Kampala School for Physically Handicapped (KSFPH)
By Joy Mwesigwa & Pete Baldwin
45 years ago, one Ugandan family’s personal challenge became a life transforming experience for many children with learning and physical disabilities here in Uganda. Mr. and Mrs. Henry Barlow (RIP), gifted with two severely handicapped children, mobilized other parents and a small number of professionals to form what was named the Uganda Spastics Society (USS). The aim was to provide education, rehabilitation and vocational opportunities to children with cerebral palsy and other physical and learning challenges.
The school started with six pupils in the small storeroom of a neighbouring school and just a year later the Kampala School for Physically Handicapped (KSFPH) was born. Today it has an enrollment of 158 pupils between the ages 6 to 18yrs and more than 900 special needs children and youth have passed through the institution, suffering from cerebral palsy, paraplegia coma hydrocephalus, spina bifida and downs syndrome to name a few. Attaining degrees of success in their personal and profession lives previously deemed impossible; all have benefitted from the chance to grow and learn like any child should. Currently two members of the school’s Board are old students (an accountant and a lawyer) and so is the Head of the Vocational Department, as well as the School Matron.
The school offers a wide range of activities and classes aimed at different aspects of life. When combined, they provide a complete set of core skills to give the students ranging levels of independence and development. All classes are tailored to the individual’s needs and ambitions:
Rehabilitation utilises occupational and physiotherapy alongside health and medical care to ensure basic wellbeing.
Daily Living activities focus on those aspects of life we all take for granted such as grooming and personal hygiene, on top of specialised needs such as the transfer from a wheelchair to a bed or bathroom for example.
Hydrotherapy is a specialist activity that gives the student a conducive medium in which to learn and carrying out basic gross-motor movement.
Other activities include Tac-Pac, which is a multi-sensory class, Repair and Maintenance to enable students to fix mobility aids and Art and Music Therapy. Beyond all of the above, the school ensures the students have access to the standard curriculum offered in other Ugandan educational establishments.
Perhaps the most inspiring of classes are those related to Vocational Skills Training; the inherent belief that students of KSFPH are not victims but meaningful members of society, who when offered their rightful opportunity can and will contribute to the betterment of themselves and the environment in which they live. As mentioned earlier, one need look no further than members of the Board and staff at KSFPH to see this core value of the school in motion. The beautiful tailoring, leather-works, knitting, ceramics and crafts being produced by students also bares testament to this.
The sad reality is that physical and learning disabilities are a taboo subject throughout most of Uganda and as such, funding for organisations in this sector of the community is rarely if ever found from government. Of the school’s annual budget, less than 30% comes from public sector funding with the Ministries of Education and Health both citing the others remit as grounds for holding back money and the shortfall must be found from donors, friends and charitable institutions both locally and worldwide. The struggle is ever present. Some supporters pay tuition fees for some pupils, salaries for a staff member, food for the children or simply volunteer services, scholastic materials or time.
Recently a large charitable group in Uganda built a school dormitory to accommodate an additional 60 students, as well as putting up a perimeter wall to ensure the security and safety of students who may otherwise have been taken advantage of. A recent charitable golf day held at the Entebbe Golf Club will also bring welcome funds to improve aspects of the school such as removing the asbestos-roofed rooms that staff currently live in, as well as one day building the school its own small pool, to allow students to benefit from hydrotherapy without relying on rarely allocated times at other venues. .
In a country with more than one million people suffering from severe physical and learning disabilities and one of the fastest growing populations on the continent, the KSFPH represents a small but significant voice for the rights of such individuals, and with additional help it will continue to grow.