Memories of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) insurgency that claimed many lives in northern Uganda will perhaps forever live in the mind of Elastina Abote. Not only was her security at stake, but she would go without food for some days, in the internally displaced people’s camps (IDP) she lived in, in Lira District.
When Abote was two years old, her father recalls, she developed an illness that affected her legs. Though he visited many hospitals, the search for his daughter’s treatment was in vain. She became permanently disabled.
When I meet her in Agweng Sub-county, she is shelling maize seeds off the cobs into a saucepan under a mango tree, outside her grass-thatched house.
She welcomes us with a word of prayer. Because I do not understand Langi, I did not realise that she was praying until I saw everyone’s head was bowed down, with their eyes closed.
“During the LRA war, we fled our home and found ourselves in IDPs in Lira town. We spent 10 years in the camps. When peace finally returned to the region in the late 90s, able bodied people returned to their homes. I did not know where home was because my family had abandoned me in the camp. They never wanted me to claim a share of the family land.”
In her culture, a woman is not supposed to own land unless she has bought it using personal resources. To stop her from claiming some land, she was left in the camp.
Through Harriet Acen, chairperson of Odokoamidu Association for Disabled Women, Abote learned of Lira District Disabled Women’s Association (LIDDWA), a disabled women’s group that promotes their rights to own property, access education and good health.
“When I discovered that Abote was abandoned and homeless in the camp, I shared her story with LIDDWA,” Acen recalls. “We held negotiations between her and her father so that he could accept her back into his home.”
Abote says, “When I was finally allowed to return home, my father gave me two acres of land and we signed an agreement which was witnessed by the Agweng Local Council I and III chairpersons, LIDDWA chairperson, clan members, and members of the community.”
LIDDWA mobilised resources and materials from the village and built for the disabled woman a grass-thatched house.
Utilising the land
Holding a hoe that is almost four times taller than her, Abote tills her garden of pigeon peas, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, and beans.
“We eat the food at home and sell off the surplus to pay school fees for the three grandchildren I take care of. My daughter abandoned them here and disappeared. My other daughter is mentally ill.”
She sells half a kilogram of beans between Shs500 – Shs800, using the profits to buy ingredients to make pancakes for sale.
“When the children fall sick, I borrow money from the village sacco to cater for their medical bills. With my savings from the sacco, I bought a goat at Shs 80,000,” she said.
A stone throw away from her grass thatched house, Abote is constructing, with the help of LIDDWA, a two-room permanent house. Currently, it has reached the ring beam. Most of the funds for the building came from her pancake business and the sale of her produce.
“I am physically disabled, but if I was able bodied like you, this house would be complete. The seedlings I buy are not enough, and my frying pan is not good. Recently, I got burnt by cooking oil because of this frying pan.” Mildred Aguti
A resident of Ober parish, Ojwina Division in Lira District, the 55-year-old recalls her father narrating to her that when she was three years old, she developed fever. After being injected with a drug at a hospital, she became paralysed. This resulted into permanent disablement.
Aguti is one of 20 disabled women who make up Odokoamidu Association for Disabled Women. Their association works in partnership and support from LIDDWA and National Union of Women with Disabilities of Uganda (NUWODU). After undergoing entrepreneurship training by NUWODU, the Association learnt about commercial farming, financial management, product marketing, business management and record keeping.
“After training, we registered the Association with Ojwina Division and wrote a proposal requesting for funding through the Community Driven Development Fund,” she says.
“We received Shs2.5m. With my share, and my savings, I bought a sewing machine and manual knitting maching to make sweaters and table clothes.”
Aguti sews sweaters for primary school students at Shs15,000 each and Shs25,000 for secondary school students. She also sews sleeveless sweaters and sells them to the general public at Shs18,000 each.
“Schools constitute my client base, and every term, I am assured of orders for as many as 120 sweaters. I use the profits for my children’s school fees, and also save a potion.”
The single mother has four children, two of them are at Lacor Medical School, the first born is married, and the last born is in Seniour Four.
Aguti is running for LC 5 councilor for Lira District in the forthcoming elections because, she says, she is ready to lobby and advocate for the rights of her people.
“I am used to my people and they know me. I am ready to lobby and advocate for their rights,” Aguti concludes.
The focus of the organisation is a society where girls and women with disability live dignified lives. They do this through promoting of the social, cultural, economic and political advancement and effective participation in development of these women
The organisation trains women on how to be economically empowered through engaging in income generating activities.
It also creates awareness and sensitises disabled women on issues concerning their right to own property, like land.