Preparing for School

There is one week until the school year commences again and plenty to do. Children are enrolling, uniforms need to be made, learning materials need to be bought, resources need to be made, school shoes and boarding requirements are needed for the sponsor kids.


And yet I feel like I’m on holiday.


These days I entrust the majority of the work into the hands of Glory Be’s more than capable head teacher, Immaculate and her bursar/mother, Mary. This is part of our move towards encouraging the community to take ownership of the projects and be the ones driving the development of their village.
Bursar and Buwenda Women in Action Director, Mary busy at work in her office
I must say, it does free up a lot of my time, which means I get to do a lot more of what I enjoy (namely creating and laminating interactive learning aids for the SEN class, assessing special needs children and attending community outreach).


 But with it comes a certain anxiety. I put this down to a mix of concern about the potential misuse of funds and a personal issue with the loss of control! We still have in place rigorous checks. The budget is discussed and negotiated in advance. All the items are inventoried against the budget. Each and every item purchased comes with a receipt, each receipt is checked against the current going rate based on my own enquiries and the purchases of other organisations. And at least now we don’t have to worry about getting “muzungu price” in the market.


Uniforms, half sewn. The tailoring work is done by a local mum who’s son, Derick, we sponsor to attend special needs boarding school due to a developmental delay. 
I have come to learn through this process that Immaculate is a force to be reckoned with. She wants the best quality at the cheapest price – and she gets it. She wants posho fresh, even still warm, from the mill, identical collars on every uniform, the thickest paged exercise books. If you don’t meet her standards you’re likely to be axed. I even worry some days that if my colouring in isn’t up to scratch on the wall charts, my number might be up!
Headteacher Immaculate: A force to be reckoned with!

Whilst I will continue with the rigorous protocol regarding money handling, I have come to learn that the biggest issues with this process is simply my desire to be involved and in control of everything, all the time! Oh well, it could be a bigger fault.

Introducing Sadiki


Sadi’s Grandmother has said she thinks the devil got into him. She says it with a sigh and a sadness which demonstrates her deep love for the boy. She does not blame him, or make him suffer in any way for this. But this is what she and most of the community at large believes. The devil got into him.

To us, Sadi is a delight. He brings light and joy into even my most stressful days. We laugh together, play together and despite his dramatic language delay, we chat together in a mixture of English, Lusoga and pre-verbal babble. Sure, sometimes he bites us, stabs us with a pencil or throws a shoe at us, but that’s just par for course when working with children like Sadi.
Mukwanos: Me, Sadi and Norman


Sadi has severe communication, social and behavioural difficulties. In the UK he would most probably be diagnosed with an autistic spectrum disorder, but since that is almost impossible in Uganda, he is just Sadi.
Sadi “helps” Teacher Christine during shape sorting

Sadi was born to a single mother, who unable to cope with his constant screaming, crying and head banging entrusted his care to the grandmother at the age of 2. Sadi lives with around 18 other children who share his care since he needs constant attention to ensure his own and other’s safety.

Sadi with his baby cousin, Shakira
Chai: Sadi’s favourite game, dolly’s teaparty
His grandmother, or Daada, dotes on him. She sleeps with him in her bed so she can sooth his night terrors, she helps him to bathe and eat and she rocks him in her arms when the “daemon’s come to attack him” and cause him to lash out at himself or others.


Sadi works hard on an activity sheet: 1 year ago Sadi could not sit still or hold a pencil.
Since joining the Small Steps Foundation SEN Class at Glory Be Nursery there has been a dramatic change in Sadi. Previously nonverbal until the age of 5, Sadi learns new words daily and enjoys sharing his linguistic knowledge with others. Our amazing teachers and support staff have nurtured Sadi and drawn out of him so much knowledge. He can now count, recognise some letters, toilet himself, brush his teeth and share toys. Most impressively of all, he can now go a whole day without an incident of challenging behaviour.
Sadi washes the “babies” during a “Taking care of myself” lesson
Sadi embraces his paternal side




Sadi learning to sort shapes



Initially it came as a surprise, but Sadi is popular at nursery. Every child wants to be friends with this quirky, creative, fun loving little boy.
Sadi swimming for the first time – with Chloe
I will write a lot about Sadi in times to come as he is a constant source of inspiration and joy to me. So now, hopefully you know a bit about his background.


Sadi shows off his visual timetable which helps to orientate him during the nursery day.

Disability in Uganda

When you talk of disability in Uganda, people usually conjure the image of the “lame”. And indeed, this is a common sight. Not a day goes past without seeing the hand peddled tricycle of an individual crippled by polio, untreated clubfoot, unmanaged cerebral palsy. People are often ready to share their stories of the girl at the high school in town who writes with her feet or so-and-so’s cousin who walks on their hands but is teacher/doctor/local government leader.


Gorgeous girls: Gloria and Sakira both have Down’s syndrome. Due to their similar appearance, the community assumed they had the same father.
Dig a little deeper and you get to the deaf. People know about the deaf, yes. There are schools and a language. There is even a deaf culture beginning to thrive these days. The blind? Yes, we know about that too. Difficulties persist: insensitivity fuelled by ignorance and unfortunate stereotypes; lack of resources or proximity to support; isolation in a community where even the most able struggle to survive. But still, people know what it is.


Winnie has cerebral palsy. Her father used to lock her inside, out of sight, all day while he went to work until he finally abandoned her with a local grandmother.
But learning disability, what it that?


It meets with a lot of surprise, interest and confusion, sometimes sadly, even from those who claim to be trained in special needs. I have lost count of the number of times I’ve explained learning disability, possible causes, effects and difficulties and possibilities to a lively, receptive and seemingly intuitive crown,  only to later present a child as an example and be meet with “Him, oh, he’s mentally disturbed, you can’t do anything thing with him.”


Sadi has communication, social and behavioural problems. The community believe he has the devil in him.

Learning disability is profoundly misunderstood in Uganda, as indeed it is the world over. Daemon’s, witchcraft, the sins of the father, staring at the light too long as a baby, retribution for wrong doing, bearing witness to the wicked – all these explanation have been offered to me as the source of learning disability in the children with which I work. God’s will is a more welcome, though still hopelessly shallow, explanation for parents who struggle to understand their burden.

Nasabu and Oliva were both left with developmental delay after early childhood sickness.  With support from the Small Steps Foundation Special Educational Needs Nursery Class they are now catching up and have been integrated back into mainstream classes.



But as I will continue to demonstrate in this blog, almost everyone I have met has been open-minded , willing to learn and to allow and embrace the change and development in the children they had once thought of as useless or hopeless….