Did you know that people with disabilities consistently report a good quality of life? Have you ever thought of what your life would be if you were disabled?
It is quite an unusual reflection. But why do we habitually assume that the physically impaired people are unhappy. For one Francis Okumu, this is a mere misconception.
Francis Okumu is a blind student at Uganda Christian University (UCU). He pursues his Bachelor in Social work and Social Administration. Francis attends class and goes for group discussions with other people. As a matter of fact, one would confuse him for a sighted person seated in the group.
The question is, how does he manage to do all this?
“I was born sighted but had slight pain. My parents took me for an operation in the left eye. But then the problem graduated to the remaining eye,” he narrates.
“By 2003, I had completely lost sight for both eyes. I recall the light-blue sky, the round sun and the animals. If I was given one last chance to see, I would want to read the Bible.”
Being visually impaired, one would wonder how Francis executes his daily engagements. Yet he runs his daily life just like the rest of the students. He attends class daily, owns a phone which he uses to call home and friends. More so he goes for discussions and listens to news broadcasts on TV.
Solomon Bwamukama, Member of Parliament in the Uganda Christian University guild Government, and roommate, says: “Francis is as normal as anyone else. On day we were moving from the DOSA’s home, I was holding his hand but then let it go shortly to wave at someone who passed by in a car. To my surprise, Francis asked me how long I had known the person I was waving at. I was left speechless. Francis is an amazing person with great intelligence,” Byamukama says of him.
“I got to know about God because of Francis,” he adds.
“When my parents died, my grandmother decided to take care of me. I managed to get enrolled in school. Unfortunately, my grandmother passed on when I got to Senior Five.
Life was devastating then. My education stopped and I went back to my auntie in Tororo who struggled to take me back to school.
Francis started Primary One from Lubu Primary School in Mayuge District, Eastern Uganda at the age of eight. Conditions at Lubu were good. “A particular teacher picked interest in me and taught me the Braille,” he recalls.
Braille is a writing system used by people who are visually impaired. It is traditionally written with embossed paper. “The school provided the equipment and by Senior Five the head teacher got me a Perkins Brailler.”
He was taken to Agururu Primary School, but he had first to go to Mudodo Primary School for a term. While at Mudodo, he could only sit in class and just listen.
“I was given oral exams and managed to be the seventh in a class of over one hundred students,” he says.
Onyango Rafick, a representative from the Community Development office (CDO), went around the village asking people about their needs. At that time Francis had spent a year out of school learning how to use the Brailler.
“When I was asked what I wanted, I quickly replied that I wanted to go to school. I was then taken to Agururu Primary School where I completed my primary school.”
He completed his Primary Seven in 2007. However, being out of school for a long time affected his performance in the Primary Leaving Examination; he scored 26 aggregates.
There was no money to pay for his O-level but with support from various people he managed to finish his Senior Four.
He scored 10 aggregates and wanted to further his studies. “My uncle had initially been tasked with my welfare claimed that where I would go to study was far and the money I would use could take three of his own to school,” he recalls.
The Tororo Eye Hospital through its Department of Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR) sponsored people with impairment.
Francis was lucky to be taken on and he was taken to Nsamizi Training Institute of Social Development in Mpigi District.
“ I enrolled there for a Diploma in Social Work. At the same time, America was threatening President Museveni to sign the homosexuality bill. Funding for the institution was then threatened. This was done through reducing on the funds. Nsamizi Training Institute of Social Development which had initially been receiving Shs60m was now reduced to Shs27m. At that time only Shs13m had been acquired,” he explained.
It was a trying time for Francis and the institute wanted to keep students who were still at school. hence so they could not help him.
He was therefore referred back to the district headquarters. Where Moses Muyiza, a senior Community Development Officer for the district, promised to mobilize for money for me to go back to school but later did not.
A pastor in his neighbourhood solicited about Shs1m from the Wide Vision Conference in Mbale. It is only then that he was able to Nsamizi.
With the help of that money, he hired the Perkins Brailler at Shs200,000 per semester. While at the institute, he rented a small room.
Food was never provided by the school. Therefore those who managed could cook but being blind, he could only buy food. This was costly and in most cases he survived on empty stomach.
In June 2006, he finished his Diploma in Social Work. And he did not celebrate because he never had money.
He had planted maize and cassava in the village, so he returned to Tororo and sold them. He used the proceeds to pay for his transcript. because, he says, he is not the kind of disabled person that likes begging.
“After my diploma, I applied to Uganda Christian University for a degree in Social Work and Social Administration. By God’s grace I was admitted in 2017. I applied for a scholarship with Vision For Africa and up to now that is still pending. My stay at UCU is by the favour of God, and I know that He will guide me through.
“I was born 1989 in Tororo District, Rubongi Subcounty. The need to equip me with a decent education however forced my parents to relocate to Bunyole in mulando. At the age of four, my mother passed on and was shortly followed by my father.”
With this background, how does Francis feel a bout life ?
“I am happy because when I reflect upon where I have come from, I feel glad. Who am I to stay in this private university where many people have failed to reach? Being active in class makes people have time to approach me. I have got used to my classmates and they have got used to me too.”