Jane smiling.
Jane smiling.

Photo © Tommy Trenchard

Jane

“I will prove to them I can do something”

In a room of more than 70 people, Jane Kayeye stands out a mile. She’s gazing up at Edith, Sightsavers’ programme manager, with a look of pure delight as she listens to a description of the vocational training she’s about to start.

Jane’s been selected to participate in an economic empowerment programme called Connecting the Dots, which supports young people with disabilities to gain skills and find employment, while helping to build their confidence and fight discrimination. It’s a real turning point for her; until now she’s been reliant on her family for support. “I don’t like just staying at home sitting,” she says. “It doesn’t help anything, so I felt bad.”

Jane contracted malaria when she was a child and it’s left her with severe physical disabilities. “My legs are rigid, I can’t move long distances… I have to stay nearby my home,” she says. She lives in a remote village, so this has seriously restricted her opportunities for education and employment. Because Jane struggled so much with her mobility she ended up dropping out of school – for many people with mobility issues, the prohibitive cost of resources like wheelchairs mean they have to get around by shuffling slowly or even crawling on the ground.

Jane sitting with her father outside.

Jane sitting with her father outside their home in Masindi, Uganda.

Photo © Tommy Trenchard

Jane’s mother was supportive of her education, but she died when Jane was young, and that was when Jane dropped out of school. Her father is not as encouraging, and thinks she should stay at home. He admits he lost hope when she became disabled, saying: “I saw that she could not do anything and I knew she would not be able to help us in the future.”

But Jane’s determined not to let negative perceptions of disability dictate her life and career options. “I will prove to them I can do something,” she says, “then they will believe I can.”

Jane, in her own words

I liked school; even now I would like to study, but my disability made me drop out. It felt bad when I had to leave – if I had access to education I could be OK now. If you are at home sitting doing nothing, others are looking after you; you are not in a position of getting money, you are dependant. Since my childhood, I have been dependent. If the chance is given to me to acquire skills, and if I am able to earn some money, my life can improve; I can look after myself.

Jane with a knitting machine.

Jane in the classroom learning to use the knitting machine.

Photo © Tommy Trenchard

I came to know about Sightsavers because my older sister, who lives some distance away, rang my brother and told him about the project. When I heard I could do the training I felt good – this is my first opportunity. After I have got some money, I will also give my family members some money – to show them I can earn. When I acquire skills and make my own money, that will be very good. I would like to buy some animals, like cattle, if I had money, and also start breeding.

Once you have an interest in anything and you feel you really want it, you fight hard for it and you will find you succeed in what you want to do, so I have tried to think I can do anything. When you can look after yourself very well, you can look like any other person. But when you can’t look after yourself, people will keep saying, “You see that disabled person? They are just there [not doing anything],” and they say bad things about you.

I don’t have any worries about going away; I am feeling good that I am soon going to start. I feel very happy – I can’t explain how happy I am!

Jane walking outside.

Jane walking near her home near Masindi, Uganda.

Photo © Tommy Trenchard

Update: eight months later

Jane’s progressing with her studies, but it hasn’t been plain sailing: she’s having health difficulties that make it hard for her to concentrate, and she’s easily tired. She’s also been on the receiving end of discrimination from some other students (the classes include young people with and without disabilities, and there’s still clearly work to be done to reduce the stigma associated with disability).

Despite these challenges, Jane is determined to succeed. “I enjoy knitting sweaters,” she says, “and I’ll learn to make [them] well; that’s what I’ll do to make money when I go home. I’m happy to be here because I’ll be able to earn money and make a living from these skills. If I continue learning I will improve even more. I have learned socialising and new skills which I never had before.

“I have three friends in the school and they’re from the same tribe as me,” she continues. “They are also in the boarding school – they love me and they care for me. They often fetch me water. I haven’t made my own sweater yet but I’m putting in more effort to achieve this. This course is good because even if you don’t have both legs [working] you can still do knitting.”