Stories from Our Program

Giving Gulu University Science Students More Skills in Technology

Gulu-University-Students-of-O&P-tech-Lab1

Gulu University students at O&P Tech Lab

Lack of, or inadequate science materials, in addition to ill-equipped laboratories in most Universities in Uganda have always led to the passing-out of poorly trained science graduates who are unable to innovate, or solve simple problems in the community. Oysters & Pearls – Uganda is filling that vacuum, by giving hands-on training to Gulu University students in Computer Science topics at their makerspace.

In the last week of October, Oysters & Pearls – Uganda trained Gulu University students in robotics and programming, among other technology related topics. More than fifty students benefited from the program, and some of them confessed to have gotten their first hands-on experience.

Now, the students gather at the Oysters & Pearls – Uganda Lab every Wednesday and Thursday, to get more practical skills in various fields in technology.

Fernando Opifeera, a first year student Bachelor of Science in ICT says the makerspace is giving him an opportunity to learn more in his course because; “At the Makerspace, I am able to match the theory I learned at the university with its practical application .”

This initiative is also simplifying the learning process of a number of the science students at the university, as Fernando professes.

“Web design is taught in second year, but I am learning it at the Makerspace. So next year, it will be a walk-over for me”, Fernando said.

Students around computer monitors learning programming

Gulu University flock to the Makerspace at Oysters & Pearls – Uganda for more tips on progamming and robotics

Fernando is delighted that he will have some practical work to keep him busy throughout the holidays. The first year of University education in Uganda is mostly filled with theories, and very little, if any, of practical work. This, Fernando says, makes him feel fortunate! “With this, I will be a step ahead of other first year students”.

And the initiative gets even better, because robotics and embedded systems, according to Fernando, are not taught by Gulu University.

“It is a great opportunity for me, because I will be able to integrate hardware and software knowledge. The university concentrates only in software.”

Fernando is just one of the two dozen students coming to the tech-lab to learn more.

Phyllis Nassuna is the Women & Girls in Technology Program Coordinator at Oysters & Pearls – Uganda. She says, after the October 2017 training of Gulu University Science students by Oysters & Pearls – Uganda, a number of them showed interest in learning different programing languages and technology programs.

“We have two groups, one focusing on web development, for those interested in software development, and another group is in hardware,” Phyllis said.

Within two weeks, the students had been introduced to Web Technologies and Development. Basically, the themes include HyperText Markup Language (HTML), which is used to create websites and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS); applied in styling the website and designing the user interface.

“The students are now building a personal portfolio website which they update and improve during each training session.”

Oysters & Pearls – Uganda has announced a similar training in HTML and will be introduced to the Blind Annex students starting in January 2018.

Computerized Devices and Text Books Helping Blind Students to Excel

“I am sure one of the six blind students sitting for national examinations will pass with distinctions.” The head of the Special Needs Unit at Gulu High School, Daniel Odoch expressed this firm conviction. Francis Ojukul, the coordinator of the VI department, had the same feeling.

For three and a half decades though, such optimism in the performance of the blind and visually impaired students at Gulu High School was non- existent.

In Uganda, education for Persons with Disabilities was started in 1952 by the Colonial Government. The special needs education services were for a few children with visual, hearing, learning and mobility challenges who were not gaining from the existing educational provision for regular children. However, Persons with Disabilities are still generally marginalized by beliefs and attitudes in society, and so developments in this ‘Special Education’ have been moving slowly since then.

The blind annex of the school was launched in 1986. But it was only five years ago, when Oysters & Pearls started sponsoring and giving study materials and tools to the blind, that the unit started producing first grades, both in internal and external examinations.

“Since 2012, we have registered at least a first grade in the national examinations,” said Mr. Ali Muzamil, a blind teacher of Commerce at the School.

Mr. Muzamil attributes the improvement in grades of the blind and visually impaired students to the availability of text books in soft copy, which allows them to research on their own.

“In the past, the blind and visually impaired students relied on the good will of others to assist them in their research in the library. That kind of help did not come often, especially during exam time.”

Oysters & Pearls-Uganda has purchased the entire library of texts, novels and plays that are used in S1-S6 and these have all been scanned so students can access them on their devices or the PC (FS Reader in JAWS enables the navigation of DAISY format).

With the construction of the library, it means that blind students can “check out” the book and share with sighted students if they want to study together.  It also means that all text books are accessible to them every time, throughout the week on any of their assistive devices, to study alone or in small groups.

According to Daniel Odoch, ever since Oysters & Pearls-Uganda provided the students with computers, the learners hand in their laser printed copy as soon as it is complete, and get their results together with the sighted students.

Previously, students turned in their work in Braille. It had to be transcribed with a proficient Braille reader putting one finger on the Braille page and the other on the typewriter – a very inefficient and time-consuming process subject to errors or omissions or mistyped words.

“Many students failed because of wrong, or poor transcription. They were highly demotivated, and did not feel the need to compete for the top position,” Daniel said.

The manual transcription from Braille to typewriter also strained our human resources. The head of Special Needs, Daniel and Mr. Ali used to spend the entire end-of-year break transcribing the final exams of students, with the hope that the sighted teachers would then read the typewritten results.  Because of the delay, many papers went ungraded and students had incomplete report cards.  What’s worse is that students rarely received any feedback on their work, so they just moved through the year, hoping that they were understanding the concepts and would perform well.  Some students did achieve decent results, but most were left behind, with little chance of passing the harder subjects like mathematics, which automatically deprived them of a first grade, a mandatory subject.

Another disadvantage of the Braille is that the blind students couldn’t use them to type notes in class, because of the noise, so they sat in silence and relied on the sighted students to patiently read their notes while they Brailled them after class.  This was time-consuming and meant the blind student only captured what the sighted student captured.

Sandra Wasburn, the founder of Oysters & Pearls-Uganda said, “I saw many instances in the past where sighted siblings would come to the Annex and read textbooks to the blind students. They basically created their own Braille textbooks, because the printed one was not accessible.”

With the availability of blind-friendly devices and other tools, the students have been encouraged to work harder.

Oysters & Pearls-Uganda has given devices such as Victor Stream Readers; these are handheld media players for the blind and visually impaired. A Victor Stream Reader plays DAISY books, MP3, MP4 and many other media formats. It records voice. Its lightness makes it a perfect tool for persons who don’t have computers, and a convenient device for transferring a collection of DAISY books on CDs onto single, portable audio playback device, without the use of a PC.

The students can now listen to academic books that have been scanned in the DAISY format using the Plustek scanner which has a sharp edge for books enabling a clean scan.  The software of the scanner enables the user to choose the format: PDF, RTF, DAISY, etc.  DAISY enables the listener to find specific chapters or bookmarked sections and that’s important because a 300-page document without the ability to navigate easily would take forever to move around in.

With these devices, the blind and VI students now have timely access to in-class handouts, because the staff of the blind annex can use Duxbury software, also donated by Oysters & Pearls-Uganda to print on the Braille embosser.  Students will continue to need to use Braille for reading in order to better learn grammar and spelling, but we don’t have the books available in Braille.  This is a future project that we hope the Ministry of Education and Sports in the country will work on.

Another device given to the students by Oysters & Pearls-Uganda, are the talking calculators; these are designed for blind and low vision users as well as second language learners. They announce the numbers and calculation results in a clear voice.

“All these devices have allowed the blind students to learn at the same pace with the rest of the regular students, unlike before,” he said.

 

 

Spelling quiz for blind students

Increasing Knowledge of Blind Students through Spelling Quizzes and Group Revisions

Oysters & Pearls-Uganda has initiated a weekly quiz competition at Gulu High School to improve the grades of Blind Annex students.

The initiative, which was kicked off this year by Ojukul Francis (O&P-UG Project Coordinator), sets students in groups of four. Each group is comprised of students chosen from senior one up to senior six. The winning group gets a prize at the end of the session.

Students who are educated using a Brailler typically do not receive corrective feedback on the writing skills, including grammer and spelling, because their sighted teachers often cannot read Braille. Their spelling is poor as a result and words are written phonetically.

