You probably have seen children with severe disabilities staying locked up in homes due to either lack of resources by the family to take them to specialised facilities or stigma around their physical disabilities that limit them to participate in mainstream education. These are the challenges that led Inès Musabyemariya, a physiotherapist with passion for paediatrics, to join hands with three other parents to start Heroes Day Care Centre, a special-needs school for children with severe disabilities located in Kagarama Sector in Kicukiro District. She says that as a parent herself, her main preoccupation is to ensure the quality of life for special needs children improves and give them an education to make them self-reliant in the future. When they started in 2015, Musabyemariya says that they had little money but big dreams. “In the beginning, the situation was not easy. We barely raised enough money to pay rent for a year, basic special equipment, toys, and salary for only four staff – a teacher, assistant teacher, therapist and a cleaner,” she said in an interview. “After a year, we had difficulties starting a new academic year because the demand was very high compared to our already overstretched financial capacity,” she added. The centre does not charge parents for the care provided to the children. When they opened, she said, they had seven students and since that time, the number has increased to over 20 while their staff has since grown to 14 and they include teachers, rehabilitation professionals, and caregivers. To be able to remain afloat, Musabyemariya revealed that they raised funds from different well-wishers both locally and internationally. “The number of children attending the centre is increasing, and now we have capacity to serve 35 students on daily basis. The centre has also received funding from UNDP and has been able to offer community services to 255 children throughout Kigali, and trained their parents how to support them from home,” she said. “We have also acquired land so soon we shall have our own premises. Construction activities have started in May 2021.” Challenges abound Despite the support however, Musabyemariya said that the main challenge they have is that children who graduate from their centre are not accepted to enrol in other mainstream schools. This is because the current education system is not yet ready for children with severe disabilities (those with difficulties to feed themselves, to move around, to talk, etc.) Moreover, according to Musabyemariya, the centre doesn’t have the means to build more accessible inclusive classrooms to adequately cater to the children. Another challenge is the ignorance of parents who don’t want to pay for their children (in other facilities) because they don’t believe in their abilities and think that paying for them is waste of money. “We are also still struggling with cultural barriers that stigmatize children with disabilities and their families and lead to family conflicts and poverty,” she added. Tackling their plans, she said that they strive for a culture in which children with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as other children, adding that they will keep providing an educational environment to children with severe disabilities where they will be able to develop to their full potential to actively participate in the development of Rwanda. “Children with severe disabilities are human beings too. Like all children, they need attention, care, warmth, and dedication. They must have the opportunity to develop their cognitive, social, emotional, and physical skills and are entitled to be educated, to achieve their own goals, to be autonomous, and to have a place in society,” she said. Parents’ testimonies Ferdinand Mugarura, a parent who has a child at Heroes Day Care Centre shares how the school has helped his son and family. “From the time he joined this school, my child has advanced in terms of listening and doing some things by himself. He knows the alphabetic letters and when we use a special book to help him do his homework, we notice that he remembers what he has studied,” he said. Before his child was enrolled at the centre, he used to stay in the house which he says may have escalated his condition. “It also helped our family, especially my wife. She used to always be with him, but now when he is at school, she can get time to do some work and visit friends.” Odette Mukamanzi, a single mother of five children including Kevin who has severe disabilities and is being taken care of at Heroes Day Care Centre, shares how this facility has helped her son. “Before, Kevin couldn’t speak well but now he can. He has also learned to brush his teeth, sweep the house, wash dishes, and can now walk while he only used to crawl. He also knows how to count but before, he didn’t know anything,” she said.