Monica holding a red wrench.
Monica holding a red wrench.

Photo © Annie Bungeroth


How an apprentice plumber is smashing negative stereotypes of women with disabilities

In a crowded meeting hall, Edith Kagoya is doing a dance of happiness. Monica Friday has just said she wants to become a plumber.

Edith manages Connecting the Dots, a training and employment programme funded by Sightsavers and the European Commission. She loves it when gender stereotypes are broken down, and she knows Monica can make a good living from plumbing. Monica, who’s 24 and has a physical disability, is keen to disprove stereotypes too.

“There is a lot of discrimination against people with disabilities in Uganda,” she says. “It’s thought a disabled person cannot work.”

Monica sat outside with her extended family.

Monica with her extended family.

Photo © Annie Bungeroth

Monica’s excited to join Connecting the Dots for more than just the chance to fight misconceptions; she’s also determined to earn an income. Monica is one of seven children, and many other relatives live with her family; they’re all reliant on farming to survive.

Monica and her family sell some of their produce but don’t have sufficient land to make much of a living. Monica’s unable to join in with digging, and she’s desperate to help support the family. She previously worked as a teaching assistant, but had no qualifications which meant she earned very little.

Monica’s parents are supportive, and that’s not often the case for people with disabilities in Uganda. They find it hard to see her despondent when she’s so ambitious. “Monica wants to better herself, she likes hard work,” says her mother. “People say, ‘Ah, that one is disabled, she can’t get married, she can’t do anything, she is just nothing in the community.’ I feel a lot of sorrow when I hear that.”

Monica on her bunk bed in her dormitory.

Monica in the dormitory of the college where she studies plumbing.

Photo © Annie Bungeroth

A life-changing training programme

Monica got her opportunity to join the Connecting the Dots programme just as she was starting to despair about her future. “I didn’t have any hopes of getting any opportunity of any person or organisation, other than my parents taking me for a course, [and they] couldn’t raise the money for that,” she says. “I felt so happy when I was given a course to do.”

Monica’s thrilled with her unusual choice of job, and pleased to break barriers for women as well as people with disabilities. She claps her hands laughing when she thinks about being the first female plumber in the area.

Monica’s parents are over the moon too: her father used to be a plumber, so he’s pleased she’s following in his footsteps. But more importantly, they’re happy she can live up to her potential. “I am so pleased the programme is helping Monica to do something for herself,” he says.

Monica in the doorway of her family home.

Monica outside her family home.

Photo © Annie Bungeroth

Monica’s determined to succeed in her training. She wants to start earning an income, and she’s passionate about teaching others not to underestimate the contribution of people with disabilities. “By a disabled person proving they can do the work,” she says, “that’s how we can change the opinion in our community.”