Nonetheless, they are enthusiastically joining in on quiz day to sharpen spelling and compete to answer questions from past exams to ensure the best possible performance on exams.

Francis says he received numerous complaints from the blind students that sighted teachers were not spelling words for them during class which is majority sighted, ignoring the fact that they cannot see the blackboard.

“The spelling quiz competition is not only making the students improve their spellings, but also to think fast, because each group is given only ten seconds to answer a question,” Francis said.

Odoch Daniel, Head of the Special Needs Unit at Gulu High School reaffirms the advantages of the spelling quizzes to the blind students. Daniel says the exercise is vital to blind students who use advanced braille, grade II.

The Grade ll braille contracts words for quicker typing. For instance, the word knowledge is written as K, and pronounced in full. The word people is written as P, but pronounced as a full word.

Daniel notes that the spelling quizzes are enabling students to be in constant touch with words, so that their national examination grades are not affected because of misspellings.

He adds that; “Since we introduced ICT, we expect students to spell out words in full, not in contracted form”.

He states that the spelling exercises are encouraging the shy students to speak up, and with confidence.

“Putting the students in small groups encourages participation and team work. Since the groups are very small, each of them is forced to talk”.

“And of course, the prize encourages each member to cooperate, so that their group wins”.

Daniel says the unit also plans to form debating teams of the blind and visually impaired students soon. He believes that the debating competitions will enable the students to sharpen critical thinking skills and articulate issues without fear, and also perfect their public speaking skills.

Group Revisions

The organization has also come up with a group-revision system. During the group revisions, the students respond to questions taken from past national examinations in order to prepare them for forthcoming national examinations.

Francis Ojukul said the practice reduces the anxiety and fear of national examinations by acquainting the students with the kind of questions set in national examinations.

Odoch Daniel said the group revision can also include questions from subjects they are not studying, to encourage them to read widely and to be well informed.

In Uganda, blind students are kept from studying subjects like Chemistry, Geography, Biology and Physics due to lack of access to academic material such as map reading and advanced talking calculators. Blind students with interest and natural aptitude for these subjects study them in other countries where assistive materials and devices make the content accessible.

Oysters & Pearls-Uganda Offers Hands-on Training to University Students

The president of the Faculty of Science at Gulu University, is grateful for the hands-on training given by Oysters & Pearls-Uganda, to students of Information Technology and Computer Science.

Jimmy Lukwago, a final year student of Information Technology at the University, expressed his gladness during a career guidance and practical computing seminar at the University, where Oysters & Pearls was a main contributor.

During the event, Oysters & Pearls-Uganda’s director of technology, Jacob Odur, showed the students how a 3D printer works.

Victor Paul, our robotics trainer introduced the students to embedded systems using Arduino. Victor and the students explored the Arduino hardware; looking at both digital and analog pins, power pins, and barrel jack for external power. Other fields that the students experienced was Arduino Integrated Development environment, IDE, and installation of Arduino software and UNO board drivers.

The students also practiced basic programming, for instance, blinking a Light Emitting Diode, LED, and other hardware, such as breadboard used in electronic prototyping/testing of circuits, among others.

Jimmy acknowledged that many of the science students had not experienced such practical work, and had definitely not seen a number of the materials used.

“The university does not have enough materials for practical work, so a majority of the science students are not exposed. This has resulted in low motivation in fields, like robotics”.

“Events such as this seminar, encourage us. After this, students in their final year of studies will be able to understand the applied knowledge, not just the theory-dominated knowledge they have acquired in class over the years.”

“I commend Oysters & Pearls-Uganda for giving us the opportunity to feel whole in our studies.”

Jimmy said the training had opened his mind to be innovative in the field of programming and robotics.

The seminar benefitted all Information Technology and Computer Science students in the Faculty of Science, most of whom Jimmy stated, had not seen the materials used in robotics and programming.

Fifteen years after Gulu University in northern Uganda was established in 2002, the Faculty of Science still lacks enough equipment for all students doing science courses.

According to a 2005 World Bank study, the Uganda education system has been criticized as not engendering a ‘culture of science’, because of inadequate science teachers, poorly equipped science laboratories, and meagre government funding, among others.

 

Robotics Training Inspires Ugandan Youth

Lack of school fees will not kill Daniel Mwa Okocha’s dream of becoming a technologist. As a teenager, Daniel dropped out of Our Lady of Africa, Mukono, where he was studying Physics, Chemistry, and Mathematics.

After dropping out of school, the Makerspace, a technology lab at Oysters & Pearls-Uganda, became a perfect haven for realizing his dream.

Oysters & Pearls-Uganda has been offering the robotics training for communities in Gulu, Northern Uganda since 2013. The Makerspace opened in town in 2016 and offers training to students and interested members of the community, who have a minimum qualification of Ordinary Level and importantly, passion for innovation and technology.

Daniel notes that with knowledge, one can solve any problem.

“I want to make a flying bicycle. Nowadays, transport is a problem, so I want to make my own means of transport.”

At the end of the lesson, Daniel is busy working with a set of wires and batteries. After a short while, the transistor multi-vibrator circuit he has just made, illuminates. He smiles widely at his achievement.

Jude Barnabas Kibwota, is another trainee at Makerspace. To him, the training brings his dream alive. Sitting at a table littered with wires, Jude sees a solution in each of them.

“When I see anything electronic, I want to know how it works, and how it was made.”

Jude studied medical laboratory, a profession he says had become a hindrance to his robotics passion. Now, determination clouds his face each time he comes to Makerspace, because it is where the journey to realize his dream began. By the time the training ends in two months, Jude believes he would have acquired all the basics he needs to embark on a projects he has always had in mind.

“I want to invent an auto-vendor machine for food and beverages, which is powered by battery that uses oxygen,” he says.

The auto-vendor machine, Jude says, will help business proprietors sell food and beverages without the need to employ attendants.

Jude also works with Smart-up Factory, an organization equipping youth with technology skills for a better community. He says the robotics training will have a multiplier effect, since he will train fellow youth.

“The local community is beginning to understand that technology is the solution to our real life problems, like harsh weather that affects our crops.”

Paul Victor Kawagga, of Oysters & Pearls-Uganda says the robotics training has an added benefit at identifying individuals who can facilitate at the Tech Camps.  “During trainings for robotics competitions, we face a shortage of facilitators. We want the community we are training to help us when we need them.”

The robotics training focuses on electronics, Arduino programing and mechanics.

Robotics is about the design, construction, operation and use of robots, as well as computer systems for their control, sensory feedback, and information processing. These technologies are used to develop prototypes for proof of concept on projects that can be developed for the marketplace. Additionally, participants learn to articulate and analyze the benefits of their ideas.

Arduino is an open-source electronics modelling platform based on flexible, easy-to-use hardware and software. It is intended for anyone interested in creating interactive objects or environs.

The initiative offers hope for people in Northern Uganda, a region plagued by 20 years of insurgency by the Lord’s Resistance Army rebels. With the training, people who had dreams of becoming techies but didn’t have money or other resources to undergo training, can now benefit.

This effort of training the community in robotics, is just one more way Oysters & Pearls- Uganda is working to improve understanding of science, technology and engineering among students and the general community in Africa, primarily Uganda.

 

Easing Work of Blind and Visually Impaired Teachers in Uganda

Never do you hear a visually impaired, or blind employee in Uganda talking about availability of friendly work tools. For teachers, the problem is graver; because their poor or lack of sight hinders them from using the computer to research, and frequently update notes to remain relevant to students.

Many choose the unreliable option of asking colleagues to help them make notes, mark students’ work, and assess them. That kind of help does not come easy; and is highly unpredictable! This desperate, and heartrending situation has been prevailing for the blind and visually impaired workforce in the country since time immemorial. As such, many who become blind or visually impaired suddenly, find themselves leaving their job, involuntarily.

But Oysters & Pearls-Uganda has broken this curse, especially for many blind and visually impaired teachers in northern Uganda. The organization has trained all the blind and visually impaired teachers at Gulu High School, the only secondary school in the north that is blind inclusive. The teachers now have skills in the computer software; Job Access with Speech, JAWS, which is designed for the blind and visually impaired.

