For the past few months, we have decided to conduct some basic research on microfinance programs for individuals with disabilities in the East Africa Region. This region consists of Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, South Sudan and Burundi. Throughout our simple Google searches, we found that there are very few microfinance programs available for individuals with either physical or intellectual disabilities. The majority of the information we found was from two Ugandan organizations and IMPACT, the international alliance that Mosaic is a member of and works through.
We were intrigued by the information that was available from the Ugandan organizations and sent a couple of emails inquiring about their services and programs. We did not get a response before we left for Uganda, so we decided that we would try our luck and just stop by the organizations to see if we could learn anything. We set a day in our schedule to travel to Kampala, the capitol of Uganda where both organizations that we wanted to visit were located.
We met a supermarket store owner who was incredibly helpful. We had been to his store a couple of times to purchase water and asked him if he knew where we could get a cab to Kampala. Basically, for no reason besides the kindness of his heart, he called a friend with a car and arranged for him to meet us. The supermarket owner helped us haggle with the cab driver and we were able to use him for the entire day as our person cab driver.
Also, as we were leaving the zoo (where we were staying) to haggle with the cab driver, we saw a child with intellectual disabilities in a very nice stroller with a western woman and a Ugandan woman. We don’t often see children with disabilities in the community in Tanzania, and we were curious to know if there were services for children with disabilities in Uganda, so we decided to start a conversation with the women. Through them, we learned that there are virtually no services for individuals with intellectual disabilities in Kampala.
The western woman was adopting the child from an orphanage and the Ugandan woman was the hired caregiver for the duration of the adoption process. The child was found several years ago in an abandoned home and taken to the orphanage for housing. The orphanage did not know how to properly serve the child, so they put him up for international adoption. Also, the Ugandan woman has a brother with physical disabilities who is the director of an organization that serves individuals with disabilities in Kampala, so we called him to schedule a meeting.
Suddenly, we had a full day planned to meet with various organizations! We were very excited at the possibility to learn about services for individuals with disabilities in another East African country. We weren’t sure how the timing would work and two of our meetings were not scheduled, but we still thought it would be an interesting day.
Our first meeting was with The Association of Microfinance Institutions of Uganda (AMFIU). We were not entirely sure what they did, but they had many documents on the internet about microfinance for individuals with disabilities in Uganda. We found their location and walked in to see if anyone could talk with us about their services. Just by chance, the director of the program for individuals with disabilities had recently returned from vacation and was available to meet with us!
We learned that their program is an umbrella organization that advocates for inclusion of individuals with disabilities in microfinance institutions and banks. It was a very valuable meeting and we left with probably 8-10 documents that the woman had written about the inclusion of individuals with disabilities in microfinance institutions. She also called a contact she had at the other organization we wanted to meet with and scheduled a meeting for us!
We finished the first meeting in time to meet with the brother of the Ugandan woman who we met at the zoo, Karim. We met Karim and his coworkers at their small office just outside of Kampala. Below is a photo of us with the staff members. We learned that very few services for individuals with disabilities exist in Uganda. His organization works with microfinance institutions to track loans for individuals with disabilities. They also provide vocational training for children with disabilities after school and they provided opportunities for the children to participate in sporting events.
We also learned that wheelchairs are only available through government hospitals in Uganda. Karim (in the lower right hand side of the photo) said there was a very long waiting list and that neither he nor another individual working for the organization who needed a wheelchair had access to one. Per their request, we gave them some information on developing a website and obtaining a long-term international volunteer. It was inspiring to see the hope and desire that this young organization had despite the difficulty obtaining assistance from the national government or other non-governmental organizations.
Our next meeting was with The National Union of Disabled Persons of Uganda (NUDIPU), a national advocacy group for non-governmental organizations serving individuals with disabilities. We learned about some of their projects and about advocacy efforts with the Ugandan government. We also learned about successes and difficulties they have experienced by working for the inclusion of individuals with disabilities in microfinance institutions in Uganda. It was wonderful to hear about their work, but again, we found that there are very few services for individuals with intellectual disabilities.
Our final stop in Kampala was at Bead for Life, an organization that teaches women how to make paper bead jewelry. The program has served over 500 women in Uganda through an 18-month intensive training that results in the women starting and maintaining their own businesses. Bead for Life sells most of their jewelry from Boulder, Colorado (close to where we lived in Denver) so we plan to visit their U.S. site upon our return to the U.S.
After this, we decided to go home. We had such a productive and busy day in Kampala! It was great to learn about each of the projects and to learn about services for individuals with disabilities in Uganda. We feel like our interest in programs that provide services for individuals with disabilities internationally grows almost daily. We regularly talk about these programs and dream about ways that we can continue to work with them.