is a story she shares with the majority of persons with disabilities (PWDs) in Northern Uganda. When Jennifer finished primary seven she was admitted to Sacred Heart Secondary School, an all-girls public school within Gulu. She was admitted, however, without the schools knowledge of her physical disability. At the time Jennifer was using a wheelchair. To access buildings and classrooms, students had to help lift her wheelchair. Using the same pit latrine as other students posed additional difficulties to access, as she would have get down from her wheelchair to use the latrine used by her classmates. According to Jennifer, “some people don’t know how to use the toilet properly and there is waste on the ground. It is terrible.” These daily routines proved challenging, but she didn’t see any alternative and was committed to her education.
Administration at the school saw Jennifer as a burden. At the end of the term they wrote a letter to Jennifer’s guardian, her sister, asking that Jennifer not return to the school because it was not accessible.
Jennifer’s sister instead decided to seek out human rights organizations and the Gulu Disabled Persons’ Union. With the pressure of these organization the school reluctantly made small modifications such as ramps to the classrooms and an accessible toilet. However, after the completion of these project, the negative attitudes of the school administration and students towards her made going to school almost unbearable. Now no one would assist Jennifer in moving around the school and teasing increased.
The majority of PWD’s drop-out of school. According to Jennifer, issues of accessibility, cost, low self-esteem, and teasing are the major reasons. Jennifer, however, persevered and graduated from Uganda’s top university, Makerere University, last year. Jennifer is now a small business owner and board member of Gulu Women with Disabilities Union.
I learned about Jennifer’s story through discussions with Simon, GDPU chairman, and Patrick, Project Coordinator, as we discussed our long-term water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) plan. On Thursday, I was able to interview her while she attended a meeting at GDPU. While originally our WASH plan focused widely on public buildings, GDPU and Advocacy Project have decided to narrow our future projects on providing accessible WASH facilities and services on schools in the district. It is stories like Jennifer that solidify this decision.
Donate here to help end the discrimination of children with disabilities in the provision of water, sanitation, and hygiene services in schools in the Gulu District. Simply write GDPU in the comment space.
Posted By Kathryn Dutile (Uganda)
Posted Aug 3rd, 2014