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During August, the ETC @ GDPU Project Officer and Project Leader followed up on business plan development, record keeping and conflict management making sure that they were being implemented by each business enterprise. A busy training programme continued and proposed activities for September look equally focused.

Village Savings and Loan Association pilot training session at Acet centre, Omoro District, August 2017


Skills training were offered in Hairdressing, Electronic Repair and Maintenance and Knitting & Sweater Weaving in Omoro Acet Centre and Gulu Municipality targeting 4 members of NYEKO RAC HAIRDRESSING AND COSMETOLOGY, 2 members of RWOT AYE TWERO KNITTING and 6 Members of GULU PWDS ELECTRONICS REPAIR & MAINTENANCE.

Training: Village Savings and Loan Associations 

Trainings in Village Savings and Loan Associations (micro finance) were carried out. VSLA pass books were distributed to the saving groups created by each enterprise to encourage the culture of savings in their enterprise.

Training: Conflict Resolution

Training in Conflict Resolutions under Group Dynamics was carried out in Acet.

Group Dynamics and Conflict Resolution Training in Acet, August 2017


But as the initial stages are completed, challenges were registered by the project officer during his visits. These were: poor attendance; high expectation for money (Especially refusal to attend meetings without payment see Sitting Fees below)); difficult attitudes; skills gaps; luck of trust from customers etc.

Challenges: Gulu

These challenges were particularly noticeable in Gulu, with high levels of absenteeism, lack of commitment to customers and work, lack of skills in: radio; TV; video decks; speakers; computer repairs. Members only specialise in phone repair which does not bring in enough income. Finding a qualified instructor to train Gulu PWDs in electronic repair and maintenance has not yet been resolved.

Akera Roberts, Individual Business Enterprise on the pilot programme, Gulu.

Although the Project Officer suggested their fellow disabled electrician (Akera Robert), who has all the skills they want, members were not interested. The P O believes that there is no unity and love among PWDs in Gulu municipality, that is the reason why most of them are not successful, because of the differences amongst them.

Gulu PWDs, Electronics and Repair: repairing a phone.

Challenges: Sitting Fees

Sitting Fees (or payment for attending trainings or meetings) are a great example of the unintended consequences of well intended actions. I believe that sitting fees were originally paid during the conflict, as a means of quickly getting money directly to those who badly needed it and bypassing those who would take a substantial cut. But now, demand for sitting fees and refusal to attend without payment is a constant problem. Most NGOs refused to pay sitting fees because the payments eat up small budgets and badly distort training sessions. The people you really need to reach either refuse to turn up or invitations are issued in turn to those who have not yet been paid a fee or to those who are powerful enough to demand that they always get one. Sessions are either taken up with endless arguments as to why participants should be paid substantial sums, or on the odd occasion where fees are paid, participants leave, in body or mind, once they have been paid because they feel their work had been done; either way nothing is achieved.

Gulu PWDs Electronics and Repair, Training at GDPU, Gulu

Challenges: Solutions?

The only surprise is that the challenges for ECT @ GDPU had not begun earlier, these are all difficulties that are common on any project of this type in this sort of context.

There is no simple solution, this culture (Sitting Fees especially) is deeply embedded and will take years to change. But we intend to try some of the approaches listed below and begin that process

Thinking about the simplest non-financial reward systems is an important part of the pilot programme. Actually, faced with this problem during the earlier Youth Development Programme we found that:

  • educational games
  • sport or other competitions
  • Cultural activities, eg dance and drama
  • and of course, food.

Were all good ways of bringing people to meetings and making them engage without concentrating solely on the money.

  • Regular VSLA meetings can also be a useful time to carry out training.

VSLA Training, GDPU August 2017

Challenges:  Solutions/ Communications and Mentors

Group dynamics, and communication could be the key that unlocks this door.

During the VSLA sessions it was noted that members will not take leadership roles, even just for the workshop; leadership training as part of a drive to improve self-esteem might be worth following up too.

Relationship between the groups, their customers and skills trainers (especially the Gulu PWDS) are a challenge that could be met by finding the right mentors/ role models to show members where their hard work might lead to in the future. Groups need to see why they are doing what they are doing, how the rewards are not immediate but are worth waiting for; could mentors help in that aim?

