Defying the Odds: Maria Kolibi’s Journey of Empowerment.

Maria's newfound skills in arts and crafts have transformed her life and also inspire others to believe in the power of resilience and determination.

In the heart of the Katikekile sub-county, settled within the Moroto District of the Karamoja Subregion, lies a story of resilience, determination, and triumph against all odds. It’s the story of Maria Kolibi, an 18-year-old with a paralyzed leg, whose journey from despair to empowerment serves as a symbol of hope for her community and beyond.

Born into a family grappling with poverty, with a single mother selling charcoal to make ends meet, Maria’s dreams of education seemed like distant fantasies. “My mother could not afford the requirements and school fees, so I did not attend school,” stated Maria.

Stigma keeps the spirit low

The societal stigma attached to her disability only added to her challenges, as she experienced low self-esteem and a sense of worthlessness because of the belief in her community that people with disabilities are incapable of making meaningful contributions to society such as caring for animals, gardening, quarrying, and fetching water.

When opportunity knocks

But Maria’s courage refused to be crushed by harsh conditions. Deep within her, a spark of hope burned bright, fueling her desire to defy the assumptions of her community and prove her worth. The opportunity came knocking in March 2023, when the parish chief informed them about training opportunities offered by the Cooperation and Development (C&D) organization.

“With the support of our village chief, I applied for the Arts and Crafts course at Home Based Care in Naoi. The course has not only equipped me with practical skills on how to weave mats, various bead designs and beadwork, bead making, candle making, recycling plastics, leather turning, and shoe making, among other skills like savings, entrepreneurship, and communication skills but it has also instilled me a sense of confidence and self-worth,” Maria acknowledged.

Perseverance pays off

Despite the challenges posed by her disability and the 10km long distance between her village and the training center, Maria persevered, determined to seize the opportunity with both hands. “I sometimes miss the lessons, and I currently arrive late to the workplace. I always have trouble crossing streams and rivers during the rainy seasons, not to mention slippery roads. Nevertheless, I reached out to my aunt in Moroto town, who occasionally lets me stay at her house when I’m running late or when it’s raining while I’m still in Moroto town,” she says.

Maria displaying her Certificate during graduation as one of the best performers trained by C&D through the EU- IOYPE project at Naoi Home Based Care during graduation.

The impact

Today, Maria stands tall as a testament to the power of resilience and determination. Her proficiency in arts and crafts has not only earned her recognition but also provided her with a source of income. Through her hard work and dedication, she supports her family and even contributes to her sister’s education. “Because of my passion and diligence, I was retained at Naoi Home Based Care, to produce arts and crafts items after the Directorate of Industrial Training (DIT) assessment and graduation. I earn 150,000/= to 200,000/= on average, depending on how much money the business generates. I save part of the money and support my mother to pay my sister’s school fees of 45,000/= at Musa’s Primary school per term.”

Ambitions for the future

Maria dreams of expanding her business and venturing into new avenues, including leather knitting and trading in hides and skins.

Maria admitted, “The hands-on skills, and practical vocational training I obtained ensured that even I, who did not read and write, acquired the skills in making bead products, candles, belts, and other leather products. I was able to realize my untapped potential through career guidance fairs, guidance and counseling, and soft skills like self-worth, self-awareness, and entrepreneurship from religious and business mentors who ensured that I discovered my self-worth and I’m therefore ready to face and manage daily life challenges and accept who I am in terms of my disability status.”

About the IOYPE project

Maria’s story is just one among many, through initiatives of the Increasing Opportunities for Youth Participation and Empowerment (IOYPE) project, funded by the EU and DANIDA.

Thousands of youth in Karamoja are being equipped with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in youth participation in policy, advocacy, and governance skills, to enable them to effectively participate in decision-making processes in their communities, and development processes, sustainable income generation, and life skills training.

The action reaches young people across nine districts of the Karamoja sub-region, namely Moroto, Napak, Nakapiripirit, Amudat, Nabilatuk, Abim, Kaabong, Kotido, and Karenga) for a period of three years (2023 to 2025).

By investing in youth empowerment and advocacy, these projects are not just changing individual lives but also transforming entire communities, since they are equipped with new skill sets in areas such as catering, animal husbandry, motor vehicle repair, and maintenance, tailoring, brick-laying and concrete practice/masonry, electrical installation, agriculture, and governance and advocacy.

The action is implemented through a consortium of DanChurchAid, Cooperation and Development (C&D) and Arid Land Development Programme (ADP).

As we celebrate Maria’s journey on EU Day 2024, let us remember that disability is not an inability, and every individual, regardless of their circumstances, deserves the chance to thrive. Through compassion, support, and opportunities, we can create a world where everyone has the chance to reach their full potential. Maria’s story reminds us that with determination and perseverance, anything is possible.

DanChurchAid (DCA), through its strategic goal ‘Building Resilient Communities’, focuses on building the economic, social, and environmental resilience of marginalised communities by increasing their production, income, and employment opportunities.

Read more on DCA Uganda

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