To simplify their work, each of the teachers has been assigned a lap top computer, with access to the internet. The laptops have text books in soft copy, for their research.

I visited the blind annex at Gulu High School recently, and interacted with Mr. Ali Muzamil, a blind teacher of History and Entrepreneurship at the school. Muzamil makes a sigh of relief, as he tells me how Oysters & Pearls-Uganda has simplified his work. In the past, Mr. Ali relied on colleagues to make and update his notes, but he now does it on his own using the internet.

Muzamil no longer struggles carrying many books to his workplace because they are stored on the computer.

Jasper Ogwang is another blind person who has been trained by Oysters & Pearls- Uganda, among more than ten other peer trainers, who were drawn from different parts of the country.

He gives computer lessons to the blind and visually impaired students of Gulu High School and Gulu Primary School.

Japser and his colleagues have the privilege of a spacious room with wireless internet at the Visual Impairment (VI) office at Oysters & Pearls in Gulu.

As you enter their office each time, “open the door and introduce yourself, or say something”, appears to be the unwritten rule. At the office, the teachers are always absorbed on their laptops, preparing for their next lesson. It is either sounds coming from their lap top or head phones over their heads; a sign that they are busy. The morning hours are always for researching and making notes for lessons, which normally begin in the afternoon.

Oysters & Pearls is the only organization in Uganda which offers JAWS training free of charge. This comes as a blessing to many blind and visually impaired persons, who are mostly financially incapacitated; and yet there are thousands in this category. Figures from the Health Management System indicate that an estimated 300,000 to 350,000 people in Uganda are blind, and more than 1.2 million are visually impaired. The number goes up by 34,000 annually, due to eye infection or cataracts.

Life is undeniably hard for the blind and visually impaired teachers in Uganda. But Oysters & Pearls- Uganda believes that introducing them to technology, and breaking the myth that technology is out of their reach, and any other blind or visually impaired person for that matter, diminishes the bleak uncertainty of their tomorrow.

Students Trained by Oysters & Pearls Win 2017 National Robotics Competition

Elations, wide smiles, giant hugs and camera flashes, punctuated the final hour of the 2017 robotics competition at Makerere University in Kampala. The winners were from Gulu High School, Bishop Angelo Negri College and Dr. Obote College, all in northern Uganda.

Students of Gulu High School got a trophy for developing the best prototype of an Egg Crack Partition Machine. Reagan Okumu, a student of Gulu High School, is among the students who worked day and night to develop the model. Reagan comes from a poor family in Omoro district, located more than 30 kilometers to the East of Gulu town. Every holiday, he sets up a small business stall and makes chapat and ‘rolex’ ( a snack made of fried eggs, cabbages, green peppers and tomatoes, rolled in a chapat), to raise money for his tuition and scholastic materials.

Reagan has been using a knife to crack eggs; a major ingredient in his chapat and ‘rolex’ business. But using a knife has made him cut himself many times, besides performing under capacity. Being part of the group makes him feel lucky as he has gained skills during the training and the competition. Reagan’s wish is to have the prototype of their egg crack and partition machine developed into a functional device to help him increase his production and minimize the risk of injuries.

Bishop Angelo Negri College invented a Citrus fruit harvester which made them tie 65 in points with the defending champion, Dr. Obote College, Boroboro, who invented a conveyer system.

Betty Auma, a teacher at Dr. Obote College commended Oysters & Pearls-Uganda for facilitating the students’ training and the entire process of the challenge. She observed that the competition is helping the students learn new things each time they go for a challenge.

Betty attributed her students’ success to their commitment to learnin, and hunger for knowledge. She appealed to schools and parents to encourage students to develop their talents in robotics and technology in general, to shape their dream career.

Rhian Mikisa, an associate investigator at iLabs thanked the students for the display of skills. She encouraged the students to continue their journey of self-discovery so that they get solutions to world problems.

The principal investigator at iLabs, Prof. Peter Lating, revealed that the department does research using students. He therefore inspired the school heads to help students discover their technology skills so that they join the technology department at University.

