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No legs, no arms, but 18-year-old Kamukama plays the trombone better than anyone you know

By Vision Reporter

Added 20th March 2015 04:35 PM

Deformed and disfigured by a fire from his head to his toes when he was only two years old, 18-year-old Tadeo Kamukama’s fingers were not just defaced; they were burnt into his arms.

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By Ssebidde Kiryowa

Deformed and disfigured by a fire from his head to his toes when he was only two years old, 18-year-old Tadeo Kamukama’s fingers were not just defaced; they were burnt into his arms.
 
He essentially has no fingers. He was lucky to escape with his life. The burns on his legs were so severe that they rendered his legs useless. To give him a chance at walking again, both legs were amputated and replaced with a pair of prosthetic legs which he thankfully uses to walk today. His body is covered in coarse scars, cruel reminders of the burns that the fire inflicted upon him.
 
He speaks with slight difficulty; his lips are strained by a large scar around his mouth.  Yet his condition notwithstanding, Kamukama, an orphan who stays at M-Lisada Children’s Home in Nsambya, a Kampala suburb, does not wallow in self pity. Matter-of-fact, contrary to what you would imagine of a young man in situation, he is able to perform tasks far more challenging even to his able-bodied counterparts. He is able to drive a car, write legibly and type on a personal computer writes SEBIDDE KIRYOWA.
 
                                                
Playing the trombone 
 
But perhaps the most amazing thing about Kamukama is the fact that he plays the trombone. A trombone is a musical instrument; call it a big trumpet, in the brass family. Like all brass instruments, sound is produced when the player’s vibrating lips (embouchure) cause the air column inside the instrument to vibrate.  
 
He plays the tenor trombone in the M-Lisada Orchestra band that comprises 35 young people and the only person living with disability among the 64 children at the home, a non-profit organization that strives to transform the lives of vulnerable and impoverished children and youth in Kampala by restoring their dignity and self-confidence through the teaching skills, music and the arts.
 
Although he loves, enjoys and is good at playing this particular musical instrument, Kamukama would rather be playing something else.
 
“The trombone was never really my instrument of choice,” he says, reflectively.
 
“I would really have loved to play the trumpet instead but then it requires me to finger the buttons and I have no fingers. The closest thing to that was a trombone which only required me to change positions.”
 
 The trombone changes pitch through a telescoping slide mechanism that varies the length of the instrument. This is the one that Kamukama has to slide. 
 
Perks of playing the trombone 
 Yet he is still grateful that he is able to play this instrument. The trombone, he says, has given him a new lease on life.
 
“It is through these concerts that we do that the organization (M-Lisada) gets the money to look after us. I am just grateful that in my own way, my condition notwithstanding, I am able to contribute to my livelihood and wellbeing as well those of others. I cannot undermine the importance of feeling wanted and relevant when you are someone like me,” he says matter-of-factly.
 
He says this particular skill, of all the other things he has done, has endeared him to many people both in Uganda and abroad. “Everyone seems to be amazed by the fact that I play the trombone. Because of this, I have made a lot of friends from the donors and volunteers who come in to work with us. I now have friends from as far as the United Kingdom and USA.
 
He says it also gives him a feeling of elation and greatly boosts his self esteem to be able to play the trombone.
 
“I especially love it when we have to play concerts in front of over 100 people. It’s an indescribable feeling when everyone else in the orchestra lowers their sound to let me stand out and play solo. I live for moments like that,” he says, a smile spreading across his lips.
 
 
Challenges
 I would expect that Kamukama would have a lot to complain about. Surprisingly, he has only too major issues. 
 
“My prosthetic legs sometimes tend to cut into my flesh and feel very uncomfortable. You would think I would be used to this by now; well, I am not,” he says curtly, without betraying any emotions.
 
I have to prompt him about the second challenge by asking whether he is stigmatised by his peers or faces any form of social discrimination because of his condition.
“Well, there are a few isolated incidents of stigma amongst my peers but there are far in between; almost negligible. For the most part, everyone has been very supportive. Besides, I have worked hard to prove myself and I think I have earned everyone’s interest,” he says, almost smugly.  
 
 
His story
 He was born in Kalzhang between the borders of Rwanda and Uganda. His father, whose name he has never known, died when Kamukama was only a week old.  His mother, whom he simply and only knew as Joan, died at the end of 2013.
 
The calamity that led to his current condition befell him when he was only two years. 
“It was at night. My mother was outside in the firewood kitchen. I was in the main house where my cousin was feeding me when a big rat knocked over the wink lamp (tadoba). The house which was thatched caught fire,” he narrates without a trace of emotion.
 
