Changing the Image of Disability
With the BOLD MOVES campaign we celebrate people that dare to question the status quo and break new ground. Charlotte Kangume had to be part of this campaign. Through her daring activities as an activist for people with disabilities and people who have suffered sexual violence, she is truly a powerful ambassador for BOLD MOVES. A conversation about her life, her personal bold moves, and her vision for a more inclusive world.
Charlotte, you are a jack of all trades: a trained lawyer, an early childhood educator and an advocate for disability and sexual assault. Currently, where are you most engaged in?
Right now I mainly work for an organization that I co-founded, which is called «Amputee Self-help Network Uganda». It’s an organization that gives psycho-social rehabilitation to amputees, because it is not a readily available service in hospitals. We go to the hospitals and counsel amputees as well as people that are due for amputation. Apart from that we create empowerment activities that we provide to amputees, that they can bring their lives back to normal. We also advocate for their rights – at the workplace but also generally in our society.
What drives you to do this work?
Well, before I lost my leg I didn’t know anything about amputation. Before the amputation I asked the doctors in the hospital if I could talk to someone who has lived a life as an amputee, so that I know what I am getting into and can consent to the amputation as well as know that life in essence won’t change much. But there was no one available. So, after I lost my leg I met Alex Munyambabazi and we talked about this issue. I told him that I want to see amputees in hospitals because when I am going to get an amputation and these doctors in the hospital with two legs tell me everything is going to be ok, how am I supposed to trust them? They are not living a life as an amputee. At this moment we decided to start an organization that provides empowerment services. In Ugandan hospitals they will send you home after the treatment without any counseling, without any preparation of what you are going to face in our society. So that’s how we started the «Amputee Self-help Network Uganda» and decided to provide this service to amputees. And we are so happy that many people now can profit from our services. We have over a hundred people in Kampala.
With the BOLD MOVES campaign we want to celebrate people who dare to question the status quo and break new ground. What is a «bold move» that you took in your life?
Well, showing my prosthetic leg openly here in Kampala is looked at terribly. People ask me: why don’t you cover it up? Why don’t you get it to look like your normal leg? My response to them is always: I try to inspire someone out there, some young child out there, to be body positive and to be comfortable in their own body. To me, that is a very bold move. Because my prosthetic leg gets so much attention out there but through this attention I can bring awareness to people with disabilities and I get to see new amputees that feel comfortable with their lives.
«I try to inspire someone out there, some young child, to be body positive and to be comfortable in their own body. To me, that is a very bold move.»
If you were given a paintbrush with which you could paint your ideal world in the future, what would it look like?
Well, my imagination of the world for the future is that it is going to be more inclusive, more welcoming to people who are living with different disabilities, and more open minded. I live in a society, in a country that has all different beliefs and myths of people living with disabilities, about amputees and all these other extraordinary names they call us. And with everything we are trying to do now, this will be changing in the future, will be changing in schools, changing at the workplace. I see a more welcoming workplace for people with disabilities and with this we could get any job that we desire to have. Right now people ask: Can you really do this job? Are you not going to be a burden to the company? No, I am really seeing it differently. A lot has been done and a lot of this transition is being done right now and for me the future is more beautiful, more inclusive through more inclusive spaces and areas. This is going to be amazing, to have a younger generation that is more open minded than our previous generation. A younger generation that understands more of how similar we are and realizes that people with disabilities are not like it’s being spread by some beliefs in Uganda where people think we are helpless, we can’t do anything, we are weaklings, because we have a disability, because we have lost a limb. Most people look at us as a burden. For example if you call someone, they automatically think that you call them to ask for help, to ask for money. That shouldn’t be the mentality. I see a greater future for us as people living with different disabilities. It is going to be amazing, a wonderful and a very bright future.
«For a stigma free community, the old world must be reimagined.»
What do you think are the steps to take in order to reach this vision of the future?
So, the very first step is for people to throw out those old beliefs and myths. For a stigma free community, the old world must be reimagined. That speaks a lot about what we expect from everyone. Let us throw out our old beliefs and myths about people living with disabilities, about amputees and let us start imagining them in a different way. Also people with disabilities need to understand that it is not only a one-sided part, it is teamwork. We also need to change how we look at ourselves. We have to accept who we are, to show the world that – you know what? What you think of me is different. Right now as a person, as Charlotte, anywhere I go, they don’t see my disability, they see my capabilities because I prove to them, to those around me – you know what? Yes, I have a missing limb, yes, I lost a leg, but I am still capable of doing each and everything I set my mind to. So, aside from the world and society throwing out the old myths and beliefs, we as amputees, also need to stop feeling pity about ourselves and start lifting ourselves up and showing the world that what you think about me is old-fashioned. I am different, I am even more capable than the ordinary person. So it is a two-sided thing. It is us working as a team. Us working as one, we shall move a lot, we shall change a lot, if we work together.
Which bold move do you want or wish to take next?
My next bold move is helping children, youth, both girls and boys living with disabilities, especially amputees. Because a lot of these children didn’t go back to school after the Covid-lockdown. When schools were opened in Uganda they didn’t go back to school and a lot of them have experienced sexual abuse from family members. Our goal as a team is to be able to give them a free space to talk about their feelings and just relieve them of all the burden they carry on their shoulders. We also continue to provide them with different things they need, necessities which their families are unable to provide. We are also going to sensitize people against sexual assault for both ordinary people and people living with a disability. I feel this will change a lot in the community, this will give these children and youth hope. They will know that they have a support system and have someone to go to and talk to. That is going to be my next bold move because no one is doing something in this area and a lot of children are suffering. A lot of these children are going through sexual assault each and every day. As a previous victim, as a survivor of sexual assault, I understand this more than anyone. Having a team that supports my ideas, is going to make this dream happen, this bold move happen. I am going to be able to help all these children out there, hopefully. Yes, that is going to be my next bold move.
And besides that I do modeling for being a plus size amputee, this combination is not often seen in Uganda. Coming out as the girl that is bold and happy about what she is. This is going to give so many young people hope that things can also be different. They can be beautiful inside and outside regardless of how they look, regardless of a missing limb or a disability they have.