In 2014, FPA-Uganda Director West, Board Member Kolwicz and Ugandan Program Director Basse traveled to southeastern Uganda where they would meet with families that had been identified as candidates for FPA’s emergency food and educational sponsorship program. With the help of local community leaders, the FPA team was able to meet with many children who were abandoned and in need of critical support. One such young man, believed to be about 11 years of age, went by the name of “Taboo”. The sting of this nickname comes from the reality that this boy had moderate Cerebral Palsy, impacting his speech, gross motor ability, and overall physical countenance. Due to his special needs, Taboo was shunned from the community, abandoned by his family, and unable to attend the local village school. Teachers believed there was little that they could do to help him, and so he was left alone with no advocate. This young man’s story is heartbreakingly not uncommon in a poor community, such as this. Often children with special needs are excluded from traditional schooling and, at times, their family and community.
Despite the seemingly insurmountable challenges of his circumstances, young “Taboo” managed to learn basic English by sitting outside the school building and listening to the lessons of his peers. When the FPA team arrived that day in 2014, they were immediately drawn in by this timid yet courageous child who, despite his disabilities, had managed to survive brutal circumstances. He lived alone in a crudely assembled shack held together by metal sheets and cardboard. He lacked adequate nutrition and medical care and endured painful social isolation. He easily qualified for FPA assistance (so food distributions started immediately), but it would take considerable coordination before the team could locate an appropriate school for him. With collaboration from the local leadership, and with Taboo’s consent, he underwent cognitive, motor and self-regulation evaluations. The results of these evaluations allowed FPA to identify a school equipped to meet his needs. After touring and approving of the selected school, Taboo was soon enrolled as a full-time boarding student.
Now 7 years later, Taboo has shed both his old name (he has chosen to go by the name of Cosmos) and his painful past of isolation and hopelessness. He has grown into a confident, outgoing and independent young man. His progress is evidence of his own hard-work and resiliency, and also the importance of access to high-quality education. The combined efforts of FPA team members and the staff at the Kampala School for the Physically Handicapped, allowed Cosmos to participate in an educational program that was designed to both meet and celebrate his unique needs, as well as emphasize the importance of vocational training. Cosmos remained under FPA’s sponsorship as her pursued a certificate in Plumbing (level one). Despite the limited use of one arm, he participated fully in his training and finished his program at the Kakira Community Institute. Cosmos’ story is undoubtedly unique; but how many more futures of young children would be brightened and uplifted if only we saw their potential and the quality of their character, rather than just their limiting life-circumstances?