By Emmanuel Okwii
Although many graduates dream of sitting in a comfy office and driving a posh car soon after graduating, this has not been the case for Engwalas David. His life has been reduced to that of a pauper because he is not employed, courtesy of his disability. The man’s legs are twined, one on the other and he wears clipped shoes. His movement his aided by a pair of crutches that he says have enabled him move from a life of seclusion to public life.
Born in Ojalasi Village in Kumi district 35 years ago, his parents couldn’t find a better name for him other than ‘Engwalas’, an Ateso synonym for ‘lame man’ .Little did he know that this reference to him would permanently remain a name with which he would be identified with stigma for the rest of his life.
Born to Mrs. Ityamat Theresa and Mr. Icakol Augustine in 1978, David never had any blemish on his body. However, as years went by, he developed complications of fever that would leave him permanently lame.
“It started like fever and he was admitted at Kumi hospital. This was when he was three years old,” Mrs. Ityamat the mother of the disabled youth says. She adds that as years went by, they noticed that the boy’s legs had started becoming crooked and he could not crawl and later on walk.
“It was regarded a curse for one to have a lame child those days. However, I tried my best to take him to school hoping he would at least attain some knowledge and become at least a cobbler,” Augustine Icakol 65, said. He adds that he had to accommodate the decisions from the society and the badmouthing intended to hurt his determination to educate a disabled child.
“They would tell me I was wasting my time but I ignored their scorn because I had hopes my son would make it in the world of academics,” Icakol said.
David Engwalas went to Atuitui Primary School in Ongino Sub County between 1988 to 1994. He later joined Ngora High school for Ordinary Level Secondary education from 1995-1998. Soon after completing O’Level, he was not in position to continue with his studies owing to his poor family background.
“My parents, being peasants, were unable to afford A ‘Level fees at Ngora High School so I had to sit home for some time,” Engwalas recalls. However, after saving some money from the proceeds of his father’s fishing and agricultural activity; he later joined Mbale Progressive Secondary School between 2002 to 2003.
In 2005, having scored good grades, he was admitted to pursue a course in Secretarial Studies at Makerere University and he graduated in 2008. He then worked with Otipe Micro Investments, a secretarial bureau in Kumi town, soon after graduating with a bachelor in Secretarial studies.
“This business didn’t last. The owner relocated because he had not realized viable profits and this automatically rendered me jobless,” Engwalas says. He adds that from that time to date, he has never secured a paying job despite being qualified.
Stigmatized By Employers
David didn’t keep down his hunt for a job. He kept on dropping job applications to several organizations and offices to no avail.
“I applied for a job with institutions and companies like Kumi District local government, Kumi University, Nile Breweries and NEMA but I was never shortlisted. Most of them told me that I would never manage street life and more so move from storey to storey,” He said. He remembers a particular situation in which he was shortlisted by Kumi District Local Government but was not interviewed because a ‘technical person’ had not been got to interview him.
“There is a very negative attitude by employers that lame men like me can’t get any job done,” David said. He adds that many companies he approached think that he “can’t manage to live and work in town or a busy environment on crutches”
Although he expected support from employers, they instead offer to be sympathetic with him.
“My uncle in Juba once told me that he would have got me a job there had I not been lame,” the youth says. He told him that with the security situation in Juba, he wouldn’t be able to escape in case of any unrest.
“Many employers think that I don’t have the skills needed in the job market which is not true. They should know that just as a disabled person can be educated, he can equally be employed to do any job,” Engwalas said. David adds that employers should consider people with disability as people who can perform normally because disability is not inability.
Being the eldest of the five children in his family, he is in most cases looked upon as a savior because of his success in education.
“At the moment my mother is in hospital. She was bitten by a dog and she is suspected to be having rabies but I can’t afford her treatment,” He says. He adds that several of his brothers and sisters have dropped out of school because of financial reasons, a situation he could have salvaged if he had a job.
“All my parents are still alive but I can’t help them. I need a job to be able to earn something and intervene in my family’s situation,”
Due to frustration, the youth has sought refuge at the dilapidated Kumi Railway Station’s buildings though he vows he won’t stop praying and looking for a job.
“I can’t stay in the same compound and watch my parents suffer. I will stay here until I acquire a job,” He said.
Engwalas calls upon all employers out there to change their mindsets and offer him a job. He especially sends a special request to National Union for Disabled Persons in Uganda [NUDIPU] to come to his rescue and support him.
“Please tell them I have a bachelor of Secretarial Studies from Makerere University,” he said
He can be reached on mobile 0750619445 or 0783367416