Tuesday February 2 2016

I crawled to school for six years- Makula

To get his current job, James Makula competed

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

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