Disability as a Competitive Advantage
There are over 1.5 million blind people in Uganda and 99% of them are not employed. The society is stigmatizing and marginalizing them as unproductive members of society. However, blind people have an incredible sense of touch, unimaginable for seeing people. Mukose Andrew grew up from a single parented family with a mother who became blind because of an accident. She was a university lecturer but after getting blind her contract was terminated. She became jobless and could not sustain the family. This led to the death of Andrew’s young sister because the family could not afford the necessary medical bills.
In 2015, Andrew joined the Social Innovation Academy (SINA) which turned his difficult past into a strength. He started interacting with Discovering Hands, a successful social enterprise in Germany which is training blind women to detect breast cancer. Breast cancer in advanced stages cannot be treated in Uganda. The earlier a diagnosis can be made, the higher the chances of survival and the cheaper the treatment costs. Breast cancer is rising dramatically in Africa and Uganda is one of the most affected countries. Over 30,000 women in Uganda are reported to have breast cancer. However, the awareness of this disease is very low. Most women do not know about breast cancer.
That is why Andrew has started the Gifted Hands Network while at SINA. It is creating breast cancer awareness campaigns across Uganda and starting to train blind Ugandan women to become certified medical examiners for early breast cancer detection. In mid-2017 two women will travel to Germany to undergo an intensive three months training to become certified examiners and able to train further examiners back in Uganda. The blind examiners will then be deployed into health centers, clinics and hospitals across the country to over affordable breast cancer detection, using their disability as the competitive advantage. Studies in Germany have shown that the trained blind women are able to detect cancer lumps in the female breast earlier than any medical doctor can.
The Gifted Hands Network is at the late stages for a franchise with Discovering Hands in Germany and on its way to create job opportunities for the blind. At the same time Andrew and his team will fight an emerging disease in Uganda and generate a mindset shift on how we perceive disability. To raise funds the Gifted Hands Network in collaboration with the Social Innovation Academy (SINA) held the first Dinner in the Dark in Uganda, an event where an invited audience experienced an evening of food, speeches and entertainment in complete darkness in Kampala to be able to empathize with how it feels to be blind. The event was a great success and is scheduled for its second edition in December 2017.
Gifted Hands Network in early 2017 also launched its “Breast Cancer Free Uganda” Campaign and has been touring to different schools and communities to raise awareness about breast cancer and gain supporters.