Even though whydev brings a younger voice to issues and discussion around aid and development, it is rare that we have a chance to hear from a young person from Uganda. I recently had the pleasure of interviewing one of the most articulate and inspiring people I have ever met, Josephine Namirimu, who is a representative of Leonard Cheshire Disability’s Young Voices program. This program trains and brings together youth campaigners with disabilities from over 20 countries who have direct experience of having a disability and living in a poor country. It is unique in that it enables some of the most marginalised people in the world to have a voice and a direct influence over events and policy.
Although it was not my intention to interview anyone for whydev while at the conference, I was blown away by how well Josephine spoke about the topic of being young, female, and having a disability in Uganda. So impressed was I, that I simply had to hear more.
We talked about the difficulties that girls with disabilities face in Uganda, how being given the chance to have a voice has helped Josephine, and the importance of the Internet and Facebook for young people with disabilities. Our ten-minute interview can be found below, and the transcript below that. Thanks to Leonard Cheshire Disability and UNESCAP for hosting the conference.
If the audio below isn’t working, you can listen to the interview here.
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Weh: I’m here in Bangkok here at the moment at the Leonard Cheshire Disability and UNESCAP-hosted conference and I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Josephine Namirimu from Uganda’s Young Voices Program. Josephine I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit about yourself and also the Young Voices program that you’re a part of.
Josephine: Thank you so much. I’m Josephine Namirimu, from Uganda, Young Voices, acting as the vice chairperson, Young Voices, Uganda. Young Voices Uganda is a part of the global Young Voices and Young Voices is part of Leonard Cheshire Disability International. It started in Uganda in 2009. We are 39 members and we are divided into 2 groups. One group is in the central and another is in the east. Young Voices is big and widely spread, especially in Asia-Pacific, Africa and other parts of the world.
Weh: So I’ve just heard a really fascinating presentation by yourself here in Bangkok. You were talking about the perspective of a younger person with a disability living in Uganda and being female. Can you tell us a little more about some of the challenges specifically young people with disabilities face and particularly girls?
Josephine: Young Voices and women with disabilities, especially youth, are really facing a lot of trauma, in most of the developing countries. I don’t know how much it is in other areas, but in the developing countries, it’s really worse. When it comes to gender, it’s a double discrimination. First of all, we are marginalised as female, and secondly due to our disability identity, it has become really difficult. We’ve been affected in different ways. There is risk of sexual harassment, exploitation, and really there is no voice and positive response to that. Actually, due to UNCRPD (United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities) there is a kind of response and most of the countries have adopted, for instance, in Uganda, they’ve ratified it and governments are just beginning to adapt to the UNCRPD. However, if some of the issues are being worked upon, the greater part is still remaining in Uganda.
It is really, really difficult, especially to make it to school, lack of appliances, the ramps – ramps are in place but they are not in good condition. It’s like they’ve been put for formality. However, as Young Voices it is our role to keep on reminding the concerned parties to make it proper.
I still need to enlighten you more about the challenges faced by the ladies, young girls with disabilities. It happens that since we are so vulnerable, and because of that we can easily by affected and fall victims of so many circumstances. We’ve been misused, we’ve been abused, raped. For instance in Botswana, there is a story that’s been pointed out by Young Voices member in Botswana. A girl who is visually impaired. She forced in love, she was raped actually and she conceived accidentally. However, there was no kind of response or care towards this girl and it happens that this girl, her times of giving birth, no one was there. She struggled so much and after the baby was out, unfortunately, the kid passed away. This is the girl who spent almost a week in a coma, and after that, she also died. So it has been seen that there is not much concern towards women with disabilities, and young people as well. And because of that, we’ve been found to fall victims and we miss our chance to our future life. We would like to get the kind of life that we do want, just like other people. Because I do believe that there is no difference from us and other people. The fact that we cannot maybe walk from one place to another. However, we can perform in other areas. As Young Voices, we can just say that “hold me by hand and then I’ll reach to wherever I want me to go. If you hold us, if you help us, we can really perform it and we can forget all about other issues”.
Weh: And of course Young Voices gives young women and men opportunities to talk about their particular issues and lives. Can you tell me how you think Young Voices can help young people with disabilities improve their own situation?
Josephine: Young Voices has really, really done great. Has helped us and is still helping us. The limited age within the group is 16 to 25 and during that period we are trained on how to talk, how to advocate, how to present ourselves, we’ve been given trainings on ourselves. Their plan towards people with disabilities has been great and it is the reason I am able to talk to you frankly. Before, I was so shy, I could not even talk to people just because I’m disabled and I think everyone could be under-looking me. However, when Young Voices came out, they trained us, we have potential and I’m proud of Young Voices.
Weh: It’s amazing to think that you thought previously you wouldn’t be able to communicate well, because you communicate so well now, so it’s an amazing transformation if that’s true. You also talked a lot in your presentation about technology, the internet, mobile phones and you mentioned Facebook as well. Can you explain a little more about why you think these sorts of technologies are important for young people with disabilities?
Josephine: This source of information, especially the internet is so important simply because it reaches out to us, to so many people. Especially in developing countries. Right now, most of the people they get access to internet. They read information, and since people are so busy, we are living a busy world, people have limited time. However with internet it is precise, so if we put information on the internet we are able and fully assured that it will reach out to many people. However it is slightly different from most of the countries in Africa, because most of the children and people with disabilities, I’m sure they don’t know how to use the internet. The reason being it is inaccessible in their countries, it is costly and above all, we don’t know how to use the internet. So we are missing a lot in that area. We would like to know more and more about the internet to reach the same level as others.
Weh: In order for you be able to access technology such as the internet, what sort of things do you think need to happen, what sort of role does government need to play or NGOS for young people with disabilities to access the internet more in places like Uganda?
Josephine: First of all is to avail the facilities and to make such places for internet and other sources accessible for all people including people with a disability. We need trainings. We need to know how to use the internet, how to use all the updated sources of communication. So I do believe when such sources are in place they are available to everyone, it will be easy for us to catch up.
Weh: Young people with disabilities need to be able to access internet and use sites like Facebook to communicate. How do you tell people who are from an older generation, who are often the ones in control of funding and resources, how do you explain to them that technology like Facebook is really important, when perhaps they are not so familiar with it as young people are? What would you say to these funders to convince them that it is important?
Josephine: I would really convince them, persuade them, by telling them the role of the internet today. Clearly, showing them that internet is worldwide and everyone gets access to it. It’s precise and we really also need to be on the same pace worldwide.
Weh: That’s excellent. Thank you very much for your time with us Josephine and we hope to be in touch with you in the future.
Josephine: You’re welcome. Thank you so much for your time too and the opportunity.
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