Rashid Ssozi will not see you. But he will talk to you. That is how he communicates.
That is how he welcomed me to a long and hearty interview about his dramatic quest for an education. Ssozi is blind, but his vision is phenomenal.
“When my mother failed to send me to school, I said I would struggle until I succeed; that I would go to school and excel.”
You will see the marks of struggle on Ssozi. From his small bony face to the thin kinky hair with bits of grey in it. He was wearing a simple white striped shirt, a pair of black trousers and black shoes with white socks when we met at the Vision Group offices.
He held his white cane like a wise old man, fidgeting with it a little to trace his way forward as he walked. He walks with his head slightly raised and with a still smile on his face.
Ssozi was struck by measles when he was five years old. “It was during the 1980 liberation war; we were on the run so my parents could not find proper treatment.”
The disease left him blind. His father Yunus Batte died during that period and left young children and a poor mother. When the family moved from war-torn Luweero to Masuulita in Wakiso district, his mother sent him to Kanzize Church of Uganda Primary School.
At school Ssozi was the only blind child. This posed great challenges to his education.
“I struggled to cope,” he says.
Without specialised tools to use, he had to listen carefully to the teacher and rely on his memory to learn.
“Teachers usually never came back to explain things.” He took exams orally.
In many school activities, Ssozi felt left out. “I felt bad that I could not play with my friends, this affected my performance.”
His fortunes changed when a gentleman called Fred Kasozi found him along a village path.
“After consulting my mum, Kasozi (who worked for Save the Children) took me to a government-sponsored centre for blind children in Iganga and enrolled me in a nearby Bishop Willis Demonstration School. After two years, the Government cut off sponsorship to the centre, forcing Ssozi to drop out of school. Ssozi spent four years out of school until he met another kind gentleman called Washington Mugerwa.
“I met him through Rose Munialo, an Inspector of schools then.” Mugerwa gave him a vacancy at his school, Rev. John Foundation School and offered him a bursary. He also offered tools to help Ssozi in his studies. He was 16 when he joined P5 there.
“Teachers paid attention to me and with the help of my braille tools and tape recorder, life became a lot easier.”
Ssozi served in various capacities as sanitation and student welfare prefect respectively and later as adviser to the prefects’ board. He passed with Aggregate 16 and continued to Crane High School where, with the support of Peter Birungi, the director, he excelled.
He became a student council leader and worked very hard to advocate the students’ cause. At A’level, he studied literature.
He often asked his friends to read the novels out loud for him as he made notes. He emerged the best literature student in his school and won a government scholarship to Makerere University where he pursued a Mass Communication degree.
At Makerere, Ssozi relied on a guide to negotiate the complex campus geography. He worked through the system and with support from his lecturers nearly completed his course.
He was just sh400,000 (the cost of two missed exams) away from completing his course, A cost that Vision Group graciously met.
Ritah Kabatunzi who is in charge of corporate affairs says: “Vision Group, through its various platforms, strives to highlight the plight of members of society such as Ssozi and to tell their inspirational stories to encourage others.
Chief Operations Officer Gervase Ndyanabo (right) hands over the company’s contribution towards Ssozi’s tuition. while Rita Kabatunzi , (Corporate Affairs) looks on, at Vision Group offices in Kampala, November.8, 2011. .
(Photo by Kennedy Oryema)
We believe in equal opportunity for all. This is a story of succeeding against all odds and the company is privileged to be a part of it in however modest a way.”
It is Ssozi’s hope that he can find a job after graduating. “I would like to be a broadcaster. However, my search for jobs in different media houses has not been fruitful, perhaps because employers do not think people like me have much to offer.”
He has come a long way, and now is certainly not the time to give up.
As we come closer to celebrating the international day of the disabled, people like Ssozi remind us of the important role that they have in our society.
This year’s theme: Together for a better Uganda; Including Persons with Disabilities in Development puts it very well: we need to join hands to develop our society.
And with the National Union of Disabled Persons of Uganda (NUDIPU) leading the way, Uganda will realise the need to bring people with special needs on board.