New Vision (Kampala)

21 February 2013

Uganda: Denied Jobs Because of Disability

One fateful day 37 years ago, a three-month-old baby born with a disability in the limbs was dumped in the Nakivubo channel by his mother - left to the mercy of the harsh open environment.

But hours later, a Good Samaritan in the form of Fedheresi Nabirye heard the sharp wail of baby as she went about her stroll near the channel. It was the cry of young Rogers Mukembo.

The toddler was wrapped just in a piece of cloth and left for whoever cared. Nabirye picked him up and traveled back to Busoga land - where she lived - along with her.

Her sense of sympathy for the abandoned child might have been drawn from the fact that she was childless and never married then.

So she assumed the role of mother to Mukembo until he was of school-going age, before giving him up to the safety of a Dutch Father - Fr. Raster - who helped get him enrolled into school at Naminage Primary School in Kamuli and Kira College Butiki for his secondary studies.

Despite his difficult past, Mukembo knew better than to give up on life. He pledged admirable commitment towards his studies like any other school-going child with parents would.

"I dedicated most of my free time to studying hard, and when we got to our discussion group I always explained away the difficult study concepts," he recalls.

In fact, most of the students he helped back in school during the group discussions are now current members of parliament.

At school, he forged a spirit of determination and hard work that directly translated into good grades. Never did he let himself be plunged into the realm of hopelessness over his realistic situation - that he was disabled.

With the available resources, he climbed up the academic ladder of success, in which he joined university, acquired a degree in Social Sciences and doubled it with a diploma in Accounting.

After graduating in 2001, Mukembo did not get a job immediately yet unlike today, the competition for the available jobs in the market was not so stiff. During that time, graduating almost guaranteed an opportunity to land a job.

In 2002, he decided to start up a small business as a matooke [banana] vendor in St. Balikuddembe Market - popularly known as Owino Market.

"Starting up the business was not easy for me at all. I did not have the small money I needed to start up the business, so I had to wait for months to get my hands on sh20,000," he remembers.

Later he had to meet the daily dues of the market. One day he had to dodge work because he did not have any money to pay to the authorities, who would prowl the market to collect fees.

After weeks of hard work, he managed to make a profit of sh5,000 daily from his business.

But two years down the road, Mukembo deemed that as a qualified graduate, he deserved a good-paying job. So he started buying newspapers to look for job adverts. His numerous applications were turned down because he was disabled.

Despite these rejections, he kept his candlelight of hope burning. He just was never ready to give up.

And his resilience to court the fairer end of hope finally paid off - and at a time when he had grown considerably accustomed to job rejection.

He was invited for an interview at Nserester Complex Vocational secondary school in Masaka for a placement as school bursar.

For his humility and determination, Mukembo faired through the interview and was given the job, which he started in 2005. And it was at the school that he had his first chance at love. He was plunged into an affair with then 19-year-old Sumaya Nalukwago, a canteen attendant in the neighborhood.

She is now his wife and mother to their four children.

Just when he thought things were moving in the direction he had always longed for, life took an unfair twist towards the end of 2008 when the he lost his job as bursar. Mukembo remembers that moment of his life as if it happened just yesterday.

He no longer had his job when the school director's daughter took over his position. Harsh as it was, Mukembo knew better than to cry over spilled milk, and accepted to move on.

"The past five years have been the hardest years of my life, especially now that I have children to take care of, yet no one is willing to hire me even with my papers because of my disability."

"I have a son who is of school-going age, but I cannot even afford to raise the money needed to buy him the needed scholastic materials since his fees are going to be taken care of by the school.

"I urge anyone who would love to help me, to contribute towards realizing my goal of being self employed by helping me raise about sh500,000 to help me start up a clothing business in Owino market that will help provide for my family."

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