He was rushed to a near by hospital by his mother and grand parents who did not leave far from his home. 
 
“I don’t know how long I spent in that hospital. All I know is that I was badly disfigured. When I was discharged, I could not walk. They only carried me home,” he recounts.
 
A few years (he does not exactly know after how long) later, his grandmother registered him for a wheel chair at Katuna in Kabale which he received after a month. It was after he acquired a wheel chair that his paternal uncle agreed to pay for his school. He then enrolled in a local primary school in Katuna.
 
Moving to Kampala
 In 2007, his uncle perished in a bus accident as he travelled from Kampala to Kabale. His aunt then registered him with Good Shepherd Home, a residence for disabled adults and children in the middle of Mengo-Kisenyi, one of Kampala’s worst slums. Together with its sister home, the Bethlehem Orphanage, they are run by the Missionaries of the Poor, an order of Catholic priests from Kingston, Jamaica, as part of a wider programme of services for the community. 
     
“In Kampala, a Canadian well wisher in conjunction with the some Catholic Brothers who operated in Mengo but lived in Mutundwe, a Kampala suburb, paid for my operation at Mengo Hospital. It was during this operation that my badly burnt and disfigured legs were amputated and replaced with prosthetic legs,” he recounts.
 
After the operation, he returned to the Good Shepherd Home, where he spent a month and a half recovering.
 
First encounter with a trombone
“Good Shepherd Home has a partnership with M-Lisada Children’s Home. As early as 2010, the brothers would take us to the M-Lisada Children’s Home which was then in Mengo, to learn how to play musical instruments with their band,” he recalls.
 
He started off learning such skills as sight reading (the reading and performing of a piece of written music, specifically when the performer has not seen it before), and sight-playing (instrumental sight-reading for performance). They also under went vocal training before they learnt how to play the trombone.
 
He also learnt how to play soccer for the disabled, wheel chair racing as well as basketball.  
 
Struggling with school 
Even though he is 18 years old, Tadeo Kamukama is a Primary six pupil of Cinderella Primary School in Nsambya. Many of his contemporaries sat for their Advanced Level (high school) final exams last December and are waiting to join university this year. Others are in high school.
 
“I lost of time between relocating from Katuna to Kampala. Even in the past, I had not been in school for a year straight. I was in Primary three when I left Katuna. However, when the brothers took me back to school after my operation, I could not keep up. They were forced to take me out of school and home school me in the meantime,” Kamukama says.
 
When they took him back to school in 2008, he started in Primary Two, a class below from where he had been. 
 
 
In 2011, when Kamukama was in Primary Four, Joan Muhanubisi, another well wisher, approached the brothers and adopted him, effectively taking him out of the Good Shepherd Home.
“At time point in my education, I was still unable to read or write despite the fact that I was now in Primary Four. She (Muhanubisi) and her friends decided that it would be better to home school me from their home in Nsambya until I could catch up before they could place me back into the formal education system,” he recollects.     
 
The next year, they enrolled him into Train up a Child in Bugolobi, one of the more affluent primary boarding schools in Kampala. He started out in Primary Three there. 
 
“Although Train Up A child is a boarding school, the headmaster could not allow me to stay at the school because I was a special needs person. That meant that I had to come from Nsambya everyday,” he says.
 
But being a special needs person, it was too much work to ferry him to school daily. It was also too expensive and unsustainable. So, last year in third term of Primary five, he quit the school to join Cinderella Primary School which is closer to home in the neighbourhood of Nsambya. 
 
Joining M-Lisada Children’s Home
According to Segawa, Kamukama has been staying at M-Lisada since 2013. 
“A time came when he could not stay with Joan (Muhanubisi) anymore. He needed to be in an environment that was socially conducive; with his friends. So we decided to shift him to the orphanage.
 
 
What others say about Kamukama 
 The first time I saw Tadeo, I got interested in his story right away. I have observed him for a while now. I noticed that when he was younger, he was more secluded. He was a loner and did not want to talk to people or socialize. I guess he felt left out and alone. However, he has since come out of his shell. As he took on more skills, he is now more respected by his peers. He can drive, can use a computer, and has come to the realization that he has a real chance at making it in life. 
Rochelle Zabarkes, President MM-Lisada Africa Foundation
 
 He is a marvel. He grew up as an orphan but the people he stayed with first did not give him a chance to exploit his full potential. Here we have given a chance to blossom; to come out of his bubble and push his limits. He has been able to do things others only dream about. I think he is a good example for other young people in his position.  
Bosco Segawa, Director, M-Lisada Children’s Home
 

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