Raising a Child with Disabilities in Uganda

The Lawrence and Josephine Ssemakula family: sitting on bench: Josephine, Quinn, Lawrence and Genevieve, on floor: Genesis, Jeremiah, and Lawrence's mother.

We are very proud of our international cooperatives, and seek to partner with them in order to bear their burdens with them. Lawrence Ssemakula, of Uganda, is an upper primary education teacher who takes great care in his work, incorporating the Bible he has learned from courses with the Institute of G.O.D. Int’l to help his students thrive despite the circumstances that confront them. But Lawrence speaks from experience. When his firstborn son, Jeremiah, was one-year old he suffered a severe fever due to malaria, and because of a lack of adequate medical care, suffered cerebral damage, resulting in severe mental and physical handicap. Today, Jerry is 12 years old. His grandmother cares for him as Lawrence and his wife Josephine, both teach primary school. Lawrence has great concern, not only for Jerry, but for so many children in Uganda that are handicapped, and without proper care. He has been attending Kyambogo University, furthering his learning about how to educate children with disabilities specifically. Now, Lawrence’s neighbors and friends in Bombo who also have children with disabilities have voted him to be the ‘leader’ of their group, by which he can extend his education to them, and be a spokesperson for their needs. Below, Lawrence speaks of the challenges that present themselves in raising a child with disabilities in Uganda.

The moment a parent gives birth to a child great joy and excitement fills them; however, if a child has any form of disability, this creates a different scenario. Raising a child with disabilities is not an easy responsibility, especially in the developing world (like Africa)--with limited resources, like inaccessibility to compensatory devices like prosthetics, wheelchairs, adjusted educational materials, etc.

Having a disabled child does not only cause emotional stress but brings about even societal discrimination. Some people in many parts of Africa including Uganda (where I come from), think that witchcraft, curses or punishment from God are among the causes of disabilities. Others think it’s contagious. I have a son named Jeremiah, who has cerebral palsy and is a quadriplegic. Having him alongside three daughters makes many people encourage me to have another son, since they think Jerry is of no value. This has always hurt me.

In God's word he clearly speaks that "You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind,but you shall fear your God:I am the Lord” (Lev. 19:14). This shows us God's concern and care for people with disabilities. The fact that Jesus healed many of those who had various impairments further proves God's love for all people regardless of their physical ability. Children with disabilities continue to suffer segregation by their peers who have negative attitudes towards them, especially those with neurological issues who always have saliva dripping from the mouth.

Disabled children have numerous needs ranging from nutritional, emotional, health, physical etc. This implies that the parent has to work harder to be able to meet those needs. I have been sharing the knowledge I have learned so far from the school of special education at Kyambogo University how to manage some problems we experience with our children, however many other problems also require medical personnel.

Having learned from God's word, I am trying to make preparations to integrate the word of God in all this. I believe things can majorly improve through: prayer (as prayer invokes God's healing, hope, faith and his mercy), change of attitudes (negative to positive), awareness among families and communities concerning the needs and potentials of the children and adults with disabilities.

Written by Lawrence Ssemakula