Some people in society still believe that when a person becomes visually impaired, their future is bound to end in misery with inability to pursue any income generating activity.
This was not the case for Penine Niyobyose.
First, she defied the odds to complete secondary school, then joined a technical and vocational education and training school where she honed her tailoring skills.
Based in Gisenyi sector, Rubavu district, Niyobyose knits sweaters in sizes.
With her walking stick, which she uses to scan her surroundings for objects in her way, she meticulously demonstrates and showcases every aspect of her work.
The 27-year-old is obtained a diploma in Mathematics, Economics and Computer Sciences in 2013 from Gatagara School for Children with Disabilities.
She failed to secure a formal job. After graduation, she told Business Times, problems were compounded by the death of both her parents.
“I learnt how to withstand adversaries in life,” she said, posing for some seconds before adding; “Imagine losing both parents at such a young age in addition to being visually impaired”.
Nobody could imagine how Niyobyose could cope with distress.
“I coped with the situation. My two sisters and I concentrated on figuring out how life had to continue,” she said.
In 2014, she said, a friend advised her to make enquiries on how to join Ubumwe Community Centre in Rubavu District.
Luckily the centre admitted her. It’s from here that Niyobyose experienced a drastic turnaround in her life. For a period of one year, she trained in knitting sweaters using modern machines.
Ubumwe Community Centre helps people with disabilities find their abilities by equipping them with skills in handcraft and other education initiatives while giving them physiotherapy and health care services.
After graduating, Niyobyose got a job, which helped her refine her skills and acquired experience in knitting.
“I worked for the whole year in 2016,” she said.
From her wage, she managed to save money to buy herself a knitting machine at Rwf250, 000 and then launched her own business, she said.
Her young sisters were on the edge of dropping out of school.
But now with her own business, she pays their school fees and caters for all their basic needs.
“I knit 10 sweaters every week. One sweater for children costs Rwf5, 000 while the one for adults is at Rwf10, 000. I also make scarves for men and shawls for women which I can decorate with any colours that the client wants,” she said.
The entrepreneur plans to join a cooperative, save more and pay for her university tuition.
According to Eugene Musolini, the representative of people with disabilities in parliament, all public and private institutions should strive to promote inclusive policies and economic development.
“We have to advocate for an inclusive economy, starting from inclusive infrastructure to inclusive laws. We need social mobility for people with disabilities in the transport sector, houses, education and others,” he said.
Dr Patrick Suubi, the president of Rwanda Blind Union, says that more efforts are needed to ensure education of visually impaired people up to university level.
“We group them in cooperatives and help them start income generating projects so that they do not resort to begging as it has been for many,” he said. .
He added that, “We have been advocating for different projects, including the one that supports visually impaired orphans, projects to develop blind women, projects to reintegrate visually impaired people into society, such as Masaka Resource Centre for the Blind, that trains them on different skills which eventually ensures their improved welfare”.