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Uganda Trip a Life-Changing Experience for Employee

Katie Decker hugs one of the students from the Amaanyi Center in Entebbe, Uganda. Katie took a trip to Uganda with volunteers from SkillCorps in July to work with children with developmental disabilities.

Katie Decker was 7,800 miles from Little City, but the challenges were the same.

There, in Entebbe, Uganda, there were children and adults with developmental disabilities that desperately needed support. Unfortunately, that support has not always existed in Uganda.

Katie, the assistant director of Adult Residential Services at Little City, helped change that this past year when she visited the Amaanyi Center in July with a group of volunteers from SkillCorps as part of the Global Autism Project.

The Amaanyi Center is a first of its kind for people with developmental disabilities in Uganda that teaches life skills, vocational skills and academic and personal skills. The center itself launched in early 2018, so Decker and the rest of the SkillCorp volunteers were able to provide crucial assistance and insight to help develop the center’s programming.

“I was able to work with two influential teachers there, Stephen and Rosemary, as we collaborated to develop objectives for the next four months and that process was incredibly empowering,” Katie said. “Watching Rosemary teach functional mathematics and seeing the students working on it with enthusiasm was so powerful.”

The Amaanyi Center has been a massive step forward for people with developmental disabilities in Uganda. According to the center director, Christa Preston, people with developmental disabilities are often called “kasiru,” meaning dumb, or “kateyamba,” meaning helpless. They are five times more likely than their peers to be victims of abuse. Young girls with intellectual disabilities are at the greatest risk, with more than 90 percent reporting incidents of abuse.

The center has already made a major difference offering training in academics, personal empowerment, healthy relationships, community outreach, and employment skills.

Katie said it was clear to see how happy everyone was at the center and the strides they have made. Katie and the rest of the volunteers were immediately accepted and warmly welcomed as they were often referred to as auntie or uncle as part of the family.

“I spoke with Christa about how impressed I was with their students’ independence, and she shared with me that one of the things she set out to do in Uganda was to see what independence looked like where there wasn’t any other option,” Katie said.

Because of false assumptions about people with developmental disabilities, community outreach was another point of focus during Katie’s trip. She said staff members would go around knocking on doors and asking people if they knew or have seen a child with autism before and explain the issue. The last thing the person would see as the staff member walked away would be the back of the shirt that said #nomorehiddenchildren.

While the trip was a life-changing experience for both Katie and the students at the Amaanyi Center, it was the familiar feeling of seeing a child with developmental disabilities accomplish a new feat that motivated her to keep doing more both abroad and at home.

“I remember observing the autonomy of the students as they washed their own laundry in wash bins and it gave me this feeling of steadfast determination both for Amaanyi and my clients back home,” Katie said. “I am grateful to have had the opportunity.”

Katie’s trip was made possible thanks to generous funding from Little City board member Alex Gianaras.

“Little City uses an affirming message – that it’s a good world, there’s a place for my kids in the world and Little City will help them find it.”

Rachel, mother of children receiving home-based support services