Village Savings and loan Association Training at Acet center Omoro District August 2017


None of the challenges noted above are unusual, they are to be expected in this context and in a project of this type. There is no need to feel downhearted, it is important to remember that this is still the pilot phase, there are still opportunities to work on many different approaches and be experimental; many exciting possibilities ahead. We must keep pushing on well!

Open Day GDPU 2015 for MM in U 4

Open Day Gulu Disabled Persons Union 2015


Expecting the Unexpected:

During our time in Uganda I was offered small gifts often; it’s part of the culture and of course a way to buy influence. Live chickens (once even a pregnant goat) are a standard African present. Proposals by trainees to service my motorbike, shave my hair or do my nails were frequent. After one student graduation I was given a large orange iced cake, the whole college, parents and honoured guests watched as I tried to balance it on the motorbike and wobble down the road in a rain storm.

But there was one present that I still treasure.

I might have mentioned before that volunteers were warned to expect the unexpected. Working with the disabled is not something either of us had done before. Gulu Disabled Persons Union was one of the most inspiring institutions on the Youth Development Programme and the instructors certainly amongst the most inspiring for their students.

GPDU Sweater Weavers. Madame on the right holds up my gift

GPDU Sweater Weavers. Madame on the right holds up my gift

This sleeveless jumper was the gift that meant the most to me, it was made by Youth Development Programme students at Gulu Persons Disabled Union (GDPU). Their disabilities can be profound, both physical and mental and their exclusion from society, education and the economy equally debilitating. This jumper was one of the first to be completed by the sweater weaving trainees. The young women (and two young men) who had made this garment – lots of room to grow into it too – were justifiably proud of their first steps to economic independence. Receiving such an important statement is an experience I will never forget.

GPDU Sweater Weavers

GPDU Sweater Weavers

Since leaving Uganda in late 2015, we have been in discussion with GDPU, wanting to help them continue the good work they had started under The Youth Development Programme. So, we are very proud to announce that our project: ‘Enhancing the Capacity at Gulu Disabled Persons Union’ or ‘ETC at GDPU’ for short is taking its first steps. The aim of the project is to provide extra support for the small business groups set up by students with disability who had trained with GDPU between 2013 and 2015 under the YDP. We will fund the six month pilot phase of the ETC project but will be looking for funding for the substantive programme, once we have evaluated that pilot; you have been warned, calls for donations are to be expected!

Camera 360

Ex YDP GDPU Electronics students outside their shop 2017

Fifteen business groups were set up under the YDP. ‘ETC at GDPU’ aims to strengthen those nine groups still in existence, so that they can become more profitable, more resilient and last longer. This will improve the livelihoods of the group members and of course of their families and their village.

Camera 360

Project Leader carrying out first assessment of an ex YDP business group (Group Enterprise: Electronics)

GDPU will work with the groups to decide what will help them grow and develop and then organise for that support to be delivered. This project will provide capacity building – group dynamics, business support, additional technical training, mentorship and support. Stay tuned to see how it develops, and of course do look at the website:


Camera 360

which is full of information, photos and films.


Perhaps even more unexpectedly, as some of you might know, I was in a group in the 1970’s (weren’t we all?) the original version of the that group played again recently and to honour GDPU I wore my jumper, you can see it here.

Jumper Mekons Manchester 3

Some Background

We were in Gulu, Northern Uganda for two years nine months, working with a huge DFID funded vocational training programme.

Gulu is on the road to South Sudan, it was the centre of the conflict between the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and the Ugandan Government. Many of the Internally Displaced Peoples camps were here. The northern region has been peaceful since about 2007-8 and the context has moved from emergency humanitarian aid to development work.

The Vocational Training Institutes provide opportunities for the youth(male and female aged 14-35). Most of them lived in the camps or were abducted by the LRA. They have had very little education, leaving them with few skills. Our purpose was to help these Vocational Training Institutes build up their capacity to equip the youth with what they need to earn a living and live as decent a life as possible.

By the Way
Mark's old art/ history of art website is still active should you want to read more by him or look at his work


From There to Here

Our Old Life, Packed Away in one Twenty Foot Container


A Vocational Training Institute, Assembly under the Mango Tree

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