Challenge your disability to challenge people who think you can’t make it in life – By Ephraim Ddiba
Our guest columnist this week is Ephraim Ddiba from Kampala, Uganda. Ephraim is a journalist and works with the United Nations. Born with cerebral palsy, doctors said Ephraim would not live for long and that even if he did, he would amount to anything. How Ephraim overcame biases and poverty and now works to empower youth with disabilities is memorable.
“You will be nothing when you decide to be, and you can’t make any dream true until you say ‘I can…” .
I was born with cerebral palsy and doctors told my parents very early that there was no hope of living long. When I was five years old, another doctor I was taken to said that I would live but as a useless person with no hopes for a better future or of becoming someone in life.
The year I was born, 1988, was a period when Uganda was ravaged by the severe malaria infection commonly known as Cerebral Malaria. It killed many children or left them with disabilities. My mum tells me that there were five other pregnant women in the ward with her and they all lost their children. One of them also died while giving birth. My mum nearly died too but the grace of God saved her.
When the time came to go to school, I went to the Kampala School for the Physically Handicapped (KSPH). My mum took me to school just to learn English so I could read the newspapers, watch TV and listen to the radio because I liked watching the news a lot. I spent more than seven years studying in the primary level because there were times she had no money to send me to school and she had no support either.
My father died when I was in Primary 2 and my mum was left with five children to take care of. She was renting the house we were staying in and it was hard to get free schooling for all the terms. I ended up missing school a lot and this delayed my progress.
On my father’s side of the family, I faced rejection. They felt my disability was a curse to the family and they did give me any support as they felt I was to become nothing in life. But I did not let this become a reason to fail. I passed my primary level and went on to join Mityana Secondary School for my secondary level.
Initially it was hard to cope as I was the only disabled student here and others didn’t want to associate with me. As time went by, I started making friends, and went on to become the school prefect twice. No one expected me to pass my A level exams, but I managed to overcome every challenging situation and get good points. I joined Makerere University, the main public university in Uganda on a government scholarship and did my graduation in Community Psychology.
University was a challenge as other students and lecturers did not understand my disability. Most of the coursework was in the community and we would have to visit slum areas in a group which were inaccessible even for people without disability. As a wheelchair user, it was even harder for me. But some of my lecturers were not considerate and would not give me marks. All this did not put me off and or make me feel like giving up.
Before I graduated, I started volunteering for the Uganda Society for Disabled Children as a project assistant. This involved supporting youth with disabilities in self-esteem building, disability inclusion in education, inspiring parents’ groups, doing research studies on the situation affecting disabled children, reports and proposal writing. At the USDC, I loved working with disabled children and their parents. The most challenging aspect was changing the negative attitudes many parents had towards their children. Many of them had given up on their kids, especially parents who had children with severe cerebral palsy. I would share my story with these families, and this helped them gain confidence and they started sending their children to school.
Currently, I work with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) as a Programme Officer. My work involves supporting disabled youth in capacity building and being a disability media psychological analyst on the disability situation in the community. I am also doing a Diploma in Journalism & Mass Communication, and I am a motivational writer who wants to be a living testimony to persons with disabilities.
I pray that I can get the capacity to be address their issues because non-disabled people have not been able to address their issues. This is my reason for studying journalism.