COVID-19: Joel Kawanguzi in Uganda

My name is Kawanguzi Joel. I am the Programme Coordinator and chief accounting officer at Charitable Disability Organization (CDO). CDO promotes increased access to services that empower people with disabilities to improve their standards of living. We also do advocacy, report on needs, and build the capacity of persons with disabilities to speak for themselves.

What is iSAVE? How does it function and help PWD and female entrepreneurs?

iSAVE is a program that enables persons with disabilities to increase their savings, is a model aimed at increasing savings, improving access to financial services, and promoting entrepreneurship among people with disabilities. The program mobilizes PWDs into iSAVE groups, which help them save money, access small loans and build small-scale businesses. This has enabled many PWDs to clear debts, pay loans on time, and increase their savings and access to basic needs of life. Through access to credit, women with disabilities have grown their businesses and are able to take care of their families, a task that is often especially hard for them since many are single parents. 

How have women and young people with disabilities in iSAVE groups been able to access financial services and vital resources during the COVID-19 lockdown?

Most of the iSAVE group members didn’t have bank accounts before joining us and had no access to credit beyond the tools we provide. During the last period, we at CDO have worked to open accounts for them and register groups online with DFCU Bank (Development and Finance Company of Uganda Bank) so that their finances are held in one place as the crisis is happening.

Joel with Iganga women's savings group

Women with disabilities building their savings at an iSAVE meeting in Uganda before COVID-19.

How do you mobilize people and help persons with disabilities maintain financial security despite barriers created through social distancing?

We moved to protect persons with disabilities in our iSAVE groups by suspending sharing within the groups. We also suspended activities that would have required PWD to attend an audit in person in order to continue accessing financial services. We did so not only to follow social distancing guidelines and keep people safe but also to prevent some from taking advantage of the situation and cheating group members in difficult situations. Some have used the disruption created by COVID-19 to commit forgery and fraud.

All of our iSAVE groups have opened up bank accounts now. We have a network of community volunteers who travel by motorcycle around communities and provide guidance on how to do online banking (while following social distancing). Group members who want to conduct transactions with their banks (including payment of loans and savings) can still transfer money via phone.

This has all helped to keep record of our activities and monitor the needs and situation of the persons with disabilities we serve.

How else have you been involved with supporting PWD in the COVID-19 response? 

  • My group, the Charitable Disability Organisation (CDO) has translated public health information on COVID-19 into Lusoga, the language most spoken where we operate in Uganda.
  • We have also identified 10 volunteers tasked with sensitizing the public about COVID-19 and have equipped them with local megaphones and motorcycles. They ride around while following the president’s guidelines and broadcast health information from a distance to the community. This has helped keep the public alert, including PWDs.
  • CDO is especially aware of how COVID-19 threatens food security, and we are ensuring that our members don’t lose access to vital supplies for agriculture. We are in talks with the local government to get seedlings for maize, beans and others for PWDs. Food access is very uncertain and a big priority.

What sort of information and knowledge do most PWD still need?

There are many dire needs for PWD, but here are a few:

  • Students with disabilities especially need better strategies on accessing educational materials. Uganda’s Ministry of Education and Sports uses radio, TV, phones and print media to teach students, but they need to provide accessible formats for deafblind, blind and deaf students. Social distancing has also made it even harder for students to access interpreters and special service providers, who were already expensive and short in number before the crisis.
  • Volunteers and essential works need protective gear, both to be safe where they work and be able to provide service in areas that are more isolated but still at risk.
  • Motorized information services that announce public health instructions in areas with limited connectivity need better batteries for megaphones and broadcasting equipment so they can work longer.

What lessons from your Professional Fellows’ experience and mentorship in Illinois are useful to you in this crisis?

My Professional Fellows’ experiences with online meetings and community engagement via distance learning in the U.S. have been very useful. While at the University of Illinois Chicago, I studied different methods on how to organize online meetings and accessible communication. I now organize phone call conference meetings with CDO staff and chairpersons of iSAVE groups, which has kept CDO’s work moving.

rachel weisberg

Joel Kawanguzi meets with U.S. civil rights attorneys during his PFP-IDE Fellowship in Chicago in 2019.

Joel Kawanguzi is a Programme Coordinator at Charitable Disability Organisation (CDO) in Uganda. He was a PFP-IDE Fellow at the University of Illinois Chicago in Fall 2019.