The robotics competition, which was organized by iLabs@Mak, was held at the College of Engineering, Design, Art and Technology, CEDAT.

The competition attracted students from nine different schools across the country, under the theme; ‘”Using Science and Technology to Increase Efficiency of Small Scale Manufacturing Industries.”

The winners of the competition, Dr. Obote College and Bishop Angelo Negri College, will represent Uganda in the 2018 Global Robotics Competition in Mexico. In July of this year, the winners of the 2017 competition, Dr. Obote College, travelled to the US, and emerged number 128 out more than 400 countries.

Giving Blind Students Life Skills

I recently interacted with the blind and visually impaired students from different parts of northern Uganda, who have undergone life skills training by Oysters & Pearls- Uganda.

It was an exciting moment seeing the contented, joyful and optimistic faces of the students of Gulu High School, who each talked passionately about their acquired life skills, and future plans.

Janet Lalam is a S.3 student. Through the training, she got the opportunity to use a needle for the first time. Janet comes from Kiryandongo district; 122 kilometers from Gulu town. Before the training, Janet’s sister stitched her torn clothes. Not anymore!

After her first training last month, Janet made sure that she stitched a bathing sponge made of loofah, before all her family members, and some neighbors. With a full smile that was obviously drawn right from the bottom of her heart, Janet boasted that she didn’t only leave onlookers dumbfounded by her sewing ability, but also enjoyed some moment of fame.

Susan Adoch Angel comes from Omoro district; located 31 kilometers to the East of Gulu town. Angel learnt how to make padded purses and bags. She plans to start making purses for sale during holidays, to raise money for buying scholastic materials, and other basic requirements.

Jolly Joe Ocen did not know the right words to use in public. But the training has helped him realize that being visually impaired, does not give one the liberty to spit words peppered with anger, to attract sympathy. He now knows how to choose his words, when in need of help or in public.

Rose Alur, Janet’s mother was thrilled when I called her to find out about her daughter’s new skills. Her voice was full of hope. She appealed for more skills training; confessing that her daughter is livelier, and more confident.

After the conversations, I realized that not only did we activate business interests in the minds of some of the students, but also changed the negative perception of some of the community members about the blind and visually impaired, and what they can, or cannot do.

Being blind or visually impaired is very challenging in Uganda; because there are few schools that are blind inclusive. Besides, family and community support is limited and inconsistent.

Oysters & Pearls-Uganda understands what it means to be blind or visually impaired, in a community or country that is not so supportive of this category of people. That is why every term, as other regular students break for holidays, we keep the blind and visually impaired for two weeks, and teach them life skills such as laying beds, organizing utensils and furniture in the house, ironing and sewing. The majority of the students say they had never done these things because their family members did not teach them nor even believe that they can actually do it.

Ralph Musiime holds his 2017 Jaws- Certificate

Ralph Musiime holds his 2017 Jaws- Certificate

The goodbye I shared with each of the students at the end of our interface was warm and accompanied by sincere smiles. It was gratifying to feel their enthusiasm as they requested for more skills training like bakery, and social life, in subsequent trainings.

I look forward to future testimonials, as Oysters & Pearls-Uganda continues to train more students to be independent.

Although only students of Gulu High School benefit from the holidays training, visually impaired and blind students from across the country get an opportunity to learn such skills during our annual tech camp.

For the past three years, Oysters & Pearls has trained more than one hundred blind and visually impaired students in life skills.

One Step Closer to Normal

A decade ago, Paul Kinyera Okumu was engrossed in his career as a teacher. Suddenly, he got an infection in his left eye. Despite several consultations with eye specialists; he was not given a definitive diagnosis. The infection spread to his right eye, and he gradually became visually impaired.

Paul only sees blurry vision at a distance of two meters. He is unable to read.

His poor sight greatly affected his career as a teacher at Atanga Secondary School in Pader district, northern Uganda.

“Since I cannot read, I had to keep asking fellow teachers to mark assignments, exams and assess my students, so I became a burden to them. Enforcing discipline of students became impossible because they knew I could not recognize and administer punishment to them.”

