Social entrepreneurshipUganda

High senses of touch empower blind women

Gifted Hands Network

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes, 19 seconds.

On loads of water that are dripping through the roof in the social innovation academy in Mpigi, Uganda

He can change the fade of blind people in Africa

It is raining hard. The sound of water drops vibrates through the hut like house Andrew and I are sitting in. The environment is somehow unique. Lines of plastic bottles are peeking out of the walls. Traditional green leaves are protecting us from the rain. A magical composition of the future with recycled plastic meets the past with traditional techniques for house roofs and brings a unique vibe to this place.

In front of me is Andrew Mukose in casual clothes with his eyes focusing on me. Once he starts his story his eyes begin to gleam and his almost detached smile gives me a first idea about his will to give back.

Most success stories on earth happen because people go through hell but as Churchill once pointed out, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” That is exactly what Andrew did before starting Gifted Hands Network in Uganda that enables blind women to detect breast cancer through their high senses of touch. A story that is inspiring straight back to my heart and gave me goose bumps while having the interview in the Social Innovation Academy (SINA) in Uganda.

Gifted Hands Network campaign led by Andrew Mukose

Andrew raised only by his mum went through hell and back. A car accident took his mum’s sight and with it came the loss of her job. “99.5% of the disabled people are unemployed. If you have a disabled person in your family, people say this family is cast”, Andrew remarked. Sadly, that was just the beginning of a very dark chapter of his life. His sister got severe malaria and unfortunately passed away without the necessary funds for a treatment. I could see the deep anger and sadness that surrounds him even today while telling me the story.

Andrew’s life went through the darkest chapter sometimes with having only one meal a day. However, there was light at the end of the tunnel and with never ending hope he took his life in his own hands. Through a scholarship the gateway to university education opened up and a wonderful journey began. “This is where I realized that blind people have the genius and high senses of touch which can enable them to do what we call palpation”, he pointed out. Blind people have the power to detect breast cancer.

Starting without any capital Andrew lifted Gifted Hands Network to one of the most recognized social enterprises in whole Uganda. Winning several awards Andrew started from nothing.

“If you cannot do great things try to do small things in a great way.”

With dozens of people involved Andrew leads educational campaigns all over Uganda. Gifted Hands Network is also creating ties with most of the hospitals in Uganda. So what is Gifted Hands Network? The social enterprise trains blind women to become experts in detecting breast cancer through touch. With those experts Gifted Hands Network has the vision to spread to all of Uganda to relief families from the horrifying consequences of late stage breast cancer.

One major problem in Uganda is that breast cancer detection facilities are almost not available and out of reach for families from humble backgrounds with insurmountable fees of $60. “We’re only having two mammography units in the whole country to detect breast cancer […] one machine is even broken down”, Andrew adds. Therefore, Gifted Hands Network developed a detection method that only costs $10 with the opportunity to reach out to all Ugandans.

Education is critical since most Ugandans are not aware of the serious consequences of undetected breast cancer. The campaign Andrew initiated this year is a first step to bring awareness to the people and finally make their lives better. Andrew actually finds compelling words for that, “Because $10 is free, this is life. You cannot buy life.”

His energy and his drive are exceptional and inspiring straight to the heart. Feel free to connect with him to support this amazing venture.

Have a look at the full interview with Andrew to get inspired.

Gifted Hands Network on Facebook

Interview

Background

So Andrew your passion, your business and everything we see right now happened to develop through tragic events that happened to your family.

I grew up from a single parents aided family. My mum was one of the lecturers at one of the universities in Uganda. Unfortunately, on her way back home from work she got into a car accident. In this accident she lost her sight and after losing her sight her contract as a lecturer was terminated. Everything was depending on our mum. Mum delivered everything to us because we are her family and she has to provide and lucky enough she had a job. She earned money that could sustain us. Out of a sudden she gets in an accident. You can’t avoid an accident, it can come anytime. The worst of it is the loosing of sight.

As an adult then you have to learn to cope with that. I must be extremely tough.

Yeah, so this started the chaos and suffering in my family so that the family could no longer sustain itself. My sisters dropped out of school so I was the only one left in school.

Through darkness

No money left?

Yes, none. The worst of all was what happened then. My little sister got severe malaria. She was admitted at one of the hospitals in Uganda that is a malaria hospital but there was no money. The money which my mum had saved she invested to try to get back her sight. But she could not get her sight back. It costs a lot of money those treatments. So there was no money left. In this night the doctors could not work on my sister because there was no money. Unfortunately, within that night my sister lost her life. Just because of money! So this brought a lot of things and whenever I think about it I feel like crying but at least I’m growing stronger.

Gifted Hands Network founder Andrew at SINA

You couldn’t do anything?

I was not able to help, me I was also just a kid. It brought more chaos and real suffering. Now, we had to fight every day. You know things are expensive. So, sometimes we could only eat once… a day. That happened. We went through a hard time. So this is where I got the motivation that drives me and the passion. Can we break this stereotype the community has towards blind people? I was looking at my mother who went through this but it is not only my mother that suffers from that fate.

“No one will ever recognize you until you have started.”

It’s a lot of people.

Right now we have over 1.6 million blind people going through the same situation at least my mother was educated. She could maybe do something. But what about those that are not educated? Remember that blind people are looked down upon. They are considered dependents in the community. They are looked at as not productive. My mother was still her contract was terminated. If they would have thought that this person could be productive enough they would never have terminated her contract like this. 99.5% of the disabled people in Uganda are unemployed. If you have a disabled person in your family, people say this family is cast. So that’s where I got the motivation.

