Edisa Kasirye, 62, lost her sight at age of 10. Growing up as a visually impaired person, she became hopeless and she was made to believe that she would not be of any value to herself, her parents and the community she lived in.
Despite the fact that many parents tend to abandon children with disabilities, Kasirye says her parents instead decided to enrol her to Iganga School for Blind in Iganga District, where she studied up to Primary Seven.
She was later taken to Salama School of the Blind in Mukono Town, where she learnt how to make chairs, coffee tables, baskets and mats.
“My parents told me that I suffered from measles when I was a child, an illness that had a lasting effect on my sight. Their efforts to restore my sight and the endless visits to hospitals across the country did not yield any fruits,” Kasirye recollects.
Her childhood dream
Despite her condition, her dream as a child was empower persons with disabilities in her community to have something to do and earn a living as opposed to relying on conditional family support all the time.
“I came up with the idea of establishing a vocational institute to skill visually impaired people, particularly the youth. I wanted to teach them how to make mats, sweater knitting, baking, making snacks for sale,” she says.
Giving hope to others
In 2013, Kasirye’s dream came true after establishing New Living Hope Training Centre of the Blind, a community based organisation to give hope to persons with sight problems at Kikondo Village, Tongolo Parish, Nyenga Division, Njeru Municipality Buikwe District. “Most disabled persons end up on the streets begging. While their families support them, they get tired of children with disabilities in the long run. I never wanted to be a beggar despite my disability. I also never wanted to see other disabled persons begging. There are unique abilities that they possess that can help them earn and support themselves than begging,” she says Kasirye makes mats, sofa set chairs and coffee tables made out of canes (plants in wetlands and forests), a new innovation that fetches good money.
How she makes furniture
A carpenter designs the frames for the chairs and tables and she does the rest of the work. A coffee table set costs between Shs400,000 and Shs550,000.
Moses Ssekajja, the director, says the institution was established to empower blind persons to be financially independent and self-reliant.
“Some of these students are rejected by their own parents, isolated and locked up in rooms. Our job is to look out for them and resettle them in our facility,” he says .
Ssekajja says the students are assessed by what they can practically do. “The training lasts for two years here since they use hands as their sight for feeling whatever they do,” he adds
There is lack of market for the items produced by the students, especially sweaters, cakes and crafts such as mats. Kasirye also says getting raw materials for making mats, chairs and tables remains a challenge since major sources such as wetlands and forests have been depleted.
“Another challenge is the negative attitude of some parents who have up to now failed to believe that a blind person can do something for a living,” she says
Students speak out
Winfred Acio , 19, one of the trainees who is acquiring skills in bakery, says a woman whom she declined to disclose, picked her from Kole District and offered to pay her tuition and upkeep at the school. “I have gained skills and I look forward to establishing my own bakery in the near future,” she says.
Carolyn Namutebi, 20, another beneficiary, who is attaining skills in making sweaters, says students were discriminating against her in class but when her parents heard about the New Living Hope Training Centre of the Blind, they enrolled her.
“I make sweaters. I get orders from some schools to make sweaters and I am planning to start my own knitting workshop after completing this training,” she says
The institute has more than 150 students. After trainees have acquired skills, they are given certificates and start-up capital to establish their own businesses and others are retained and employed at the school.