Like many of his peers, Jude Lulenzi always looked to the future with a lot of optimism. At school, a young and energetic Lulenzi was not only a students’ leader but a budding sportsman and role model to many youngsters.
At Jinja Senior Secondary School in Jinja town where he studied for his O’ level, Lulenzi won accolades in athletics and represented his school and the district in the post primary athletics competitions in the mid-1990s. In his heyday, he was a champion in the 100, 200 and 400 metre sprints, which earned him the post of sports prefect at Jinja SSS in 1994.
Even when he joined Iganga technical institute for a vocational course, Lulenzi continued pursuing sports but his dream of becoming a professional sportsman was cut short following a string of catastrophes that befell him in 1995.
Lulenzi’s uncle who was sponsoring his education, having lost his father Fred Isabirye as an infant, succumbed to HIV/AIDS. His late uncle’s businesses collapsed and properties that included storeyed houses in Jinja and Iganga towns were attached and sold off by financial institutions he owed money.
Months later, Lulenzi lost his eyesight under circumstances that he cannot clearly explain to date. What he remembers is that there was a long standing dispute over one of his late uncle Wilfred Lukakamwa’s business premises in Iganga.
One morning, as he woke up Lulenzi stumbled upon fetishes splashed at the door way of a retail shop the family operated in Iganga. “I really don’t know what happened but I suspect I could have stepped into fetishes planted by someone who was in a bitter dispute with my uncle,” says the 35 year old man.
Attempts to seek assistance yielded nothing as all medical specialists he visited insisted they did not find any problem with his eyes and therefore no need for an operation. But he had lost his sight!
Lulenzi consequently dropped out of school. He had no one to pay his school dues yet he had not come to terms with the new way of life-blindness.
“It was a horrible and devastating experience. I thought that was the end of me. I would sit down and ask myself questions to which I could not find answers. I did not imagine a blind person could go to school, do business or live a purposeful life,” he says
“When I became blind, my first worry was the thought of sitting along streets to beg, because I had seen many blind people do so,” the father of one adds
Despite the challenges, Lulenzi did not let his situation pull him down. He was determined to do everything possible to become a self-sustaining person without being a burden to others.
Jude Lulenzi (second right), his wife Margaret Tuliwangula (left) and daughter Gloria Mirembe receive the donation of a knitting machine and knitting materials from Charles Kakamwa (right) the Jinja Bureau Chief. The donation was made by New Vision readers in the Diaspora(Juliet Dumis GENEVA).
One day while at his grandmother’s home in Nsuube village, Budondo sub county in Jinja district, Lulenzi listened to a talkshow by the Jinja district union of people with disabilities.
The next day he visited their offices in Mafubira Township and during their interaction the union offered to link him to an institute that trains blind people in life skills.
In 2003, Lulenzi with the assistance of the union enrolled at ‘Blind But Able training centre’ in Kyebando a Kampala suburb where for a whole year, he was equipped with various skills.
He learned cookery, crafts making, knitting, stenography, home management, brail writing and reading, as well as agriculture. Each semester cost him sh 250,000 raised by well-wishers. Upon completion of the course, Lulenzi vowed never to despise himself but exploit the skills he had gained and opportunities around him to better his life.
Together with his wife Margaret Tuliwangula a fellow blind with whom they wedded in September last year, Lulenzi has cultivated a name for himself as a supplier of vegetables to markets in Jinja.
Whereas to some, it is unimaginable for a blind person to cultivate, Lulenzi does it with ease. He explains that blind people have a sixth sense that helps them understand certain things without necessarily seeing them. By touching and feeling, he can easily differentiate grass from crops, courtesy of skills he acquired in his training.
He grows Okra, sweet pepper, French beans and egg plants as well as cassava, potatoes and bananas on his 1.5 acre garden in Nsuube, Jinja. However, for some reasons, Lulenzi had to shift to a rented house about a kilometer away from his grandmother’s home. This coupled with the high costs of inputs, and transport costs to markets, affected his farming business.
“Farming is a profitable business but the profit margins started reducing since we had to hire labour in preparation of the garden and transportation of the produce to markets. Though we are still in farming, we would also like to try out knitting in which we are both highly skilled,” he says With a timely boost of a donation of a knitting machine by New Vision readers, Lulenzi believes the sky will be the limit to their success.
“This machine looks small but it has the capacity to transform our lives for the better. We are grateful to Vision Group and the donors for such support and promise to utilize it for the intended purpose,” he said as he received the donation that also included sh 100,000 and a bundle of knitting threads on Thursday.
The overjoyed couple who made their marriage vows at Christ’s Church in their village in September last year, vowed to utilize the donation to uplift their welfare.
Lulenzi says using the machine they can make baby shawls, socks, table cloths and sweaters. He has already approached schools around his village to discuss the idea of supplying them with sweaters. Tuliwangula says acquisition of the knitting machine lessens the worries of finding rent and school fees for their daughter Gloria Mirembe, who is in P.1 at St. Patrick primary school, Lwanda a private school in Jinja.
The Lulenzis stay at a two room house for which they pay sh 20,000 monthly in rent and sh 28,000 each term in fees for their daughter.
Lynda Mabikke the Vision Group Corporate Social Responsibility officer says the intervention was a result of a story in Saturday Vision last year about the blind couple’s wedding, in which they indicated a desire to acquire a knitting machine.
Margaret Tuliwangula (left) tries out the knitting machine donated to them. PHOTOS BY DONALD KIIRYA
She says after reading the story, the readers including Ms Juliet Dumis embarked on a campaign to raise funds for purchase of the machine as support to the couple’s wellbeing. Lulenzi says despite their visual impairment, they can also engage in other projects like poultry and animal rearing.