When a Disability becomes an Opportunity

I don’t belong.  

Harriet looked over to where the other women in the church were sitting, as a feeling of inadequacy washed over her like a bucket of cold water. It was a feeling that was all too familiar. She remembered this same feeling as a child, when she wasn’t able to move like the other children could—her body wouldn’t let her. She doubted how valuable and important she actually was to anyone.

This is all she had ever known since she was two years old. When Harriet became ill, x-rays revealed that her spinal cord was bending and her ribs were not normal. But when you grow up in poverty, proper medical care is not always an option. Although her parents wanted to get her the right treatment she needed for her spinal cord, they couldn’t afford the expense. As a result, the disability remained into adulthood. Just as she doubted her worth as a child, she continued to compare herself to other women, and for many years, this mentality of being worthless seeped into her life.

As a single mother of two children, and with no encouragement or help from her family, Harriet felt alone. She needed to find a way to support her children. With limited education and no professional experience, finding a job proved to be a difficult task. Harriet thought about what she knew how to do well. She knew how to dig. She knew how to take care of land. And she knew how to use her hands. With farming being one of the primary sources of income in Uganda, Harriet decided to give farming a try.

Five years later, she now has her own piece of land and employs two other people. On this land she farms maize and soy beans that she sells in town. As her farm grows, Harriet continues to thrive as a person. She loves having the confidence to be her own boss and the ability to support herself. Farming isn’t easy work, especially when physical mobility is difficult. But Harriet doesn’t let that stop her, and she continues on even when it’s hard. Farming in Uganda depends on seasons and timing. When bad seasons come, Harriet and her employees dig up all the seeds and replant them—one of the many challenges they face. 

When Harriet began to receive business training and discipleship, it took her business even further. “The training has helped me a lot. Now I keep track of everything, even transport costs. I enjoyed learning about cash flow and stock taking. Before you can do anything, you have to be faithful,” she says. Harriet received the opportunity to build relationships and exchange ideas with other entrepreneurs. During this process, she suddenly found herself building a sense of community that she had never experienced before. She is also part of the local church congregation, and no longer feels like an outcast.

“The church has been so good to me spiritually and has been like a family to me. I’ve found a love there that wasn’t given to me growing up,” she says.

When Harriet decided to define her own future, rather than let others do it, everything changed. After receiving some counseling, she was able to let everything go and start her new life. Her disability wasn’t a hindrance, but an opportunity. Today, she councils and encourages others who also have disabilities. In fact, her community elected her to be the official counselor for those with disabilities in the city of Masindi.

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About Harriet & Paradigm Shift

Harriet is a member of C3 Masindi, Uganda. C3 Masindi is partnering with the entrepreneurial organisation Paradigm Shift. Paradigm Shift exists to be on the forefront of solving the problem of poverty. The Paradigm Shift Program is a tool that connects business men and women within the church to microentrepreneurs in poor communities. Through business training, discipleship, microcredit and one-on-one mentoring, volunteers engage with developing entrepreneurs, who, in turn, bring economic possibility to their impoverished communities. This article was written by Michelle Link for Paradigm Shift and we have reproduced it with their permission.