Albert sat outside a hut, smiling.
Albert sat outside a hut, smiling.

Photo © Tommy Trenchard

Albert

“Now my hopes are alive that I can make my own money”

We met Albert on his first day of knitting training with Sightsavers’ economic empowerment programme.

The programme provides training and employment opportunities for young people with disabilities in western Uganda. As well as gaining skills and financial empowerment, the students grow in confidence. Many have spent their lives believing they’re worthless or incapable of supporting themselves.

Albert is 23 years old and lives with his brother. “I was small when my parents died – I can’t remember them,” he explains. “When I was born I could see, but something happened. I first felt pain in my eyes then after I became visually impaired, [blindness] came gradually. I was 14 years old; I didn’t get any treatment and there was no money to go to the doctor. So I had to stop [going to school] because my school wasn’t for people who are blind – I heard that there was a school for the blind, but I didn’t have money that could pay for it.”

Albert sat on a chair outside a hut, his head resting in his right hand.

Albert Jakwonga, a new participant of Sightsavers Masindi economic empowerment project outside his house

Photo © Annie Bungeroth

He continues: “I felt bad and I felt the future was hopeless. I didn’t expect to get anything in my future: I didn’t think there was any kind of job that I could do. I’d never met anyone else that was blind.

“I am married and I have a son who is one year old, but [my wife] has gone back to her parents. They asked me to pay a small dowry and she’ll come back here. When we were together I was happy because she could help me in so many things – washing my clothes, fetching me water. My son has gone too, I miss him a lot and haven’t seen him for two months.

“I spend much of my time just sitting at home because I have no job to do. I feel bad, because I can’t do the digging [on the family farm]. I have no garden, I just keep seated at home – I feel so bad. Other people, if I am just moving on my way and there’s something I don’t know ahead of me, they just leave me and I knock it and they laugh at me. They tell me to sit down because I have lost my sight and there is nothing I can do in this world.”

Albert and his brother sat outside on a bench

Albert and his brother at home in Masindi, Uganda.

Photo © Tommy Trenchard

The impact on the family

Albert’s brother, Clavery, has been caring for Albert since their parents died. “I was 15 years old when they died,” Clavery explains. “I tried to manage: whenever I could get a bit of food I would share it with him, but I struggled. [When Albert lost his sight] I used to cry inside my heart and I would cry to people, asking if there was anyone who could come and give us some hope because we had no parent with us.”

He continues: “People say that because Albert has no sight, he will be the poorest person ever in this world. I didn’t think people like Albert could get a job and earn money; I thought his future would be bad because he has got no sight.”

“I felt so good [about Albert joining the empowerment programme]. He will come back a changed person and with the support it gives him he will be able to change his life. All my hopes are now OK – I feel that Albert will be OK.”

Albert at his knitting machine.

Albert with his knitting machine on the first day of term.

Photo © Tommy Trenchard

A way out

When Albert heard about Sightsavers and the economic empowerment programme, he says he felt a glimmer of hope.

“The chairman for the blind in Masindi rang Saidi, our youth chairperson, and told us that Sightsavers is giving help to youth with disabilities,” Albert explains. “After my course I will come back home and be given a tool and I will be able to work and get my own money. It will help me to build my own house, buy my own land and be able to meet my basic needs. I will be able to help  other people who are in need. My life will change and it will be very good.

“I chose to do knitting because some other jobs, like tailoring, carpentry and mechanics, I can’t do them properly – I cannot see and they need someone who has sight. But I know that when I do knitting I will be able to master everything in my head since it doesn’t need someone who can see.

Albert’s changing attitude

“I’d never heard of someone like me being able to do their own work, but when I went to the meeting in Masindi, I heard Godfrey Bagada [a community leader] telling of a person who is blind who has been helped by Sightsavers and is now earning his own money. I felt so happy! Now my hopes are alive that I can make my own money. Before I heard of Sightsavers I had the belief that I can’t do anything for myself but now I don’t think that I can fail to do anything for myself.”

When we catch up with Albert eight months later, he’s in high spirits. “I have had peace at school and also good friends,” he says.

I feel so good. People have realised that I can also do work for myself and are now even giving me support.

“My attitude has changed, and my capabilities. Before being taken for skills training, I had a lot of thoughts and questions, asking myself: ‘What am really doing in this world?’ But now, I feel like someone. I have learned that people with disabilities have the right to work. I hope that by the end of six months, I will have got my start-up tools and begun to work.”