My name is Catherine Nakanyiga, and I am a dedicated clinical psychologist currently working at CORSU Hospital. At the core of my profession lies the mission to provide invaluable psychosocial support to individuals and families affected by various categories of disabilities. Additionally, I offer technical guidance and support to organizations like the Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus Association Uganda, aiding in their efforts to assist children with disabilities.
As someone living with a physical disability myself, specifically Spina Bifida, I possess a profound passion for empowering and advocating for children and adults with disabilities. My aim is to enhance community capacities in promoting the human rights of individuals with disabilities while simultaneously combatting the pervasive stigma, isolation, and neglect perpetuated by negative societal norms and perceptions. These factors significantly impede the quality of life experienced by persons with disabilities.
Let us shed some light on Spina Bifida. This condition is categorized as a neural tube defect (NTD) and affects approximately 320,000 newborns worldwide every year. Shockingly, Uganda alone witnesses the birth of an estimated 600-800 children with Spina Bifida annually, in addition to 3,600-5,400 children born with Hydrocephalus, another condition associated with NTDs.
Having personally endured the mockery and stigma that often accompanies disability, I am driven to overcome stereotypes and support families facing the challenges presented by conditions such as Spina Bifida, Hydrocephalus, amputation, clubfoot, cleft palate, burns, and other physical and non-physical deformities. These challenges can significantly affect the quality of life and, in extreme cases, even lead to loss of life.
Parents and caregivers of children with disabilities are frequently overwhelmed by the numerous challenges they face, often resulting in depression and stress. My own family and I went through similar trials until I discovered positive coping mechanisms, which played a pivotal role in my personal and professional growth.
Being born with Spina Bifida has given me profound insight into the realities faced by individuals with disabilities. This understanding empowers me to share my story of resilience, survival techniques, and coping mechanisms with those who are less fortunate. I take pride in my compassion, resilience, teamwork skills, ambition, and unwavering focus. I believe I possess a unique empathy for disadvantaged individuals, although it has occasionally made me vulnerable to exploitation.
Witnessing individuals develop confidence, resilience, and a positive attitude after hearing my experiences has been immensely gratifying. I have motivated and encouraged children, individuals, and families affected by disabilities not to succumb to despair but instead embrace their lives and the opportunities that accompany their disabilities. Many have discovered and focused on their strengths rather than their weaknesses.
Moreover, I consistently champion and advocate for the human rights of disadvantaged members of society across various platforms. I actively raise awareness about mental health and disability detection, prevention, and management. By providing psycho-social and psychological support to both disabled and non-disabled individuals within the community, I contribute significantly to fostering a more inclusive and understanding society. Referrals are a vital aspect of my community and national involvement.
Through my social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, YouTube, and LinkedIn, I have successfully created awareness and educated the Ugandan public about the aforementioned conditions. In doing so, I strive to reduce the stigma faced by victims within their communities. You can find some of my informative messages at (https://www.youtube.com/@CatherineNakan5).
It is disheartening to observe the marginalized status of youth living with disabilities, particularly concerning their limited access to sexual and reproductive health information. This lack of access inevitably leads to stigma and gender-based violence. Therefore, I call upon all stakeholders, including civil society, agencies, and human rights defenders, to collaborate in advocating for improved accessibility and support for females living with disabilities.
By sharing my personal journey and dedicating my career to empowering individuals with disabilities, I aspire to contribute to a more inclusive and equitable society. Together, we can transform lives, challenge societal norms, and break free from the confines of disability.