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Soapbox Stories: Karambi Group of People with Disabilities

In Western Uganda, a Lush Spring Prize 2019 shortlisted group is addressing isolation and discrimination in the local community

The Karambi Group of People with Disabilities, formed in 1995 by people with disabilities, is promoting basic human rights for their members and the wider community, and giving people the skills for economic empowerment. To do this, they are giving people sustainable agriculture skills, and developing permaculture gardens.

Soapbox went to visit the Karambi Group of People with Disabilities and see the permaculture gardens. We asked some of its members to tell us how Karambi has empowered them.

Here is their story, in their own words.

Muhindo Josephat, Executive Director of Karambi Group of People with Disabilities

I have a physical disability, and before we established the Karambi Group of People with Disabilities, and before people learned about people with disabilities, they would laugh at us. People following you, laughing, laughing, laughing. But after people learned about us, then they no longer laughed at us. Now they come to us to ask for advice and get information - it makes us feel pride.

First of all, it has empowered me by giving me fame. When I walk around, people say, “Hello, hello Executive Director!” so everybody respects me in that way.

And there are also the skills that we are giving to people. We have managed to give those skills to school children, and to other community members. I have developed skills in talking before a lot of people - a hundred people, or a thousand people - I talk with no fear.

In my home, I’m now able to do permaculture gardening - planting bananas, planting cassava, planting coffee - those skills are all from the Karambi group. It has improved me economically, administratively, and for being famous around the community!

Some of the parents here lock children [with disabilities] in their houses, then go away and leave them there. So I advocate that every parent who has a child with disabilities should bring that child before people, so that every person knows that in this household, is our friend, this person with a disability. Where possible, the young people with disabilities should go to school, then after joining school they will be able to advocate for other disabled people. Because if they keep hiding them in houses then they will not be known, they will not go to school, and they will not be able to advocate for themselves.

If you are a person with disabilities, you should not neglect yourself. People with disabilities can perform. Disability is not inability, we can work even harder than able-bodied people. When we teach other people, and when they see how we are working, they say, “Bravo.”

Asaba Anatosi
Muhindo Josephat

Asaba Anatosi, a member of Karambi and local government representative

Karambi has assisted me in various activities like the one we are doing here [gardening in the permaculture site], training, making candles, and many other activities that can make somebody have a change in his or her life.

I was elected leader to represent people with disabilities in the council, and to advocate for the rights of people with disabilities, to see that people with disabilities also get the same rights as other people. When you go to the council and you say you want to handle issues of people with disabilities alone, they don’t think that’s very good, so this is what you do: you advocate for people with disabilities and also other community members, because we are also included in the community.

Our role is to see that there is a positive change in the lives of people with disabilities. Then also to see that people with disabilities can get access to education, healthcare, and also access to government programmes.

I have learnt how to plant onions, tomatoes, and other things, things that can assist me at home too. I know when I do those activities, something good will come from it. Joining this group has taught me many things.

When people walk past they say, ‘Ah! These people are doing well!” People are no longer saying, “What can these people do?” People used to doubt, and they could not believe that we can do all this. So now they have stopped ignoring these people.

We say, “Don’t fish for me. Instead, you teach me how to fish.”

Jackson Bigasaki, caretaker at the permaculture demonstration garden in Bikunya

I joined the Karambi Group of People with Disabilities, and I planted vegetables for two months, then very soon afterwards I earned money. I am now interacting with my fellow people with disabilities. Since I joined Karambi, I feel like everything is going well, because I am interacting with other people, and getting new knowledge. We share our experiences, that’s why you can see there’s a lot of improvement within the garden here. I also now have my own garden at my home, and my wife will go to pick peanuts or whatever is planted there, and we can have a meal that very night.

Fabis Sahan, a beneficiary of Karambi who cares for her daughter with disabilities

Karambi has empowered her to take up permaculture gardening at her home. She spoke to us in the local Rwenzori language, which a member of Karambi translated.

Karambi has empowered me to be able to do kitchen gardening using permaculture skills and I am now able to feed my children on a balanced diet. Before I joined Karambi, I would fear how to feed the children, and I would leave them without food, because food was scarce. But now after gaining skills in permaculture, I am able to sustainably feed the children.

Karambi has given me the skills to produce food to feed the children and myself on a balanced diet, and I can sell some to get an income. I have a group that normally goes to the market to do business - selling eggplants, tomatoes, onions.

When the children’s father passed on, the challenge was food. But after getting the skills in sustainable agriculture I am now able to feed the children. And if I am empowered more and more, I will be able to do more agriculture and then sell part of the crops to pay for school fees and buy scholastic materials for the children. I have also been able to empower the children to learn the skills too.

My daughter, Eunice, likes good food, she likes to sleep somewhere that is clean, and she likes to be loved. And she loves education.

I am proud that I am now able to feed the children, and that I’m receiving visitors on this land to find out what I’m doing in permaculture. I don’t have the fear of what I will eat. I can go to the garden and pick something and prepare it for the children.

I have many children, and so I need to increase the gardens, but the problem is access to water, which I need so I can irrigate the gardens.

Karambi is so important, because they saw that people with disabilities are facing many challenges in the community because of their situations. They realised there are women who are looking after children with disabilities who are facing challenges, so they are bringing all those people together, empowering them, and giving them skills so that they can look after their children with disabilities. They are empowering those people with disabilities so they can transform the community.

The Karambi Group of People with Disabilities has received funding from the SLush Fund, which has now become the Re:Fund, Lush’s fund for regeneration projects around the world.

Find out more about the Karambi Group of People with Disabilities on their Facebook page.

Photos clockwise from top: Jackson Bigasaki, Muhindo Josephat, Asaba Anatosi.

Comment (1)
1 Comment

Candi Eldridge

about 1 year ago

I love this!