From wheelchair to business triumph - meet Chantal Uwimpuhwe

UWIMPUHWE’s story begins as a hopeless story of misfortune, but slowly unveils into a beautiful tale of zeal, courage and commitment.
Uwimpuhwe Chantal at her restaurant. The New Times / Courtesy.
Uwimpuhwe Chantal at her restaurant. The New Times / Courtesy.

UWIMPUHWE’s story begins as a hopeless story of misfortune, but slowly unveils into a beautiful tale of zeal, courage and commitment.

Her positive attitude in the times of trial turned her into a successful businesswoman despite being confined to a wheelchair by Rheumatoid arthritis, a disease that crippled her for life.

How she started

While working as the Business Secretary at CafeRwa, Uwimpuhwe was diagnosed with Rheumatoid arthritis in 2005.  She was flown to the United States for treatment but the doctors told her that she would be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of her life.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a form of inflammatory arthritis and an autoimmune disease. In RA, for reasons no one fully understands, the immune system – which is designed to protect ones health by attacking foreign cells such as viruses and bacteria – instead attacks the body’s own tissues. As a result of the attack, fluid builds up in the joints, causing pain in the joints and inflammation that’s systemic.

After receiving the bad news, her next step is what catches the eye; Uwimpuhwe decided to quit a well paying job she had been doing for eleven years to begin her own business.

While on her wheelchair, she searched for financing opportunities and when she finally got one, it was a massive leap forward. She won a loan grant of Rwf30 million from a business competition after writing a compelling business proposal to one of the financing agencies in the country- and with the money, her personal business life was unveiled.

“Being crippled meant that all my business dreams would be buried with me, something I never even wanted to imagine. I also felt energetic and youthful despite being crippled,” she narrates.

Doctors had advised her to embark on a healthy diet so she could live longer, an opportunity she exploited to the fullest.

“Realising that the only thing that was keeping me alive was because I was put on a diet, I decided to venture into the food business and that’s how I ended up opening my restaurant.

I never wanted people to go through what I was going through so I decided to develop the idea of eating well,” Nzimwabagabo says.

On the job challenges

Now the managing director of Healthy Me Juicy Bars and Restaurant, a chain SME in Nyarutarama, Uwimpuhwe says that past experiences in the business world makes her abreast to every detail in need of improvement.

“I lost Rwf25million a few years ago in a deal gone bad, so I understand the energy and wisdom needed to handle a business. I can never give up even when something goes awry wrong because I know that being focused makes up for the losses. I have a business dream, and I believed in my dream, nothing can change my mind until I achieve my targets,” she says.

Achievements

A married mother of three, Uwimpuhwe is able to take care of her family. Although she earns a descent average of Rwf1.5 million per month, she dreams of expanding her restaurant chain to every district in the country. Her business has also kept her busy and active despite her ailment, which doctors, relatives and friends believed was the ultimate end of her life.

“Once in a while young people come to me asking how I got the courage to do this and asking for advice on how to begin their own. I always tell them to look inside their hearts and follow their desire without distractions,” she says.

“First of all you must uphold your education with your heart because from it, you get invaluable knowledge and skills that can make you anything that you ever dreamed of becoming.”

Advice

Although five years in the food business has put her up their as a mentor in the industry, the soft-spoken lady is well aware of the challenges that other people with disabilities go through. “Many people in Rwanda and in the world suffer from diseases that affect their livelihoods. But one thing for sure is- disability does not mean inability. As long as you still have a life, you can still chase after your dream with persistence. If you don’t get it now, you will surely get it tomorrow,” she advises.

 

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