Last week, I had the chance to sit down with David Clemy, the brilliant founder of VICOBA business and savings training and our guest speaker at this year’s Gala. David shared the inspiration behind VICOBA training, his impressions of the US, and his favorite food – which might not be what you think!

You are the Director of the Kitega Community Center for the Disabled in Uganda. Is there a connection between your work at Kitega and VICOBA training?

My first encounter with people with disabilities was in high school because of my dad’s work. He helped to start a center for the disabled at a local church. It was very hard to find the children with disabilities… most of the people who had the children didn’t want to let them out. People believed, “no one should know that I have this child.” They would just list the negatives and tell you there are so many things they couldn’t do. But then there is so much that these children could turn out to do. People just couldn’t believe in them because of the stereotypes. They’re not given opportunities to try.

Of course, the root cause of marginalization is poverty. They look at all of their problems and then they look at the child with a disability and say they have no hope.

Did this idea inspire the emphasis on “mindset shift” that is a key part of VICOBA?

Yes. I felt that I should really do something bigger – there are so many other people in similar situations. My definition of disability changes from anyone: it comes to any person that is not living their full potential. If you’re still having that mindset of you’re not doing what you’re really supposed to do, there is a disability.

How did you engage the surrounding community of Kitega to gain support for the center?

The center initially started as the Kitega Center for the Disabled. Now, the stereotypes around the center are that everyone who comes to the center is disabled, even me. People would think, “if I go there, everyone will believe I am disabled.” How do you get the community to start appreciating these children and know that they are like any other person? If we are going to stop marginalization and discrimination against these children, how can we engage the community? How do we get the community involved? We did this in multiple ways, including VICOBA training and through church. The best way to engage people is to work with them.

Through engaging the community, the perception changed from everyone who comes to the community is mad to people connected and advocating for the disabled.

What’s your favorite part of leading VICOBA training?

VICOBA is always a new experience. The more you interact with people, the more you lead different conversations and get out of your comfort zone. I’ve helped to equip people to be happy, thriving, taking care of their family. It also helps me to know the gifts that people really have. As long as I’m helping people achieve their dreams, I’m happy.

What is your favorite story that’s ever come out of VICOBA training?

There was an elderly lady who was almost ready to kill herself because everything she had tried had failed. That was her tone. She was down in the community when were introducing VICOBA. She was lonely; she had lost all her children to HIV/AIDS. She had so many grandchildren who were stealing everything she had. She had no people to talk to and no people to trust. So we were doing all this processing together.

We encouraged her to come to VICOBA training. We got through our process, and the more she continued to share her bit of story, the more people got more engaged and connected. She started to dream again, that one day she will have a great house, and in the group, through that process of collective action, they got her a goat, and that’s where she started. She got another one, then somehow she got a cow, then she built a better shelter, not the dream house but a better shelter at least. At the end of it all, she was really totally changed from “life has no meaning” to “there is much more I can still do in this world to change my situation”. Now, she’s a little ill because of her age, but she’s happy! Together it’s something that built up from the whole group. So that was exciting to see her change.

How has your experience been as an African Road Changemaker?

I love African Road’s approach, and I love being a part of the process. I really enjoy working with organizations that give an opportunity for people to do things themselves. Being one of the Changemakers, seeing that happen in some communities, changing the way people think about aid… this is something I really care about. The level of growth is exciting.

I’ve heard about African Road at the gala, heard people supporting the work, being a part of the stories, so being here and meeting them in person and talking to them and seeing their response and excitement builds a connection. 

What’s your overall impression of Portland?

Apart from the weather that has been unwelcoming, it’s been great! People have been friendly here… there is the power of connection. Also, I love Scotland, and I have a lot of connections there. If there was an independent Scottish passport, I would apply! Portland brings so many connections with Scotland. I love Portland; I hope to come back one day.

What is the best food you’ve eaten in America?

Burgers! I love the burgers here. I’ve eaten more burgers here than anywhere else! And of course, ice cream. Olive oil was my favorite flavor from Salt & Straw. I tasted so many flavors there! I got two scoops: olive oil and cinnamon.

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