Rushooka Parish in south-western Uganda consists of some 21 villages scattered through the countryside. Most people living in the area are poor, struggling to make ends meet from day to day. In such circumstances, children living with disabilities are doubly disadvantaged, through poverty and disability. Often, their parents do not know how to look after them correctly, and they miss out on services that could make their lives easier and more dignified. Because of superstition, children born with disabilities are frequently hidden away at home, and the lack of visibility in the community further increases their isolation.
The Karidaari Seed School is located in the village of Rwentobo. “Karidaari” is the Swahili word for mustard, and the name of the school, which was set up by the Franciscan Brothers, is inspired by the passage in St. Matthew’s Gospel about having faith the size of a mustard seed and being able to move mountains. With a dedicated team of staff and volunters, the School is moving two mountains: the lack of services for children with disability, and the negative perceptions of disability in the community at large.
Through Misean Cara member organisation, Viatores Christi, a volunteer physiotherapist was provided to the School, where children living with disabilities learn how to fend for themselves and are helped to develop their capacity for movement and performing simple daily tasks. Even the simplest interventions can make a significant difference to a child’s quality of life. Outreach teams travel throughout the villages in the area, showing parents how to care for their children, and promoting a positive view of disability within the community.
The restrictions on movement caused by the COVID-19 pandemic meant that the School had to be closed down in March this year. But the outreach work continued, with volunteers and staff from the School travelling to the homes of children who would normally be attending the School. In the midst of the upheaval caused by the pandemic, this provided an opportunity for the Karidaari staff to get to know the children’s families even better, and understand more fully the circumstances in which the children are living.
Through its work with children and families, and its broader outreach work, the Karidaari Seed School is improving the lives of children with disabilities and, with an eye to the future, promoting understanding in the community at large, breaking down barriers of stigma and superstition. The ultimate goal is that people with disabilities can live lives of dignity as fully accepted members of their communities.