New Vision (Kampala)

12 December 2012

Uganda: Ashamed of Her Disability, Achieng's Husband Left Her

Florence Achieng tastes the depth of despair, rejection, and helplessness almost daily. She lives in Atapara trading centre, Paya Sub-county, in Tororo district.

She crawls because of a disability that left her legs twisted. Despite this, after nine years of cohabiting with the only man she knows as her husband, Padde, Achieng has to fend for herself and her four children.

Early this year, Padde, who was also the family bread-winner, abandoned her in their rented house when he found himself a new bride.

Achieng does not know the family of her now errant husband. She says he remained discreet about his people and never introduced her to them. All she knows is that they are in Budaka.

Achieng's parents died when she was a baby. Her sister took on the responsibility of caring for her, even after she (Achieng's sister) got married and moved from Kayunga to Tororo. Unfortunately, the couple died five years ago.

Achieng's livelihood since Padde unceremoniously vanished has entirely depended on the kindness of neighbours. Destitute, she is compelled to travel 26km to Tororo town to beg for money.

With no money to begin a small business and no land to grow her own food, the single mother cannot stop worrying about the future.

She may have come to terms with the emptiness that her husband has left her with, but she cannot bear the torment of the new role she has since assumed - sole bread-winner.

"My greatest challenge is feeding myself and the children and paying rent," she says.

We found Achieng and three of her children gathering sorghum, which had been strewn earlier in the day to dry in their narrow courtyard.

"A kind neighbour gave this to me in the morning," Achieng said of the meagre sorghum.

A few yards away, her eldest daughter, who is barely eight years old, knelt blowing at the fireplace with all her might.

A soot-coated saucepan rested on the hearth, plain green vegetables cooking in it. Nearby, on a plastic plate, was a small portion of millet bread still steaming. The girl soon announced that the meal was ready and Achieng crawled to the kitchen to serve her little ones.

Achieng struggled to contain herself as she narrated how the biting poverty forces her to travel to town every Friday to get financial assistance from a kind Muslim businessman called Malik. For years now, Malik has dutifully offered financial assistance to persons with disabilities every Friday.

Rejected

The day Padde walked out on them is still fresh in Achieng's mind. She remembers Padde returning home and packing some of his possessions. Achieng says when she asked him where he was going, he exploded with words that cut her deep.

"I have always wondered what devil lured me into marrying a woman who is physically inadequate," Padde reportedly said.

He added that seeing her crawling instead of walking was upsetting him, so he was leaving her for a woman who would not stress him.

Achieng remembers how she cried and pleaded with her husband not to abandon her, but in vain.

For Achieng, apart from the time Padde was wooing her, she does not remember living at peace with him, although she compliments him for dutifully providing for the family when he was still with them.

Achieng says what she is sure made Padde so uncomfortable was being seen with her in public.

Hope for business

Amazingly, none of Achieng's children looks malnourished. With the kindness and love with which she looks at them, anyone can tell that she will do anything to fight for their wellbeing, but she wants to do more for them.

Inspite of her disability, Achieng says she is capable of doing a business and becoming self-reliant.

"If I could only get a helping hand in the form of capital, I would start a business. Maybe I could sell groceries or become a fishmonger," Achieng says.

The Tororo district officer in charge of Persons With Disability (PWDs), Moses Moize, confessed that he was not aware of Achieng's plight, but promised to trace her and get her on board with some of the available empowerment programmes.

He, however, said the economic empowerment programme for PWDS under the community-based rehabilitation programme, no longer considers individual cases, but deals with groups.

Recipients would have to be mobilised in their communities and educated on a range of skills, before any funds are channelled to each group sharing the same economic activity.

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