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Since he was a tiny baby, Jacob’s view of the world consisted for the most part of the inside of his family’s mud and wood hut. Four simple walls, with tarpaulin roof, Jacob didn’t go to school and stayed with his mother and baby sister in a refugee camp in the northern Gulu region of Uganda.
When he did venture outside, he was excluded and treated with suspicion and sometimes contempt – even by relatives.
Jacob, now 12, was born with cerebral palsy and is among 2.5million children with disabilities in Uganda. Like most of them he did not go to school.
According to a 2014 Unicef report, only nine per cent of Ugandan children with disabilities attend primary school. This drops to six per cent for secondary school, compared to a national average of 92 percent.
There is a huge stigma around disabled children in Africa so many are hidden by their families.
“I felt rejected by my parents and, most of the time, I spent at home playing with my little sister,” says Jacob.
“As boys my age were at school, I felt my parents didn’t like me. The children I know are not in school, they are kept at home. Two of them who can’t walk have no wheelchairs, they crawl on the ground and sometimes they are carried by their parents.”
This year, however, Jacob has started attending boarding school in Gulu thanks to an initiative by British charity, Motivation.
Under its motto “freedom through mobility”, Motivation helps children go to school by funding wheelchairs suitable for rural terrain.
Potholes, unpaved roads, open drains and uneven paths create challenging terrain for wheelchair users in developing countries.
The charity’s wheelchairs are designed to allow disabled people to navigate their environment with confidence. Tough, durable materials are sourced locally, and easily maintained or fixed by local technicians.
Its campaign, Motivation All-Stars also modifies school buildings to improve accessibility, and works to change the way disabled children are seen by encouraging able-bodied children to play with them.
Jacob attends one of the three schools in Gulu which has benefitted from the appeal.
Channel 4 presenter Jordan Jarrett-Bryan, a former wheelchair basketball star, disability sport mentor and Motivation supporter, said: “At 13, I was told that I couldn’t be part of my football team anymore – it was crushing. I couldn’t join in with my friends and for the first time it felt like my disability was holding me back.
“But when I discovered wheelchair basketball everything changed: it totally restored my belief in what I could do with my life. So I’m delighted to support Motivation’s All-Stars Appeal and help give disabled children in Uganda the chance to be champions too
“By using sport and play to break local stigma around disability, Motivation will ensure all children can go to school and build positive futures.”
Another huge benefit of going to school for Jacob is that he now has a best friend, Isaac, also 12.
Isaac has five siblings and, like Jacob, lives in a refugee camp of 10,000 South Sudanese families.
Isaac also has cerebral palsy and has used a wheelchair for as long as he can remember. He stayed at home until he was seven.
“I was happy to join in but when I was excluded I felt disappointed and rejected,” he says.
“I know many people with disabilities back home and some are children, others are adults.
“The majority of children do not go to school because their parents say the best thing for them is to take care of them at home as they will not be useful even if they are taken to school.
“The adults with disabilities I see are being cared for by their relatives. Some sit by busy roads and beg people passing by.”
Now both boys are enjoying the freedom of school, and their new-found love of sport, together.
“We like playing games together at break time, and playing sports with all the other children,” says Isaac.
“I love sports. I love athletics and taking part in races by running on my hands. I really enjoy sitting volleyball and playing with my classmates.
“I enjoy being part of the team. I love competitions and I love to play with other children who are different from me. Playing sports is special to me because it makes me confident and I feel like I am accepted.”
Jacob agrees: “I am lucky to have Isaac to keep me company. I walk well and sometimes I even run well too. I don’t yet play sports. I feel shy.
“But I would like to feel confident to play. Isaac plays sports so maybe I can too. I would like to feel confident to become a teacher when I grow up so I can help children.”
Motivation began life in 1989 when David Constantine and Simon Gue were studying design at the Royal College of Art and won a competition to design a robust, affordable wheelchair for disabled people in developing countries. They took their prize money to Bangladesh and built a prototype, soon afterwards creating their first wheelchair workshop.
Since registering as a UK charity in 1992, the team has worked in Eastern Europe, Cambodia, Nicaragua, Afghanistan and, in 1998, in Africa.
David says: “It is shocking to think that so many disabled children in Uganda miss out on education, simply because their teachers and families don’t see their value. We want to change that.
“By using sports and play to create an inclusive environment, we will support disabled children to show what they can achieve when given an equal chance.”
Monica, a Motivation All-Stars sports coach in Uganda, has mentored and inspired countless disabled children – and able-bodied children – to gain confidence together through sports over the past eight years.
“Those with disabilities often feel lonely and say ‘no one can play with me because I am different’ so these games truly help to change their lives,” she says. “It is helping disabled children to get exposure, gain confidence and be included.”
Motivation All-Stars appeal
The Daily Express is urging its generous readers to support the Motivation All-Stars appeal.
Your donation will help disabled people become mobile, independent and empowered.
To donate please go to https://www.motivation.org.uk/daily-express Give before March 3, 2020, and your donation to the All-Stars Appeal will be doubled by the UK government which supports the All-Stars project in Uganda.
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