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I crawled to school for six years- Makula

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To get his current job, James Makula competed with more than 15,000 applicants but was able to beat them in interviews . Photo by Abubaker Lubowa 

By Esther Oluka

Posted  Tuesday, February 2   2016 at  02:00

In Summary

People with disabilities face a lot of challenges in their lives. James Makula is no exception. The commercial officer at the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Cooperatives shares his story with Esther Oluka on how his life changed after polio attacked him at the tender age of three years.

At the tender age of three years, Makula and his friends were playing outside his family home in Kanisa zone in Makindye Division when something strange happened. Makula suddenly fell to the ground and began convulsing.
Upon hearing loud screams, Alice Ndagire, his mother, who was inside the house doing chores rushed outside and ran towards her son.
Once by his side, she continously tapped him as a way of resuscitating him. She noticed his body slowly folding and resorted to straightening it.
When that did not help, she picked up her son and rushed him to Mulago hospital. Makula’s condition was diagnosed as a polio attack despite the fact that he had been immunised before.

Born to Alice Ndagire and Leonard Makula on November 21, 1976, Makula was raised by a single mother, his father having passed away in 2002.
Disfigured and unable to stand and sit well after the Polio attack, the severity of Makula’s disability did not become clear to the family until he was eight years of age.
“At the time, I had started studying but then unlike other children who would walk to school, I would instead crawl, sometimes with my buttocks on the ground. I had to do this unaccompanied every day for six years from Primary One to six while covering a distance of about two kilometres to school and back home,” Makula says.
“Some of the children who would find me on the way often said mean things including omulema (the lame one) and by then, such a phrase was regarded as an insult.”

Makula was then at Kibuye Primary School, a day learning facility, located in Makindye Division. The name calling and the occasional bullying was what discouraged Makula from going to school sometimes.
“There are days I would wake up and tell my mother that I was not going to school. She would then cane me until I agreed to go. Her reasoning was that my disability should not deter me from getting an education,” Makula says.
His school uniform was a white shirt and khaki shorts. When it rained, the attire was often plastered with brown muddy stains and the shoes soaked with water.

Turning point
The school administration was, however, considerate to let him study in such a state. Rotary Club of Makindye came to his rescue and donated a wheel chair as he was starting Primary Seven.
Amid the challenges, Makula focussed on attaining good grades and it is no wonder that he scored four aggregates at Primary Leaving Examinations (PLE).

His good grades automatically qualified him to get a placement at Namilyango College, a boy’s only Secondary boarding school in Mukono District. His stay there was, however, short-lived after the school administration considered him unfit after just one term.
From Namilyango College, he then joined St Peters Senior Secondary School, Nsambya, where he continued with Senior One from second term up to the third term of Senior Two but left because the school did not have an established science class including a laboratory. For his Senior Three and Senior Four, he went to Lubiri Secondary School in Rubaga.
Then, for A-Level, Makula studied at Busoga College Mwiri in Jinja District.

Life at Mwiri
Boarding school life at Mwiri came with its own share of challenges, says Makula.
“It was tough in that I always had to wake up earlier than the rest of the students to bathe and prepare myself for class so as not to use my disability as an excuse for being late for morning preps. And since the school administration had learnt how to accommodate me, they got me someone to push me to class in my wheelchair.”

Makula’s helper was a young boy, aged 17, a relative of one of the school cooks.
Other than that, Makula says that what also helped him cope easily was his friendly personality. It is no wonder that it was easy for him to get fellow students to help him out with tasks from time to time.
“One of those boys who assisted me a lot was called Grace Kyagaba to the extent that other students thought we were brothers,” Makula says.
It is people like Kyagaba who made his stay in Mwiri worthwhile.
On whether they still keep in touch, Makula who was then studying a combination of Physics, Chemistry and Maths responds in the negative.
“I absolutely have no idea where my former friend is. I did not see him again after completing our Senior Six examinations,” he says.

