Differently Abled

An Innovative Crafts-based Entrepreneurial Program in Uganda
How we view someone is all about our perspective, and Joy Mwesigwa challenges each person who walks through the gates at the Kampala School for the Physically Handicapped (KSPH) to change theirs. This school is the only one of its kind in Uganda and is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Since opening its doors in 1969, the school has worked with over 800 children with various disabilities, preparing them to lead as normal lives as possible. The school has three major departments: education, rehabilitation, and vocational skills training. Each is a vital part of the holistic approach of the school and is integral in fostering opportunities and building skills for future employment. 
 
“Our approach seeks to nurture gift and passion, through which all can excel.” - Joy Mwesigwa - Director KSPH
 
For those students who are unable to continue with further secondary and university academics, the vocational program trains in numerous crafts and computer skills. The aim is to turn students into entrepreneurs. The crafts program is led by Night Nalwoga, an expert tailor and designer. Working closely with school matron Winny and production assistant Olivia, they train students to create small collections of jewelry, bags, home goods, and yardage for sale to the local community. 
 
I was fortunate to have been introduced to Joy and KSPH over ten years ago while working on arts and education programs in Uganda. I bought their fabric, commissioned a tailored garment, and was introduced to their unique tie-dyeing techniques. I recognized the incredible work they were doing but did not have the chance to collaborate until now.
 
In 2018, I launched Mekeka Designs (www.mekekadesigns.com), a small company developing contemporary approaches to Uganda textiles and fibers. We partner with artisans to explore the potential of textiles, including palm leaf mats, bark cloth, and woven textiles. One of the missing pieces to this work was the ability to finish our products in Uganda.  
 
During a recent visit in 2018, I was able to reconnect to the KSPH and collaborate with the team on designing finished products from palm leaf mats. In a matter of a few short days, these talented women created prototypes, improved my design, and worked to explore new approaches to organic dyes. Their ability to problem solve and bring back better solutions and products with attention to detail and finishing was unmatched. 
 
More opportunities to develop products continues to emerge. The team is now working with Sondering, a startup accessories company focused on partnering with local artisans to empower communities to become more independent through the ethical manufacturing. Within a matter of hours, Night turned a laptop bag sketch into a beautifully constructed prototype. 
 
The Vocational Program is an incredible partner for Mekeka Designs and Sondering as both small businesses start out. They are key to helping us navigate product development, producing beautiful work that reflects the skill of everyone involved. KSPH embraces an open partnership policy, engaging with diverse partners from Embassies and NGOs, to individual volunteers and artists. They understand that each partnership can open unique opportunities to fulfill the vision of the school, empowering students to reach their full potential. 
 
How to connect:
- Website: www.ksph.org
- Facebook: Ability ksph
- Instagram:ksph1969ug
 
Ways to visit and be involved:
- Visit the school and share
- Sign up for voluntary service
- Donate in cash, technical support, etc
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