Historically, it was considered evil and â€œSatan-likeâ€ to ably execute tasks with your left hand. In traditional religious art, the devil was said to sit on Godâ€™s left hand, which has made the left-hand the damned one. Also, when one was left-handed, they would be called a witch, ultimately leading to their hand being burned at the stake.
Although the modern world seems to have moved on from superstition, stereotypes attached to using the left hand have persisted in some societies. That is why some teachers and parents still insist that a child must learn to use the right hand.
â€œBut all this has to end because left-handedness is neither a disease nor a disability. It is a lifestyle, based on an individualâ€™s brain arrangement. A child who ends up left-handed shouldnâ€™t be forced to use the right hand,â€ says Bernard Bogere, the brain behind Keep Left Uganda Foundation (KLUF).
The local charity, in association with the education ministry, Makerere and Kyambogo universities, is here to ensure that the left hand is kept â€“ at least for those who have not yet been forced to lose it.
KLUF is also advocating for sufficient sitting and writing space for left-hand writers in primary schools, the level when a child starts learning to write.
Violation of childrenâ€™s rights
Left-handed himself, Bogere says forcing children to change from using the left-hand to the right is a violation of their rights. As a child, he was forced to switch from the left hand to his right.
â€œIn nursery school, my teacher caned my left hand daily so that I could learn to use my right hand. I persisted, but it was the same case when I joined primary school,â€ he says.
By P.3, Bogere had stopped using his left-hand and now feels his lifestyle was altered. Many have gone through a similar scenario, while others are still going through it. In some cases, emotionally weak left-handed people have dropped out of school.
Bogere, however, did not drop out but decided to be one of the people who will end the stigma against the left-handed and other school minorities like stammerers.
He founded the Lugazi Community Day and Boarding Primary School in 1984, with one of his goals being to use his own pupils to learn more about left-handed people and those with speech difficulties so he could help them.
Train teachers to help
Recently, Bogere, also a pastor in Lugazi, launched his study at his school in Lugazi which spread out to other parts of the country.
In his study, he discovered, among other findings, that there are about 1,250,000 left-handed writers and 215,600 stammering children in primary schools across the country, representing 16% and 2% respectively, of the current primary school enrolment.
He also discovered that teachers across the country were not trained on how to help these isolated cases. Also, some scholastic materials like scissors and desks are made for right-handed users in mind, something that makes those who use the left hand slow learners without considering that they use tools not intended for them.
On April 15, 2010, after several studies about the isolated cases and lobbying to get some institutions on board, KLUF and partners held their inaugural left-hand writersâ€™ conference in Mukono district, to share experiences and chart a way forward.
The conference attracted about 120 people: teachers, lecturers, left-handed pupils, stammerers and other stakeholders.
It was also attended by students from Makerere Universityâ€™s Faculty of Speech and Language Therapy, as well as those from Kyambogo Universityâ€™s Faculty of Special Needs Education.
The left-handed neglected in class
Presided over by Christopher Wimon Okecho, the assistant commissioner for special needs education, the conference revealed the ordeal left-handed people and stammerers go through.
In their presentations, left-handed pupils shared how it is always the left-hand writer at school who faces difficulties in sitting positions. They say since they share desks with right-handed pupils, they are always boxed in, so they struggle to utilise the limited space available, fail to find an appropriate positioning for the arm, paper or book, as well as struggle while using a pencil or pen. The stammerers say they are laughed at, mimicked and called names. Sometimes teachers ignore them.
When the Universal Primary Education programme was introduced in 1997, the pupil-teacher ratio in lower primary classes (P1-P3) shot up to about 93:1. So, on average, a desk is shared by five pupils and if one is left-handed, they cannot be comfortable or write well. The only way they can find comfort is to share a desk with two right-handed writers.
And with such a teacher-pupil ratio, the troubles of a left-handed writer or a stammerer are usually ignored. However, somehow, a few of the minority that have not decided to leave school have used their inherent creativity, fought on their own and found a way around their problems.
For instance, lower primary pupils at the conference talked of situations where a teacher guides the right-handed pupils on how to write while left-handed writers get a scolding for using the left hand and are told to find their own way of getting it right. This applies to stammerers in relation to pronunciation.
It is upon such a background that KLUF and partners are creating awareness about these peopleâ€™s troubles to encourage intervention. Bogere says they are currently lobbying the Government to include KLUFâ€™s support programmes for left-hand writers and stammerers when drawing the national budget.
KLUF carries out counselling and trains teachers and parents on how to help left-handed writers. It also helps stammerers by lobbying other institutions to get on board, recruiting volunteers to help in the drive and teaching left-hand writing skills.
They also carry out speech and language therapy services to help those who stammer. In doing all this, KLUFâ€™s conviction is that they will help reduce school drop-out levels. They are also out to eradicate such stereotypes, otherwise if they had been upheld, we would not be reading about the milestones of such left-handed world greats as Bill Clinton, Barrack Obama, Albert Einstein, Sir Isaac Newton, Ben Franklin, Baden Powell and many others.
Okecho promised to help create a technical committee to draw out a more comprehensive programme and policy that will best serve the needs of left-hand writers, stammerers and other children experiencing barriers to education. This fight is a part of an international initiative to ensure that the stammerer and left-hand-writer share equal opportunities.
At such a point, there will not be situations of a left-handed worker in a factory dying from an accident because the machine he was using had been intended for a right-hand user. A golf club manufacturer will also remember to make equipment for left-handed players.
And for the stammerers? Well, they can get help from speech and language therapy services.
No space for the Ugandan left-handed pupil?