Whereas many disabled people resign themselves to begging for handouts, Swidiq Kulabako lays bricks for a living. Although he does not have legs, he says Allah gave him strong hands so that he can work hard and look after his family.
As sweat runs down his forehead, cheekbones and bare chest, he picks bricks from two boys of school-going age and arranges them in a pile. For a moment, Swidiq Kulabako will use some extra effort in moving to pick a stained piece of cloth to wipe the sweat away.
He is without normal legs but somewhat illustrates the notion that disability is not inability. He picks bricks from the children’s hands and layers them in an organised manner.
After arranging the bricks, he will patch a layer of mud onto them then leave some space at the base to allow him start a fire to burn and strengthen them for building.
“I lay these bricks in order to sell them and get money that will enable me afford the basic necessities for my family,” the resident of Mukongoro Sub-country in Kumi District, explains.
The two helpers who pick the bricks from the point they have been sun drying to the compilation point, are his sons. They are enthusiastic because they know that he is doing this to secure money that will support their education and ability to buy necessities. Kulabako is a father of 15 children who share two mothers; his wives.
“I am a farmer as well and my target in growing crops is to sell them in the weekly public markets. From the money I earn in selling produce in the market, I use part of it to pay young men who offer labour through the different processes of making the bricks. Some fetch water, others soak the soil into mud and also make the bricks,” he explains.
However, Kulabako does not sit back and drown in self-pity for lack of normal legs. For the things he can do, he is glad not to spend money to let another person earn money for it. He is active and energetic.
“Disability is not inability. It gives me pleasure to employ someone who is more able than myself. I am happy still that I have knowledge to enable me be creative on ways I can be able to fend for my family and also improve their standard of living as a home provider,” the 49-year-old says.
According to the Local Government Act (as amended in 2010), People With Disabilities (PWD) and other marginalised groups in Uganda have to be represented at all levels of local government beginning from the L.C 1 committees, up to the district councils to have a clear platform of discussion of issues affecting them/or their constituencies.
Kulabako says no leader has been helpful in uplifting his standards so he chose to find means to fend for himself and the family.
He adds that the Lord cannot close a door and window at the same time alluding and drumming the fact that he did not make him lame and forsaken him entirely.
“He took away the legs but left me able to use other parts of my body that are in good shape. I call on people who are disabled in different ways to be keen on working. I am not a supporter of disabled people turning into beggars,” he explains.
He borrows from the holy scripture of the Koran, quoting Prophet Muhammad for discouraging begging but instead encouraged giving and kindness, thus if one hand should give, another should utilise its energies to find a source of livelihood. From his efforts, he has been able to set up a retail shop that serves the community with basic home needs.
“If you find me attending to customers in the shop, you will have to look at me twice. I make sure I am smart and tidy. I also own a plot of land, with power. I would like to use some of the bricks I make to construct a home for my family,” Kulabako further explains.
He bought the plot of land at Shs3m in 2009. He learnt how to work out of fear of the unknown. When his mother passed on when he was still a child, his father was never there and as such, never got an opportunity to be supported to attain formal education.
Despite not being educated, he values education and has seen to it that his children go to school. “When you educate a child, you secure their future. I would not like my children to grow up in a life of struggle and gambling. When mother died, life became more or less like a gamble. I ended up fathering children as a teenager. I would like to see my children see and become better than I was,” he explains.
Speaking about government support to the disabled, Kulabako says whereas government might be helpful, the people on ground are not bothered to help those in need to improve their livelihood.
Kulabako hails from Pallisa but travelled to Kumi District in 2008 to fend for himself as a chapatti maker and vendor.
The law caters for PWDs, under the ‘The Persons with Disabilities Act 2006’ that provides a Comprehensive Legal protection for PWDs in accordance with Article 32 and 35 of The Constitution; to make provisions for the elimination of all forms of discrimination against PWD towards equalization of opportunities and for related matters.
According to the law, person with disability means a person having physical, intellectual, sensory or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of that person. Support to PWD is yet to scale out.
For now, a few non-government organisations (NGOs) have on-going initiatives, a case in point being Uganda National Action on Physical Disability (UNAPD). It is an indigenous organisation that reached out to persons with physical disabilities. It has projects that enable children with disabilities access education at all levels.