In June 2021, three young Rwandans teamed up to create an organisation called “Imenye Mubyeyi” which can be loosely translated as “know yourself”. Their mission was to offer sexual health education to young people with disabilities. Stephane Munyanziza, a 3rd year student in Midwifery at University of Rwanda; Alexis Mbanjimbere, a sign language interpreter; and Emmy Nsanzabaganwa, realised that their peers who have disabilities were denied access to information “As a young person, I know the importance of having access to information. However we know how many of our peers with disabilities are always left behind in terms of accessing health information,” said Nsanzabaganwa, the organisation’s Managing Director who also doubles as its Youth Representative in the Northern Province. Most teaching materials on sexual reproductive health are not inclusive. For instance, Nsanzabaganwa says, video content has no sign language interpreters and no braille for the visually impaired. In addition, conversations on sex are generally thorny issues in Rwanda where cultural and religious beliefs are dominant. It’s thus more challenging for adolescents with disabilities. “From the stories we have heard of people with disabilities it is hard to know things about sexual reproductive because these young people are stuck in their homes or cannot access the community meetings where these issues are discussed,” Nsanzabaganwa said. By working with local organisations for people with disabilities they have been able to reach out to hundreds of young people with hearing and speech impairment and teach them about sexual reproductive health. They do so through their YouTube channel which has over 800 subscribers and community gatherings, in addition to one on one education. “With the help of the medical doctor who explains to them and our interpreters we teach these young people about menstruation, family planning methods, sexually transmitted infections, among other topics,” he explained. Through this initiative, he adds, they hope to play a role in reducing teenage pregnancies, which is forcing tens of thousands of girls out of school. Latest statistics from the Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion show that a total of 19,701 teenage girls from all over the country gave birth in 2020. Nsanzabaganwa and his colleagues also seek to break the silence on sexual health education as well as tackle the sigma that surrounds it, which often forces many teenagers to rely on inaccurate information from their peers. Their initiative also aims to educate teenagers with disabilities about sexually transmitted diseases among others. However, the organisation is still grappling with insufficient funds, difficulties to access people with disabilities, and limited knowledge and stigma that still exists about the subject. Future plans “Our main focus will be in rural areas, to widen our community outreach, and work with many other young people with disabilities are mainly affected,” said. Other future incentives include; creating a website and application that will help people with disabilities access learning materials in a language that is inclusive to them. Challenges According to Ariane Dusenge, Country Coordinator Sexual Reproductive Health Programme at the National Union of Disability Organizations of Rwanda (NUDOR), the lack of access to information and the stigma surrounding people with disabilities and sexual health is still a challenge. “Most people think that people with disabilities are asexual or not sexually active, so when they go to health facilities with no one to explain to them or the attitude towards them and the way they are treated by these health workers also plays a big role in the issue,” she said. However she explains, approaching people with disabilities requires tailored skills depending on their specific disability. “For instance, we do not have materials on sexual reproductive health in braille, or sign language and most of them are illiterate and will need more translations that cater for them,” she adds. Dusenge also said that there is also sexual abuse of people with disabilities, adding that most cases go unreported due to the fact they do not have people to translate them or assist them when they go to report these cases. However, she added that the initiative is a good step in the journey of advocating for the health rights of people with disabilities. L-R: Emmy Nsanzabaganwa, Stephane Munyanziza, and Alexis Mbanjimbere. Photo: Courtesy.