By Prudence Nyamishana
Jennifer Adokorach can’t run, but she is unstoppable.
Back in 1993, when Jennifer’s mother took her five-year-old daughter to the hospital, she never imagined that what looked like a case of malaria would change her little girl’s life forever.
“My mother told me that the nurses at the hospital gave me an injection that left the lower part of my body paralyzed,” says Jennifer, now 28.
She was living in northern Uganda at a time when the region was being terrorized by the Lord’s Resistance Army, led by the infamous Joseph Kony.
“I needed my legs to run when the rebels attacked my village. Thank God my mother was able to carry me to a safe place.”
That conflict devastated northern Uganda for more than 20 years—but it’s now been nearly 10 years since calm returned.
In 2003, Jennifer enrolled in secondary school. The headmaster turned her away, claiming that the school didn’t have facilities to cater for people like her and that she was an inconvenience to her classmates who helped push her wheelchair.
“I was angry because I knew that education was my only hope for survival. I couldn’t do a lot of physical work anymore. I took matters into my own hands. I reported the case to the Gulu District Education Officer, the Disabled Persons Union, and the Human Rights office. Before I knew it, I was back to school and the authorities had instructed the school to build ramps at every classroom to cater for students like me.”
Although Jennifer had her first victory, she didn’t escape the kids who called her names and the headmaster who often publicly humiliated her and labeled her as troublesome.
“That ridicule didn’t stop me,” she says. “I performed well in my secondary school exams. After that, I joined university.”
She now has a degree in Office and Information Management from Gulu University. Although Jennifer has been shortlisted for a number of white-collar jobs, she hasn’t yet gone past the interview stage.
“One day, I went for an interview,” she says. “I did well in the aptitude test. I am sure I also did well with the oral interview. But on my way out, the receptionist asked me whether I had tried to find a job with the Gulu Disabled Persons Union. My heart sank.”
Jennifer is quick to acknowledge that she is aware of the high unemployment in Uganda. In the meantime, she farms with other women with disabilities within the Ngolo pe Penyi women’s group.
This group got their first seed money from American Jewish World Services and began farming in 2014. They planted rice, and harvested 46 sacks that they sold for money to start their own businesses. Jennifer sells grain produce during the harvest season and runs a salon in her house.
“From the income I get, I support my aging mother and my late sister’s three children. My nephew graduated last year with a degree in agriculture, the second-born is in his second year at Kyambogo University, and the last-born is in senior three.”
Her resilience has earned her respect in the community. Many women and girls look up to Jennifer: She mentors five disabled women to inspire and encourage them.
“I keep telling these girls that disability is not inability,” she says. “We might be physically impaired, but that doesn’t mean that our brains don’t work well. I tell them that a person with a physical disability is able in many other ways. So they must capitalize on that one thing that they can do well. ”
Jennifer has decided to run for political office. She is vying for the District Councilor position to represent women with disabilities, and in five years, Jennifer plans to run for Parliament.
“If I am voted into office, I will be able to speak out for all women regardless of whether they have disabilities or not,” she says.