He may have lost his sight at a very tender age – just one year – but that did not stop him from dreaming big and has never given up on his childhood dreams. Meet VOA’s Leonidas Ndayisaba.
When you meet him, it won’t be long before you realise his burning passion for journalism.
Ndayisaba was challenged with childhood blindness, but this did not stop him from pursuing a career in broadcast journalism. He is a sports reporter and presenter at Islamic Radio station, ‘Voice of Africa’
Born 1981 in Nyagatare, Eastern Province, Ndayisaba’s parents told him that he gradually lost his sight during his first year of life. Visits to traditional doctors by Ndayisaba’s parents did not yield positive results.
Later on, he was diagnosed with chronic ‘cataract’—a medical condition where the lens of the eye becomes progressively opaque, resulting in blurred vision. The final resort was a surgery in an attempt to save his eyesight but, unfortunately, it was too late.
Not long after, Ndayissaba lost his sight completely. That is when he started relying on people to convey information to him orally until the age of seven when, through a Christian organisation Izuba Rirashe, Ndayisaba was enrolled into a school for people with disabilities in the Southern Province called HVP/Gatagara Nyanza, founded by Father Frépond Ndagijimana.
When he arrived at the school, he met other people with the same problem. They studied as any other primary students but were trained to use a specific tactile writing system for the blind called ‘Braille’.
Although during the 1980s, Rwanda’s education system was not developed enough to adequately accommodate students with disabilities, the school did a commendable job when it came to caring for the disabled students.
Ndayisaba said they had enough food, materials, and other basic necessities.
At the time of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, Ndayisabye was 13 years old. He describes the time as the most horrific experience of his life.
“Our teachers were raped by the Interahamwe militia and we heard them cry out for mercy but we could not see, run, hide, so we could not help save them,” he recalls.
In 1996, Ndayisaba passed the final national examinations and qualified to join high school.
The post-Genocide government allowed the blind who had excelled in the national examinations to enroll in standard schools to study with the rest of the students.
High school experience
“It was really challenging to enter into a school with no special care for the blind. Some teachers were reluctant to deal with me, as some of them felt uncomfortable teaching the blind. However, my fellow students were kind to me.
“I excelled in high school because I was ambitious and wanted to prove to everyone that disability is indeed not inability.”
At A’ Level, Ndayisaba offered Literature and languages. He later joined the University of Rwanda (former NUR) in 2008.
Life at university
“I chose to study journalism at the university. It was difficult at the beginning as some university lecturers were not accommodating. They used projectors and rarely spoke, which made it very difficult for me to follow in class.
“I struggled to get someone to read the notes so that I could memorise and write less. My cooperation with other students played a big role in my struggle.”
In 2012, he graduated with a Bachelors degree in journalism. He said during his last three years of his undergraduate course, he didn’t rely on readers as much, instead he used his computer more to help him learn.
Radio Salus, a broadcasting media house at the University, offered Ndayisaba his first job as a sports news presenter.
A colleague, Liliane Umuhoze, helped Ndayisaba get familiar with adobe audition, which was commonly used by Radio Salus presenters to edit voices.
He worked there as a trainee journalist for three years. Ndayisaba later moved to City Radio, and is now working for Voice of Africa.
“His disability has never kept him from delivering top-notch sport news presentation. He is very creative and is a journalist who knows what is good for the public and for the media houses,” Claude Hitimana, his colleague for more than a year, says.
Like many other people with disabilities, there are certain virtues that Ndayisaba has expertly honed in order to help him succeed, such as a strong memory and preparation skills.
“If you are kind to other people and you prepare your self for a particular situation, that you are able to succeed,” he says.
As a well-regarded employee in a highly demanding job, Ndayisaba is qualified to advise people with disabilities who want to make a difference in their respective fields.
“I think they need to do their best to make themselves appealing to employers,” he says.
He urged job seekers with disabilities to go out and look for jobs instead of waiting for other peope to help them. “All you need to do is show that you’re a self-starter,” he says.
Ndayisaba’s biggest disappointment in life was when he thought he passed an exam for a job at the Rwanda Broadcasting Agency but he wasn’t chosen for the position.
I felt sad for a whole week,” he said.
His utmost achievement was when he completed his Bachelors dissertation, he said. He described it as the peak of his happiness.
While he says he always had traits to become a good radio presenter, Ndayisaba thinks his disability challenged him in countless ways.
Message for children
“Life for me means nothing without good people around you,” he stated.
“I think I survived and continue to survive because of the people I have met. So to my son Alnord and every child in the world, I say, respect everyone, commit yourselves to courteousness and you will survive even in the most difficult times as I did and still continue to do,” he adds.
Ndayisaba is married to Thérèsa Nyirabagwiza and the two have a son, Alnord.