The beginnings

You wanted to help disabled and in particular blind people but what you do right now is more than sophisticated so when did you make that move towards breast cancer?

Yes, after getting that motivation I was looking at it how could I fully implement this. Lucky enough I got government sponsorship. I had no money but I got government sponsorship and I went to university. I did my bachelors in community and medical rehabilitation. This is where I realized that the blind people have the genius and high senses of touch which can enable them to do what we call palpation. That means detecting the smallest slump in the breast and that is how you can find breast cancer. But remember this was theory.

How did you begin?

I heard about Social Innovation Academy and I joined SINA. I really wanted to implement my idea. During a lot of research, I realized that Uganda is one of the African countries which is highly affected by breast cancer cases. Many people are dying and we’re only having two mammography units in the whole country to detect breast cancer. One unit is even broken down. But I know the blind can detect breast cancer. So I looked at how we can combine these two things to create social impact. Through my outreach I came across Discovering Hands. Discovering Hands is a vibrant organization of social entrepreneurs.

What is Discovering Hands?

They do what we were planning to do in in 16 European and American countries. That’s why for us we’re scaling up the idea in Africa. The idea is new to Africa. Actually I didn’t know that these things were already implemented somewhere else. So when I started I was on media that’s when they heard about us. Nowadays, we’re working with Discovering Hands both nationally and internationally. Hereby, Discovering Hands Germany is one of our great partners.

Changing the mindset

What do Ugandan people know about breast cancer?

They don’t know about breast cancer at all. Even those who think they know assume once you have breast cancer that will be the end of your life. Yet we have to tell them: “No, it is not the end of your life. You can live and when you have breast cancer and it’s been early detected you can easily be cured.”

Do doctors or hospitals in general play a role for your social business?

Most hospitals in Uganda are very interested in working with us and are willing to provide facilities. It is a win-win since most people cannot afford the $60 fee for the check in the hospital. We offer our service for only $10. Our approach is even patented. We are the only people. So we work in partnership with the hospitals, extend our service so they get more customers.

“That is why I always believed that if you cannot do great things try to do small things in a great way.”

How do you make people aware of the problem?

We have two program areas. One of the program areas is the detection of which we have concentrated speaking about right now. On the other side we also having the other program area which is about the campaigns which we started in January and now we’re moving across the country even in Northern Uganda. Major TV companies even offered us to show our videos on their channel. We need to inform these Ugandan people what is the importance of early breast cancer detection. Informing them that once you early detect you can be easily cured and informing them that our services are almost free. Because $10 is free, this is life. You cannot buy life.

Gifted Hands Network outreach campaign

Opportunity to change everything

You even help your family in the future, right? Because if you know that you have breast cancer you also know that your daughter is more likely to also have breast cancer?

And that is exactly why we’re realizing with the government this can be legal across the whole of Uganda knowing that once you reach 16 years you go for the detection twice in a year. It is like HIV/AIDS if you know your status you can easily maneuver and save your life. So if we can tell the government to make it legally that every lady can check for breast cancer from the age of 16. We’re having a population of 42 Million people. But 56% percentage are female. This is coming roughly to 24 Million.

That is a huge number of ladies. So if each of these ladies could come for this detection at an early age it could be of advantage for the families. Rather than these ladies coming when it is at late stages. Now we are fundraising money for these ladies to go for surgery and other things in India. But all of the sudden they are losing life. A lady named Caro recently passed away after a fundraising campaign but it was too late for her.

Building a sustainable business

What is your impact and how do you sustain your business?

The $10 fee is for the scaling up of the organization and also sustainability of the blind women. We’re increasing the percentage of the blind people who are employed in Uganda. Blind people are getting employment opportunities. Also look at the market. We’re having 18 Million women that are 16 or older. If each woman could come once in the year actually we encourage them to do that twice. Look at the financial potential.

It is like spreading.

It is spreading. We will spread our idea to many parts of Uganda. We are even looking at implementing it and scaling it up in Africa at large.

How do you train your employees the women that do the detection? How do they learn it?

4 women go through a training of 6 months and it is done through Discovering Hands in Germany. It costs around $24,000 for 4 people. That is why we are lobbying from here and there to obtain additional funds. It is not easy. Otherwise we could have taken them long time ago. However, after the training the women are able to train other Ugandan women to become medical experts.

Vision

What is your vision for your business?

Me first of all, Andrew, my passion is to make a difference in the lives of disabled people. In Uganda we have a big number of disabled people.  We are also looking at Africa at large because let me give an example we just started last year and we won the African Entrepreneurship Award and are finalists in several other international awards.

Andrew as a person

What is your role in the business?

First of all, we are a team of 3 Klara, Kisitu and me. What we are doing is we are having different roles. Me, I’m more spreading out word of what Gifted Hands Network is, pitching Gifted Hands Network, looking for partners regarding Gifted Hands Network and reaching out to people that can help us in one way or another. I’m representing Gifted Hands Network outside. I am also the overseer of operational activities. That is basically what I do.

“No one will ever recognize you until you have started.”

How would your co-founder Klara define you as a person?

Hardworking, I know I am hard working I have to do this. I have to accomplish it. Comes what has to come. In my mind I started changing the perspective not seeing things at impossible. I look at things as things that can be done. I push myself to think outside of the box if something failed this way how can I do it in another way still achieving my goals. That is why I always believed that if you cannot do great things try to do small things in a great way. For instance, I knew we never had money but I wanted to start this breast cancer free Uganda campaign. If we are not doing it what are we doing? Nothing! We have to start it, we have to implement it and we started it. I used my personal money and what we get from here and there. No one will ever recognize you until you have started.

4th August 2017 Kodaikanal, India

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.