Francis Mugwanya: The man providing wheelchairs for the poor disabled in Uganda
Francis Mugwanya, a Ugandan is challenging the attitudes and views towards people living with disabilities in local communities across his country.
In Uganda, people who live with disabilities are often stigmatised due to traditional beliefs and this makes life difficult for PWDs.
According to Francis, there are still a big number of people in Uganda that practice infanticide; the murder of a young child, because they no longer want the child.
‘They do not believe these children will ever amount to anything. Neighbours have done the same thing that they told me, telling these families that ‘your children are going to be useless.’
‘So when they believe that they also want to get rid of the children.’
‘Some of them even leave the children on garbage piles because they want somebody else to just come and take them away or simply leave them there to die.’
Francis says because of these views, he lived a very difficult life growing up in his village, in the Luwero District of his country.
‘It was very difficult growing up with a disability in Uganda. I crawled on my hands and knees for nine years without a wheelchair and children made fun of me when I was at school. My parents had to buy a big bicycle for me to be taken to school on the back of a bicycle.’
‘The stigmatisation from the children and from the neighbours was really bad and it pulled me down lots of times.’
To change people’s views about disability for the next generation’s benefit, Francis began to look into ways he could help the community understand what disabilities are and explain to them that people who do live with disabilities are the same as able bodied persons.
So he came up with the idea to set up the Father’s Heart Mobility Ministry. The charity embarks on what they call ‘Mobility Missions’ to each district in Uganda, educating people on disabilities and advocating for those living with them.
‘We are educating the general public and the leaders in the local communities on how important it is to look at people with disabilities as just people.
The message is, people with disabilities are just people, give them the opportunities and let them show their potential and abilities that they have.
Secondly, we facilitate these people with mobility devices – we give wheelchairs, crutches, walkers, to people who cannot afford them.’
Every month Father’s Heart Mobility Ministry gives anywhere between 150 to 200 of those devices to people in a new district. In total so far, he has provided 15,000 across Uganda.
‘So we go to a new district every month and we do the education, the mobility part and the advocacy as well; we speak on behalf of those people who may otherwise not be able to speak on their own.’
Though having a disability in Uganda can still carry a huge stigma, Francis Mugwanya, who also has a hardworking team and family behind him, is doing his part to make sure that stigma will soon no longer exist in the country.
To help him achieve his goal as well, he has launched a children’s book, ‘A Wheelchair for Francis’ that tells his story of how he got his first wheelchair, to the next generation.