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By Joseph Malinga

Some people think a non-successful academic career path, may as well mean no success in life at all.  While it may as well be true to some, it is not necessarily so for others. Ms Rose Atugonza Akiiki, 24, a female youth with disability –physical, and a resident of Biiso trading centre, is atypical epitome of the later. In her ordeal, she exhibits determination to succeed in life at all odds. 

Having dropped out of school at primary seven, Atugonza nearly lost hope of realising her dream life. Her mother could no longer afford to meet costs of her education. Her father was long gone, meaning the mother was to struggle by herself to bring up eight children. Atugonza is the sixth of the eight children and she is the only one with disability.

All there was left for Atugonza, was supporting the mother till the gardens to find a living. She would also support her mother in selling Cassava flour at the Rift valley shore, the proceeds from which the family would find extra funds to meet the domestic needs─ including meeting her own basic needs. ‘This is a hard life’, she often told herself, and wished a miracle could happen that might change her destiny.

In April 2013 Atugonza, vividly recalls having heard announcement on one of the local radio stations calling for Youth with disabilities to gather at Buliisa district because an upcoming project was interested in supporting them. Without hesitating, she travelled to the district without even understating what the project was all about.

Fortunately, her perfect miracle─ she often wished would happen─ actually came to pass. The Miracle, was connecting the dot project that works to improve the employability of youth with disabilities by giving them skills that would either support them get formal employment or be self-employed.

At the meeting, project implementers asked participants to choose what skills they thought would serve their interests. For Atugonza, tailoring would definitely be the answer and Nile vocational training institute, Hoima, was the right place to attain the much needed skills. She spent approximately five months, and before long, she was pronounced a professional tailor.

 

She was now ready to go and tussle her future out. Equipped with One tailoring machine as start-up kits, Atugonza returned to Biiso trading centre, used 38,000(out of her small savings shs 100,000 she received as internship facilitation)to rent a double roomed house and used the balance to purchase materials, and off, she kicked-started her journey to achieving her dream life. Since then, Atugonza has tremendously progressed. Apart from having a tailoring shop where she sells fabrics known as Kitenge, mends clothes, she also sells pancakes, sugarcane, avocado fruits, charcoal stoves and local sandals called Lugabire─all in the name of diversification. To her, diversification is very important if she is to achieve her dream life.

“I started this business in September 2014. I sell pan cakes, run the tailoring shop, and sell charcoal stoves, Bitenge fabrics, and Lugabire. I earn shs 15000 per day from pan cakes, 8000 per day from sugarcanes and 5000 from avocado (sugarcane and avocado are seasonal though). From tailoring I charge shs 5000 to sew a kitenge, which costs UGX shs 10000 to buy. I also train local community members in tailoring and each candidate pays me shs 100,000 per month. I have five tailoring machines now,” she said with a bold smile.

Atugonza, understands well that customer care is key to the successful business as well knows that having financial discipline is the only way to propel business targets. This she has exhibited by ploughing back every penny into her business and often follows demand trends. “What the customer asks for is what I bring. That is why you see I am selling a variety here,” she argues.

From her earnings Atugoza believes she is empowered, and is able to live a life she often desired to. Besides she is helping her mother out in paying fees for her little brother who just concluded senior six and are now planning to take him for a course.

“I eat whatever I want. I choose what to do and not to do. I am now much empowered unlike before the project support. You see when you have no money you can’t make decisions most times,” she notes. Atugonza’s story reflects much of the plight young women with disabilities experience in various societies in Uganda, where access to employment remains a night mare. After all community still regards them as unable. With connecting the dots project interventions, however, Atugonza’s story will go along in way in dispelling the community negative attitudes.


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