Paul continues to experience hardship in his day-to-day life.

“The phone has become a necessity. But each time I want to use it, I have to borrow someone’s eyes.”

Paul’s social life has also been affected because he cannot recognize people he once knew, and unintentionally passes by without saying hello.

“Many accuse me that I have become proud and anti-social. Those I was once friends with, and know how my problem started have abandoned me. They don’t call me as they used to. I have become lonely.”

Because of the hardship at work, Paul left his job six months ago when he heard about Oysters & Pearls-Uganda.

“Oysters & Pearls-Uganda is giving me free training in computer use. I don’t know where I would have gotten the money to train with my meager salary and eight children to take care of.”

After his training by Oysters & Pearls- Uganda, Paul wants to enroll in a special needs program, so that he becomes a teacher for students with special needs.

“Because of the training, I feel one step closer to normal”.

Paul is one out of more than ten professionals aided by Oysters & Pearls-Uganda, to change career after sudden loss of sight.

By Caroline Ayugi

My White Cane Gives Me a Sense of Life

I was pursuing a diploma course in Procurement and Logistics management at an Institution in Gulu, Uganda in 2014. Under the care of a single mother, my dream was to study hard, get a job, and relieve her of part of the financial burden she faces daily.

However in 2014, I started losing hope, when an eye infection blurred my vision. While walking around during day, I could feel like I was going to fall in a pit. At night, I could see an illuminated horizon, but beside me, was darkness.

The numerous visits to the eye clinic at the government hospital did not improve my condition. I became disheartened, when each of the three specialists I consulted gave a different diagnosis.

All the tablets and eye drops prescribed did not help. By the end of 2015, I completely lost my sight, and was plunged into total darkness.

It took time for my family members to believe that I had lost my sight. At table, I would spill food when serving. My only sister thought I was becoming a mean brother, who wanted to bother her with more chores. When it was time for going to the garden and I said I could not do it, my mother assumed that I was growing into a lazy and heartless adult.

It only dawned on my family that I had indeed become blind, when I started groping constantly as I walked about during day time.

I had to drop out of school, because the institution I was studying in is not blind-inclusive. Even then, I needed to acclimatize to my new, dark world. I also had to give up my volunteer job at Watoto, where I used to earn some money for buying basics and supplementing my tuition fees. Mobility was a nightmare, as I continuously bumped into walls, plunged into muddy water, lost my way home and around the neighborhood, and fell in trenches.

The fact that my eyes are exposed, make many think I can see. Thus, when I ask for directions, I am taken for a joker, especially when my destination is only a stone’s throw away. Those who knew me before think I had become obnoxious and egocentric; when I pass by without saying hello. Many friends have also abandoned me, because I constantly ask for directions, and they feel I slow them down. But I cannot stop asking questions because there are many buildings being constructed, and roads opened. I need to be told of such developments, so that I know which direction to take.

I am grateful for the white cane given to me by Oysters & Pearls-Uganda. It has eased my movement. But many see it as something befitting only of the old. Others tell me that some people were born blind, but walk without the help of a white cane. But I think it feels different when you are born blind; because you have that inherent sense of security of your surroundings. Besides, you can easily be assisted by people who know you were born blind.

I can’t put my white cane aside. It is a sign that I am no longer able to see. It gives me a feeling that there is life within, and around me.

The free computer training by Oysters & Pearls – UG signals a bright future for me. I am being taught how to use computer software called Job Access with Speech (JAWS), designed for the blind and visually impaired. This will help me a lot when I resume studies next year, if I get a sponsor.

As told to Caroline Ayugi by Odong Stephen

Stephen was nearly finished with Secondary School when he lost his sight and would like to return to school in 2018 in A-Level at Gulu High School Blind Annex. With his proficiency in Braille and now computer, he will be able to access the academic material. He is invited to join in the Athletic Competitions for blind in September 2017. Stephen is bright and motivated to continue his education and develop a professional career. It’s been a pleasure to have him as a student in the Makerspace. O&P-UG has distributed over 200 white canes to students and members of the community since June 2010.