Posted by Flavia Serugo on Nov 01, 2018

In this month’s wave, our inspiration comes from Robert Tuhamire from Uganda, who did not just survive Polio, he thrived.  Despite his disabilities, he beat the odds, getting a degree with support from well-wishers and today he has a successful career, various enterprises, a lovely wife and three beautiful children. He is also giving back to community and is a Past President of the Rotaract Club of Makerere University Business School (MUBS). Our Wave editor for Uganda, Flavia Serugo caught up with him to share with us this moving story. 

Briefly tell us about yourself

I am Robert Tuhamire, born on 15th March 1980 at Rwagashane in Mitooma district in a family of 10. I was born as a normal child but immunized with an expired polio vaccine which led to my disability. The country was recovering from the Idi-Amin war and government was experiencing challenges in supplying medicines and vaccines for immunization due to the political instability. My mum tried her best to seek treatment in hospitals as far as Nakivaale but unfortunately the condition was irreversible and left me crippled. 

In my family, I am the only one who is disabled. But I’m grateful to God because most of the people who contracted the diseases, either had their limbs amputated or did not survive. I am also lucky that I got a good education plus scholarships for both O and A levels.   I hold a Diploma as well as a degree in Business Administration and currently employed as a front desk manager at Makerere University Business school.   I am married to one wife and a proud father to three boys.

On growing up, what challenges did you face and how did you overcome them?

The death of my father in 1987 hit us hard as a family. It happened so suddenly, first he lost his sight and then he passed away. I was so worried about how we would cope. In the meantime, I had been denied an opportunity to attend school not because they hated me, but because they thought I was not able.   One of my friends, Eddy Tindyebwa, a headmaster of a local school used to pass by our home on his way to work and would bring me sugarcane and sometimes a coin. One day he asked me to go to his school and later convinced my uncle to let me study after seeing my competences.  My uncle welcomed the idea and that is how I joined Rwagashane Primary school. 

My first day at school was very challenging. The children laughed at me and I felt so alone. However I found consolation in a nearby church where I used to play signal drums every Sunday, these are drums for calling people to attend church.  I soon became very popular and people warmed up to me. Since then I started mingling with people.  I am grateful to the church which gave me my first wheel chair in Primary 6. Another challenge I faced back then was I could not afford sandals to shield my palms. The mud and dirt would always leave my books very messy. However, soon I learnt how to improvise by cleaning my hands with dew. 

Story  continues to page 7.

Being accepted was and is still a challenge There is still a perception that most disabled people are uneducated and poor. Many times I have been shunned away by taxis and bodabodas thinking that I can’t afford to pay for my fare, leave alone boarding a car. The first thing people see is the disability not the ability you have. It is not about what you see but the content that matters. 

You are a Rotaracter and was even President in 2012/2013, how did you join the club?

When I was at the Business School studying for my Diploma, there were some Rotary Clubs giving out wheel chairs. The Rotary club of Kampala East in collaboration with Rotaract of MUBS gave me my second wheel chair. That was the beginning of my   Rotary journey.  But prior to that, I had also received assistance from the Rotary Club of Bushenyi for my A-level scholarship and they had also supported me at my Diploma.  I eventually got interested in the Rotaract activities and soon joined. RC Kampala East would take us for service projects.  I hope I will be accepted to join Rotary Kampala East.

How far have you gone in achieving your dreams and inspiring others?

I completed a diploma and a degree in Business Administration and planning to enroll for Masters in Energy, Economics and Governance at MUBS.  My job has exposed me to many people and I hope one day I will be able to represent the disabled at a national level. I have been going around schools and tertiary institutions to give talks and I will continue with that.

In addition to my family, I am taking care of two other children of my deceased brother so my salary alone is not enough. To supplement, I keep chicken in the village and currently have 230 birds.   I was also able to buy a plot of land in Kinawataka where I built my house and 4 rooms which I rent out to students. I have plans for expanding the rooms into a hostel and do my poultry business on a large scale.

Caption: Robert and family  

Any final comments or words of advice?

Firstly, I appreciate the role of Rotary in its fight to eradicate polio. Let’s continue and not stop until polio is wiped out. Many people in the villages are still skeptical of these immunizations. We need to step up awareness programs spearheaded by survivors to tell testimonies as part of the sensitization. I also wish every meeting or fellowship there could be a polio moment on top of the contributions. 

For those who are challenged and living with disabilities, let’s not wallow in self-pity, it’s not the end of the world. Find out your inner abilities, get skills or an education. There are many opportunities out there. 

I am forever grateful for the support I have received all the years. My boss, Professor Wasswa Balunywa, offered me a job not because of my disability but my ability. My beautiful wife Anita  loved me because of my personality and not my looks. I call upon those who are physically able, to support those who are challenged including getting for them jobs based on their abilities.  Many have potential but are jobless. Let’s give them a chance!

Taken from The Wave November 2018: