What you need to know:
- He was diagnosed with glaucoma. The ophthalmologist told him he would need some operations to correct the condition. He instead lost sight completely.
Alfred Wamani worked at Albert Secondary School in Hoima District as a Mathematics and Physics teacher.
For seven years, his teenage students rubbed their youth on him, giving him that perpetual agelessness that teachers always exude. He was happy and content. Then in 2019, he lost sight in both eyes and this plunged him into perpetual darkness.
Around January 2019, Wamani started noticing that every time he was on his computer, his eyes got really itchy from inside and then tearing would follow.
“I knew something was terribly wrong with my eyes, so I put together some money and rushed to Mengo Hospital within a week of noticing this. I could still see but with some difficulty. I was straining too much, especially if I wanted to see far. Bright lights also became a serious problem. They caused a lot of pain to my eyes,” says Wamani.
He was diagnosed with glaucoma. The ophthalmologist told him he would need some operations to correct the condition. Off he went to look for funds to pay for the operation as soon he could. In May of 2020, he got the operations. Two weeks after the operations, the doctor called to find out how he was doing.
“When my uncle told him that I still couldn’t see a thing, the doctor apologised and broke the news that I would never regain my sight again. He explained that the nerves that send signals from the eyes to the brain had been severed and that there was no way of regenerating them,” Wamani says.
Up until the doctor made the pronouncement, Wamani held onto the hope that something could still be done to turn his fortunes around. He had gone to hospital to have his sight straightened but had left a visually-impaired man. His life was thus turned on its head. And the realisation of the gravity of his situation came with untold psychological horrors.
“After my unsuccessful surgery, I was accosted by psychological torture. I am not sure how it feels to be born visually-impaired but if you have enjoyed perfect sight all your life and then one day you lose it, it can be very frustrating,” he says.
The torture of losing his sight was so brutal that, he admits, had he not gone through therapy and counselling, he might have lost his sanity or even life.
“Counselling taught me that everyone is a candidate when it comes to going blind; especially those who drink alcohol. It also assured me that life was not coming to an end because of losing my sight. That attitude has slowly brought back sanity in my life,” he says.
Losing his marriage
Of the many things that spiralled out control soon after losing his sight, Wamani’s marriage was one of the first. His wife left him as soon as she saw that he had gone blind.
He had been with her for six years and the two had three children. She was loving and caring and present but his complete blindness was not part of the things she signed up for when she married him. So she bailed. Obviously, Wamani didn’t see it coming.
Losing his job
Wamani lost his sight during a time when all schools were in lockdown due to Covid-19. He was, therefore, not really obligated to get back to his teaching job the next day. Nonetheless, he knew his job was over. He knew he couldn’t read the books he had used all his career, he couldn’t mark his students’ exercise books and he couldn’t write on the blackboard.
“When schools were reopened in 2021, I didn’t even try to get back to work. There was no point in it. I just told them I was unable to return because I was now incapacitated. I knew I had to go and learn braille so I could find a new job as a teacher for the blind,” says Wamani.
After losing his sight, wife and job, Wamani had no choice but to move in with a family member.
“I moved in with my uncle. He took care of me and comforted me during my troubled new existence. I stayed with him and his wife for more than two years and I left his house in 2022, when I moved fulltime to Kireka, [Wakiso District] where I had been learning braille for more than a year at the Uganda National Association of the Blind (UNAB),” he says.
At UNAB, not only did Wamani train in braille, he also trained in ICT for the blind. He was slowly transforming himself into a teacher for the blind. So he applied to the Ministry of Education through the Education Service Commission in June last year and he passed as a Mathematics teacher for the blind.
“I got a notification letter last July but still I haven’t been deployed. The ministry keeps telling me to find a district that has a wage bill so I can apply and be deployed, but it is all so problematic for me,” he says.
VSO comes to the rescue
The association of the blind gave him a house where he stays today. Early last year, Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO), an organisation that helps the youth and people with disability to get gainfully self-employed, came looking for him at UNAB.
“They came looking for me at the recommendation of a manager at Standard Chartered Bank, Deus Turyatemba, who also happens to be visually-impaired. Standard Chartered Bank funds a project dubbed Youth Empowerment, Entrepreneurship and Decent Employment programme implemented by VSO. They wanted to help me and some other people like me to start a business and be self-employed,” says Wamani.
Wamani and his newfound friends formed the Kireka Progressive Development Association in order to qualify for a grant from VSO. The group consists of 24 members, 18 of whom are visually-impaired.
“VSO came in and trained us in soft skills, ICT, business and financial literacy and management. After the training, our group decided to start a hair salon, which is doing relatively well. We save at least Shs300,000 a month, after paying all the bills, yet we have only been running for one year,” says Wamani with hope.
The group is also in the process of starting a laundry business and Wamani as the chairman, hopes to grow these businesses enough to support all the members. The income from the two businesses, shared among the 24 members, is not much but hopefully, Wamani will get employed as a government teacher in due course, because he loves teaching above everything else.