Nicholas leaning up against a mirror.
Nicholas leaning up against a mirror.

Photo © Tommy Trenchard


“People will start to see me as a human being”

I’m called Nicholas Mpairwe and I’m 28 years old. I live with my father and my mum, I have a wife and three children, one boy and two girls.

I wasn’t born disabled – I got polio when I was young [this has affected Nicholas’s right arm, which has very little strength in it]. I stopped school in primary five, and when I was at school, the other students laughed at me, joking: “You have a very small hand, how do you eat?” Those questions. They made me feel not free with them.

I cannot get a job. [Working] is too difficult with one hand. This hand doesn’t help me much – if I pick it up it just falls, there is no energy in it. The most important thing for the house is to have food, but money is a problem. The little we get, we try to balance so we stay well. My son has epilepsy; he needs regular medication and it is expensive – too much. Sometimes I go to the government hospital and I can get the medicines there, sometimes it’s finished and we need money. It is difficult; I worry about it. He needs these drugs and the money I get is not enough.

It was so difficult for me to get a wife. Most [women] were saying, “You are disabled, if I am sick will you manage to carry me to the hospital? You have one hand, you cannot drive a motorcycle or bicycle.” There were so many questions I failed to answer. I thank God because my wife said, “It is not you who asked to be disabled, it’s the plans of God. So I will come and be with you, helping you.” I always liked her so much [for that]. She loves me and I love her. If she couldn’t help me I wouldn’t be in a very good condition.

Nicholas and his wife Rose walking on a road. Rose is holding a farming tool over her right shoulder.

Nicholas with his wife Rose walking back from the couple’s farm in Bisso, Uganda.

Photo © Tommy Trenchard

Most of our people think those who are disabled cannot help much. For work, I tried to ask for work surfacing the road – I can do that with one hand – but they said I should wait for next year and they would call us for an interview. They said I came late, they had already given the jobs for this year.

Before I heard about the Sightsavers programme I felt unhappy, like I wouldn’t have a good future. My heart has so many things to think about. I see people who have money, they are free and happy, they can buy anything for their family. And when I think of those things, I just go and sit [on the verge of tears]. I think maybe one day [my wife] will leave me because I can’t help her, I don’t have enough money. It puts me in a bad mind.

But then I found out I could go for training, and I felt very happy. The first person I told was my wife, and after that I told my father – they asked me, “Why today you are too happy?” And I told them Sightsavers wanted me to go for teaching, which can help me. I told them I will do salon [hairdressing]; you use the machine with one hand, you can cut. [People] come with [a lot of] hair and you clean, you cut, and you find the person is very smart!

Nicholas standing next to a hairdryer.

Nicholas on the first day of his hairdressing course.

Photo © Tommy Trenchard

The first thing I want when I start to work is to buy the goats and grow [my savings] maybe for three months to one year, [then] I will see what I can buy for my family – maybe help for school fees for my kids. That’s my plan.

I will feel very free [when I have a skill and a profession]. People will change their mind and they will start to see me as a human being who can help them so I will feel very happy

Update: eight months later

It’s mostly as I imagined. My family are very OK: I got a call early this morning asking how I am here and I told them I am free! I am going well – my teacher is here for hair cutting. We are now cleaning the classrooms so we will learn where things are – I haven’t been round hairdressing equipment before. I will enjoy my course, I am happy with my teacher. She said it’s better when you teach men; girls love it when there’s a male hairdresser! The teacher has been showing us some activity and use [of the salon tools], how to handle our customers when they come and how to welcome them. That’s what we’ve learned today. I think I will be happy here.