Life at University
Makula’s other life chapter started in 1998 when he was admitted at Makerere University to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in pharmacy. The enthusiasm he had to study the course, however, dwindled when other students in higher classes taking the same course brought him up to speed with the challenges he was likely to face if he decided to go ahead and study it.
“I was told that there were instances when I would be required to carry out experiments on viruses and bacteria and because I was not physically fit, I would end up making a mistake including doing spills and this would endanger my life. But also, the course involved a lot of movements in and out classrooms and laboratories and my disability was a sort of setback,” Makula says.

Change of course
Rather than feel sorry for himself, he changed to study a Bachelor of Science in Quantitative Economics.
“I never attended classes because they were always held upstairs, in storied buildings. I would instead wait outside the class to ask for notes from colleagues. Some would give me while others made excuses that they were going to read,” he says, adding, “On other days though, I would get someone to push me around to different hostel rooms at the university looking for classmates to give me notes.
Life was so difficult to the extent that the lecturers let me do my tests outside the lecture rooms.”
Despite the challenges, he focussed on accomplishing his goal of finishing his three years at the university and he graduated in 2001.

The job market
It is tough for persons with disabilities to get employment because of the perception towards them.
Makula was always shunned at job interviews to the extent that he was always questioned on what he was doing there in the first place.
But even during instances where he was allowed to sit for them and actually passed, he was not given the job.
“There was a particular incident where I was even told to go and work in an organisation for persons with disabilities because I would not manage the organisation’s work. I tried to tell them over and over again that I could handle but they did not listen,” he says.

Having failed to get permanent employment, Makula resorted to doing a few contract projects for a chargeable fee as a way of making ends meet.
He worked for Action on Disability and Development (ADD) International for six months in 2005 as a social worker, Uganda National Action on Physical Disability (UNAPD) for eight months as a research officer in 2008 and then Parliament of Uganda for one year, still as a research officer for persons with disabilities in 2006.
Then in 2014, he came across a job advertisement from the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Cooperatives for the position of commercial officer. More than 15,000 people applied and went through a vigorous process of both oral and written interviews.

“It was such a competitive position in that I could not believe it when I was eventually informed that I got the job,” Makula says.
Other than that, the 39-year-old says that there is no discrimination at the workplace and management is very understanding to the extent that they got him a helper to push him around the building, accompany him to workshops as well as help him out with other tasks.
Makula’s job entails examining policies and laws that are trade-related, monitoring conditional grants to districts as well as handling applications for licenses by non-citizens.

How he gets to work
A motor cycle transports him from Nsambya, a suburb of Kampala, to the Ministry’s offices located along Parliamentary Avenue. It is the same means he uses to get back home after work in the evening.
In order to avoid inconvenience, Makula leaves his wheel chair at his workplace.
Whenever he arrives outside the office premises in the morning, the helper at work pushes it to where he is.
Eventually, he helps Makula into it and then wheels him to his office located on the third floor of the building using an elevator. The aide does the same thing after work.
Normally, Makula calls any random boda rider on the roadside to take him home.

Home life
Makula laughs and suddenly avoids eye contact when I ask him if he is dating or married.
“It is not very easy for women to accept men in my state. It is the reason I do not have a wife or girlfriend. However, I am optimistic that one day, I will get one,” he says.
He does house chores by himself including washing clothes, cooking and ironing, among others.
He moves around the house by crawling.
Makula concludes that life will only get much better when he gets a family of his own.

Polio and immunisation?
Dr Vincent Karuhanga, a physician at Friends’ Poly Clinic in Kampala says:
“It is possible to get a polio attack even after immunisation, especially if a child has a low immunity as a result of diseases including cancer and HIV/ Aids.
“But also, if the vaccine has been kept in poor storage conditions, its use may not be that effective once it is administered to a child. It is, therefore, advisable that parents take their children to recognised health institutions to have their children immunised. But also, parents are advised to embrace the mass immunisation exercises that the Ministry of Health carries out from time to time regardless of whether a child has been immunised or not. There is also a booster dose that can be given to children before they enrol for primary school.”

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