When life deals you a harsh hand, you pick yourself up and make the most of what you have. Samalie did just that-picked herself up-literally; and she has a tale to tell, overcoming challenge after obstacle to claim her self respect, education and enforce observation of her human rights from those who trampled them in the first place.
Nangobi Samalie is a Senior three student at Bagiire Memorial College in Ngando Parish,Bugaya Subcounty in Buyende District. She comes off as a chatty and confident girl, but according to her peers and local leaders she has not always been like this. But a tinge of sadness does not escape a keen listener as she speaks about her life at home and through school. Samalie suffered Polio in the right leg and she walks with a limp and the support of a stick.
Surviving in school started off on a challenge since her father refused to acknowledge her as a child, from birth due to her disability, and also refused to pay her fees till this moment. It is her mother who would pay for her school fees -after everyone else in her home had received their share of fees and scholastic materials- until she passed away two years ago.
Despite domestic challenges, Samalie went to school, limping all the way and most often getting to school late and being punished for it. This was not helped by the little pranksters who would hide her walking stick, immobilizing her the whole day, with little interest from her teachers on top of being called names like kolobba(a derogatory vernacular term to mean lame one).
According to James Kaboggoza,the assistant Commissioner for youth and children in the Ministry of Gender, Labor and Social Development, there is a lot of stigma within communities towards homes with children with disabilities. “The public [however] needs to know that they can be useful citizens in the future and also contribute towards the development of the country,” he counsels.
According to Kabogozza, “Most facilities, schools, public places and hospitals are not friendly to children with disabilities,” He said at this year’s day of the African child.
Samalie would knowingly agree.
Life started to change when the National Union of Women with disabilities of Uganda(NUWODU) started working in Buyende, then part of Kamuli district with women and girls with disabilities in an attempt to advocate for their sexual and reproductive rights. It is this project that Samalie credits for the improvement of her life through their advocacy awareness in her community and school.
The project ‘Sex by Choice not by Chance’ carried out a recent research among women and girls found that due to disability most of the girls miss school and this affected their attitude, confidence and economic self sustainability as they had no employable skills.
According to the research report 43 percent of these respondents were below 21 years, indicating the high number of girls with disability in our communities. Despite the free Universal Primary and Secondary School Education, over 87 percent of those in the school going age either have not gone to school at all (26 percent) or have not gone beyond Primary Education (61 percent). Probably due to the same challenges of accessibility and perception, as mentioned by Kaboggoza.
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) puts governments under the obligation to provide education free from discrimination. Yet many countries, Uganda inclusive, have failed to fulfill this obligation, and children with disabilities are left out of the education system.
Unicef estimates that there are currently an estimated 67 million primary school-age children who are not in school in the world. Of these children, 45 per cent live in sub-Saharan Africa and another 24 per cent in South and West Asia. The research further reveals that in both regions, girls are less likely to enroll than boys; and in sub-Saharan Africa, two-thirds of out-of-school girls are expected never to enroll, compared with only half of boys.
So surely, Samalie is one lucky outstanding girl.
Compounded by low or no awareness of their rights, a lot of girls and women with disability then fall prey to men’s sexual advances, often forceful and in secret. This denies them any security as women and their children when they conceive, ending up as single mothers with disability. Most of them neither have any awareness about sexual and reproductive health as they are left out of community awareness activities to poor self esteem and sheer ostracism leading to birthing children who are fatherless who are an extra burden to the economically and mobility challenged mothers.
According to the research report, eight percent of the respondents have sexually been abused, mainly through rape that has resulted into unwanted pregnancies and infections with Sexually Transmitted Infections. Making matters worse, over 77 percent of those women and girls interviewed did not know of their rights as girls and women with disabilities. Some have come to think that it is normal even when their rights are abused. Majority do not know of any programs or institutions that help women and girls with disabilities.
Human Rights watch at this year’s annual Conference of States Parties for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities taking place this September calls on governments to show that they are not only serious about the rights of women and children with disabilities on paper, but that they intend to put those protections into practice.
The now beaming Samalie, also talks about the impact rights awareness has had on her life. “Before, not even boda bodas could accept to take someone who is disabled, perhaps thinking the condition is contagious, “she shares.
She reports that her teachers are more supportive and her school has given her a bursary to study since her mother who was paying her fees died two years ago. Her father is yet to come around and play a more active role in her life, but he has allowed her the use of a family bicycle which she rides to school due to the long distance between home and school.
“I have been prepared for body changes as I grow up and I know what the engagement in sexual practices can lead to so I am keeping way from sex despite the pressure;” Samalie says.
More awareness of the community, immediate family and women and girls with disabilities themselves about their rights and responsibilities surely created a visible impact in their lives and the way they are treated. At least according to Samalie, despite the fact that her father has not come around to treating her as an equal among siblings yet, she does not lack of scholastic materials, reminding him of his responsibility and how she may report to Child and Family protection Unit at the Police if he neglects to provide for her education needs without fear of reprisal from him.