Young entrepreneur makes affordable wheelchairs

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Habanabakize poses by a wheelchair he is making. / Jean d'Amour Mbonyinshuti

Daniel Habanabakize completed Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) four years ago and trusted in the hands-on skills he had acquired. But he just couldn’t come up with something to do thereof.

The resident of Mimuri Sector in Nyagatare District was still pondering until recently when DOT-Rwanda, a non-governmental organisation, asked him and others to design projects to be sponsored.

“We were asked to develop a feasible project that will be sponsored. I then thought of a project that can benefit more people, especially the vulnerable,” says the 24-year-old graduate of Mechanical Engineering.

“I could see many people with physical impairment who could not walk independently. I, therefore, thought of providing wheelchairs and I designed project to make them,” he adds.

After designing the project, Habanabakize acquired a three-month training and start-up kit.

But it was not until last year that he started making wheelchairs, which he sells to locals.

As someone who had done mechanics, he says, it was easy for him to convince trainers and get support, which he used to start his business.

“The skills I acquired from school were enhanced through more training and I started immediately after the training,” he adds.

He makes manual wheelchairs. All he needs are metals and other materials that he buys locally.

“I manage to make affordable wheelchairs that are not as expensive as those which are imported, because the materials I use are procured locally,” he said.

Habanabakize has hitherto made over ten wheelchairs which he sold to various clients starting from his home. He earned about Rwf1.5 million that he used to buy basic equipment such as a welding machine, metals and wheels he uses.

“I currently work with individuals and some schools. Though I don’t have enough clients, I am in talks with the National Council for Persons wtih Disabilities (NCPD) and, hopefully, I will soon start making many wheelchairs,” says Habanabakize, who can make over 10 wheel chairs per month.

To reduce the cost of production, he uses normal bicycle wheels and tubes that are used in construction. The wheelchairs are made in a way that they are not heavy and have capacity to also carry simple luggage.

The bicycle cost from Rwf100,000 to Rwf150,000, far below Rwf1.5 million that an imported wheelchair costs.

“I want to help the vulnerable get means of moving independently or with little support but enable them access places they could otherwise not access,” he says.

Habanabakize says he is optimistic that the future is bright and he is ready to contribute toward the Made-in-Rwanda initiative.

“I hope that once talks (with NCPD) are done, I will be able to get a wider market and make more wheelchairs. I am also optimistic that I will be able to earn more. If I make 15 bicycles, I will be earning over Rwf1.5 million and this is huge as materials I buy are not that expensive,” he adds.

According to Emmanuel Ndayisaba, the executive secretary of NCPD, currently most of the wheelchairs are imported and offered by donors, which means that it can be a relief once there are entrepreneurs who can make them locally.

“We are aware of the young man who is making wheelchairs, we are in contact and he is doing a good job as this would not only boost Made-in-Rwanda programme but also make them available and affordable,” he said.

Ndayisaba confirmed that the council intends to meet Habanabakize and look at his products and also help him get partners to expand his business.

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