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I was rejected because of disability - Gombya

By Lucy Kiiza, Betty Amamukirori

Added 26th July 2019 08:06 PM

His parents, who at first thought it was a waste of resources to educate a disabled child, took only his siblings to school.

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His parents, who at first thought it was a waste of resources to educate a disabled child, took only his siblings to school.

MUSIC     PWDS    GOMBYA     WORK    POLIO

KAMPALA: Renowned radio personality and musician, Sam Gombya has opened on the challenges he has faced due to his disability.

Gombya, who got a polio attack at a tender age, reveals that a radio station in Kampala rejected him three times due to his disability, but accepted him on the fourth attempt because of his voice.

Gombya made the revelations during a dialogue on inclusive education and launch of learning needs identification tool, at Hotel Africana, Kampala recently.

The dialogue was organised by the Ministry of Education and Sports in conjunction with CRANE, Viva, UKaid and Uganda Society for Disabled Children, under the theme ‘enhancing inclusive development through education’.

In his account of his journey as a physically disabled person, Gombya said he became disabled after a polio attack when he was 2-years-old, but it was at the age of 8 that he noticed that he was different from other people.

His parents, who at first thought it was a waste of resources to educate a disabled child, took only his siblings to school. When he turned 11 years, his parents after a big struggle, rescinded their decision and sent him to a school seven miles away from home.

“While my age mates were in Primary Seven, I was just starting Primary One, but because I was brilliant, I was promoted to Primary Two in the first term.  Every day, I would walk seven miles to and from school. This was my daily routine for two years until my grandmother migrated to Kampala and took me to Nnabagereka Primary School,” he said.

While at school, he admired the games other children were playing at school and tried to play football. But even as a goalkeeper, he failed because he had only one working leg.

When football failed, he tried boxing, but this too required body balance, which he didn’t have. Frustrated by his inability and stigma, he decided to try music.

“I was stigmatized a lot. They would call me ‘magulu asatu’ in school. When I started singing in Primary Three, I decided to adopt the name in my music as a way of comforting myself,” he recalled.

His grandmother who was his strongest pillar all that time, died when he was in Senior Four, living him to fend for himself.

“I struggled to make money and educated myself. After my Senior Six, I joined Makerere University, pursuing a diploma in Music Dance and Drama. I remember my first performance at university, was during the inter-university competition and by then, I was a resident of Livingstone Hall.

The main hall was filled on that day and I was among those who were going to sing, and I had identified a song.  When I stepped on stage to sing, all I could hear was booing from the students because of my disability.

I had a plan to sing the whole song, but with the demotivation I received from the crowd, I sang only the chorus and a verse. When I was done with singing, I received huge applause from the same students,” he said

Work experience

Gombya, who is married to a fellow musician, Sophie and they have five children together, said that it was not easy getting a job.

“I remember when a radio station in Kampala was starting; a friend called me to take up the opportunity, saying I had a good voice. When I went there, the manager looked at me, without assessing my abilities and told me that he cannot employ me.

He even told me that there are many mushrooming radio stations that will employ me.

My friend again tipped me the second time the radio was looking for someone with a voice like mine. I went there and again at first glance, the manager angrily shouted at me: “You, didn’t I tell you that I cannot employ you?” I went home dejected.

Again, my friend came the third time and told me to try my luck with the radio. This time I refused to do it.

The fourth time he came and told me the same radio needed someone with a voice like mine. This time around when I reached the station, the manager was not in the office, so I waited. When he came, he just bypassed me without a word. It’s the secretary who told me to go in and see him,” he narrated.

Gombya said although he was scared, he still went ahead and met the manager, who reminded him of the words he had told him the first time he applied for the job.

He said the manager even went ahead and played a tape and told him that they wanted the owner of the voice.

“I told him I was the one and he was in disbelief until when I sang in the same voice. That’s how I got the job and I worked there for 16 years until I got another job at a different radio station,” he said to applause from the crowd.

Struggles in finding love

Gombya said finding love was not an easy feat for him. The first woman he wooed rejected him when another boy went and ridiculed her for accepting a lame man.

“I lost her to the able boy. This made me believe I would never find love or get married. However, when I was going about my business, I bumped into my beautiful wife. I found Sophie and we have been together for 20 years,” he said.

“I have lived my best life since then. The only time we ever had problems was during the time when our first child was born. We were still young, and I was unemployed,” he added.

He advised fellow PWDs against lamenting about their problems and asked them to work hard to better their conditions.

He called on the government to come up with programmes that are inclusive and friendly to PWDs.

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