In 2018 I enrolled for a Post Graduate Diploma in Community Based Rehabilitation. I wasn’t necessarily interested in the course; I’d decided to go back to school because I was tired of my daily routine and needed a new challenge. I had no prior knowledge about the course and was shocked and intrigued when classes eventually started.

Everything about this course was enlightening and new to me. Having grown up in a bubble, I’d never had the opportunity to meet or closely interact with any Persons with Disabilities (PWD). Imagine my shock when I went for my first lecture and the lecturer was blind. I was amazed that he was so brilliant, able to move around the classroom and campus with no help. Many questions were loaded in my mind: What was it like to be blind? What was his childhood like? Was he able to dream? If yes, what did his dreams appear like? Was he married? How did he fulfill marital obligations if he had never seen what a woman’s body looked like? Needless to say, I spent the next few days googling about People with Visual Impairment. The next lecturer was physically impaired; he had a great sense of humor, so many stories to tell about his childhood and challenges.

Despite their impairments, these lecturers were doctorate holders, had traveled the world, and therefore had so much knowledge and experience to share. Just like that, I fell in love with the program. I was then introduced to course units such as braille and sign language. It was like discovering a whole different world. One of my classmates was a sign language interpreter. To see her sign and communicate with the lecturer using just her hands was mind-blowing.

As much as l loved and enjoyed discovering this new adventure, I was quickly introduced to the challenges faced by persons with disability, their abilities, and inabilities. The course taught us many things and prepared us (my classmates and I) for the community. This preparation came in handy when, after the course, we were obligated to do community practice as a requirement to attain the Diploma. We were tasked to find six children with disabilities, and rehabilitate or empower them accordingly.

My heart broke when I first met each of my clients. It was then that I was introduced to the actual situation of PWDs in Uganda, a reality I didn’t like. My clients were between the ages of 1 to 10 years; one was blind, two had cerebral palsy, the other was autistic and the last two were physically impaired. Their families survived on one meal a day if they were lucky. The children with disabilities were practically abandoned to their own devices. It was evident that some of them had not had a bath in weeks. Most of these children were sickly and malnourished. I remember one of them had been disregarded by his family to the extent that the faeces and urine he was wrapped in for days had become a hotbed for maggots. He had jiggers too.

The families concerned and sections of the society around them were so convinced that these children were useless and would never amount to anything. Some of the women had had their spouses run away because they had “cursed” children. Many theories were advanced to explain the conditions of the children, most especially witchcraft.  For months my classmates and I tried our best to improve the condition of these children. We taught them ordinary activities of daily living, sensitized their families and society, made the necessary medical referrals, involved the local leaders, and used locally available resources to rehabilitate them. After months of engaging with their families, we learned that most parents had abandoned their children just because they didn’t know better.

The children, their disability notwithstanding, had enough potential to contribute to societal development if only they were allowed to fully participate with dignity. From our community practice, it was easy to tell that society’s negative attitude towards children with disabilities had stolen their chance at life. The results of this rehabilitation illuminated the mainstream assumptions and presumptions that continue to challenge full participation by children with disabilities in contemporary social structures. Children with disabilities are not only treated unfairly by their families and society, they are also up against unfair competition from unchallenged children.

Uganda is a signatory of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which call for “leaving no one behind” in the development agenda and as such, the government is obliged to take significant steps towards the improvement of the welfare of children and adults with disabilities.

I am grateful for the opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives. I am passionate about changing lives thanks to the Passionpawa Innovations platform. It is a great honor to work with Passionpawa to develop the potentials of vulnerable children and young people by maximizing the human spirit of giving back to the needy to create lasting positive change in communities.

PROFILE

DECEMBER KICONCO is a Human Rights Activist, Disability Inclusion Expert, Educator, Creative Writer, and Author. She is a passionate community development worker, motivational and keynote speaker. Her book A Walk On Thorns is a novel that tells an inspirational story about a vulnerable African child. Through her writing, she has been a voice to the voiceless, empowered thousands, and shared her aspirations for the future.

December Kiconco holds a Post Graduate Diploma in Community Based Rehabilitation from Kyambogo University, a Bachelor of Arts in Ethics and Human Rights from Makerere University, Administrative Law Certificate and Diploma in Law from Law Development Centre, Diploma in HIV/AIDS Guidance and Counselling, Certificate in Mental Health Studies, Certificate in Children’s Rights and Certificate in Introduction to Autism. She is currently pursuing a Master’s in International Relations and Diplomatic Studies.