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."

Telling Their Story: Okello Charles

19 Jun

Okello Charles and I outside his home

Last week at the GDPU offices I met an inspiring young man named Okello Charles. Okello has been deaf since birth and has also suffered from Polio his entire life which causes him to use the aid of a crutch to get around. When I first was introduced to Okello Charles in the GDPU offices, he was genuinely excited to make a new friend from abroad as he was also friends with last years Peace Fellow, Dane. In sign language, he explained to me how he learned his craft of carpentry with the help of the GDPU. A large group of the deaf population in Gulu and nearby counties come to the GDPU offices to socialize and often times have meals and prayer. The church near the GDPU grounds is the only one in town that offers a service in sign language so it is somewhat of a refuge for the deaf community in this regard.

The space where Okello keeps his lumber and some supplies

So how did the GDPU go about assisting Okello? As he frequented the GDPU offices as a place to socialize, Okello became aware of a new program called the Livelihood Project which was active from 2009 to 2012. This program was run by the GDPU in Gulu which received funding from the National Union of Disabled Persons of Uganda. The aim of this program was to connect people with disabilities in the community to training which would see them learn a skill such as carpentry or mechanics that they then could make an income from. Okello happened to be interested in carpentry and was thus paired with a carpenter as an apprentice for six months where he learned the trade. At the conclusion of his apprenticeship, Okello was provided with some basic tools to get started with.

Okello proudly shows off his tools stored in his home

As we toured his work space, it was clear that Okello was incredibly proud of the skill he has learned and the items that he has produced. Recently, his home was broken into and a number of his tools were stolen. He suspects that he was targeted because of his disability. Okello has contacted local police and hopes that they will take action in the case.

Okello Charles showing us his craft

Possibly the coolest thing about this particular story is how it comes full circle. As I mentioned, Okello struck up a friendship with last years Peace Fellow Dane Macri. Dane and the GDPU were able to contract Okello to make 20 handicap accessible toilet seats that could be placed over already established toilets. The toilet seats were then distributed by the GDPU to people with disabilities in the community for their use. I look forward to future interactions with Okello Charles and hope to arrange for more toilet seats to be crafted by him for people with disabilities here in Gulu.







Posted By John Steies

Posted Jun 19th, 2013

Enter your Comment


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *