Harunah Damba lived an ordinary life until the fateful year of 2015. Falling ill for about three years, the young man slowly started to lose his hearing ability. Ear by ear, the sound disappeared. The silence was so loud.
At only 22 years, Damba became deaf.
“In 2015, I suffered an illness and developed difficulty in hearing. The problem started with my left ear and later shifted to my right ear, and soon silence etched in both my ears,” he narrates.
After several failed attempts by medical doctors to treat his illness, an old lady convinced Damba’s parents to take him home. She advised that they use herbal medicine which they also later learnt was useless.
Faced with the new reality that he would be deaf, Damba did not take it so well. It was no easy feat.
“I didn’t know any bit of sign language and neither did my parents nor relatives. I used to live in seclusion because it was difficult, almost impossible for me to engage in any conversation. While in such a situation, I could see that most of my friends with similar impairment had a lot on their mind, asking questions like; would we ever get a decent living and or good employment?” he recounts.
Corridor talk from the Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) fraternity illuminated him to the discrimination that would befall him in the employment market.
“I knew the future was going to be hard without any form of self-employment,” he says.
It was at that moment that Damba made the decision to become an entrepreneur. Damba is an entrepreneur With the help of his dad, Damba has made strides in his ambitions.
At only 27 years, in a country reeling with youth unemployment, Damba owns a garden, sugarcane plantation and a poultry house of both local and exotic birds. The young lad also leased land for a brick-making project.
He earns enough from his businesses to meet his needs. Damba is also a beacon amongst the PWD fraternity in Bweyogerere where he is the chairperson-elect of PWDs at the parish and founder of United Persons with Disabilities (UPWDs), a disabled peoples’ organisation in Bweyogerere parish.
“The organisation has transformed into a social impact body tackling youth unemployment and increasing empowerment. We are still in the budding stage and using our own resources to set an example of what we really committed to. Currently, we are running two projects for the benefit of PWDs; bead making and poultry, and we are devising means of investing in mushroom growing,” he reveals.
Damba qualifies as a jack of all trades having volunteered at Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI) as a junior scientist before the Covid-19 outbreak.
“At the moment, I am looking at ways to expand my businesses and also integrate modern technologies,” he revels in his success.
MTN Youth skilling program
It was in his efforts to expand his business and hone skills in digital technology and youth social entrepreneurship that Damba landed on the MTN youth skilling program which he has since learnt extensively from.
“I am greatly enthralled to discover how ICT and entrepreneurship is bridging the rampant unemployment gap, and making PWDs resourceful and valuable. I commend the approach being used to train the next generation of young leaders which involves a paid training to acquire an internationally recognised International Certificate of digital literacy (ICDL) with cutting-edge modules tailored to our problems, business training, networking and mentorship,” he says.
Bearing Haruna’s hearing impairment in mind, the youth skilling program which was conducted online, ensured he was included through utilising zoom online services which carried captions for interpretation.
“The zoom app has inclusive features like automatic captioning and a chat window. So I utilised them to always ask whenever I had not understood the concept and they were indeed mindful of the fact that the program includes people like me. We also heard google classroom and this is where most of the content was posted from class materials to reference content,” he explains.
In spite of this success, it has not been a rosy journey for the young gentleman from Namanve. His hearing impairment has cost him friends and shone upon him a judgmental light in society.
“Most of my friends do not know sign language and many could not spare time to write while communicating to me. Many of them felt offended when I retorted because of my disability that I couldn’t hear them and that they please write down what they are saying. Also, many still have the false perception against us, the disabled. They see our disability more than our abilities. They are quick to judge what I can and can’t do because of my disability, yet I am more than what they perceive me to be,” he notes.
Shaking off the grim picture, Damba believes the future is bright. He is certain that he is now an asset to drive his association; UPWDs, from a grass root level to an internationally recognised institution, having attained knowledge and skills in resource mobilisation, business setup and management along with soft skills: networking, collaboration, presentation among others.
In five years, Damba envisions himself as a successful entrepreneur.