Fear and community stigma have created a culture of neglect and misinformation surrounding children with disabilities in Uganda, causing many children to be concealed by their parents.
Eighteen years ago, while training to be a physiotherapist, Florence Namaganda would see parents brave enough to take the step of bringing their children to a hospital – but only under the cover of darkness. They would sit in hospitals at midday, having already been seen by a specialist, waiting for evening before daring to leave the hospital and risk their child being seen.
When she started making home visits, she saw children kept well out of sight in a back room so as not be caught out by neighbours making unexpected visits.
It was at this point, during her studies that Florence realised that God was calling her to be the catalyst for changing the futures of these hidden children. A daunting task ahead of her, but trusting in God, she began the journey towards an entirely new way of treating children with special needs in Kampala.
Starting simply, Florence would teach those she met on home visits about the facts: that their children were not a curse or punishment, but would flourish with the right education and attention. These parents then educated their neighbours and overcame stigma together.
After receiving an unexpected donation, in 2006, Florence was able to launch ‘Mukisa’, a centre where children with special needs and their parents could be guided to learn about disability together in a safe environment. The first day saw six children and parents come, the next day 12, and today 4,000 children and their parents have attended the Mukisa centre.
Florence founded the ‘Special Children’s Trust’, which has grown into a respected charity at the forefront of advocacy for children with disabilities in Kampala. It now includes the Mukisa centre, an inclusive school, a forum of over 60 other organisations and is a key member of CRANE, Viva’s partner network in Uganda.
Being a part of CRANE has given Florence and her organisation the training, accountability and credibility to influence change at a high level in Kampala. The Trust organises awareness-raising marches in the city and works alongside the government to identify gaps in services for children with special needs. They are also pushing the implementation of a National Needs Identification Tool so that teachers across Uganda can be equipped to best meet the needs of children in their care.
Thanks to Florence’s faithfulness and a swell of collective support, children in Kampala with disabilities are finally becoming visible, and able to see their ambitions for the future, become reality.
This article first appeared in Life magazine, issue 11