For all parents, a first-born child means everything. Nine months of waiting and preparing and the excitement of carrying the baby in their arms is something whose value is immeasurable.
Equally so, the pain of losing the first-born child is also immeasurable and something parents take forever to overcome. Such is the case for gospel singer Clementine Uwitonze, commonly known as Tonzi, who lost her first-born daughter in July 2012 who died when she had just been born.
The singer, who is married with two children, took long to come to terms with the fact that a mother can hold a baby in her womb for nine months and get an unexpected result.
However, out of her grieving, Tonzi got an idea to start something that would make a difference. She started a non-profit organisation Birashoboka dufatanyije, an organisation that helps disabled children.
Tonzi had a neighbour with a disabled child. From her own situation, she imagined the pain other parents with children who are born with abnormalities go through.
“Every parent wishes to have a normal baby if not, the parent becomes disappointed,” Tonzi said in an interview with The New Times.
“I liaised with her and found out that it sometimes leads to a miserable life, poverty, stigmatisation, and more. She then introduced me to an association of parents with disabled children and that is how I decided to start my own organisation to support these parents and children,”
To begin with, she started with a TV show called ‘You are not alone’, with an objective to combat stigmatisation. She then had a chance to work with several organisations as she put in her own contribution.
“We started hunting for those children because their families had lost hope in them; they used to hide them,” she said.
Birashoboka dufatanyije was born out of the need to identify and support disabled children living in vulnerable conditions. The organisation is based in Remera, Kigali, with an exhibition of the children’s artworks.
“When kids meet and play, you get to realize their gifts and talents. Instead of taking them to schools whose curriculum are designed for people without disabilities, you let them interact with others, and you develop what they demonstrate. It could be dancing, music, art crafts, drawing, among others.”
The exhibition room of their work is full of made in Rwanda products. They even attend national and international Made-in-Rwanda exhibitions.
“I praise God because some of them are now inspiring others and giving them hope for the future. They are now being catered for in their respective societies after people realised their potential,”
“This has helped a lot to the extent that even some families had to reunite upon realizing that their disabled child can do even better than they thought,” she said.
Tonzi advises people with disabled children to not see them in the mirror of physical appearance but in the mirror of their personal capabilities.
“If you look at the children who started with us seven years ago, they are now grown-up people with hope to go far,” she said.
During the Covid-19 lockdown, the children never became idle. They were drawing and making different art crafts from their homes.
Tonzi explained that taking children to school helps parents get time to work for money and that for those who are jobless, they get time to rest because caring for disabled children can be a full-time job.
She calls upon everyone to understand that disabled people need care and affection, not stigma.
“They have wounds they endured throughout their life, but affection heals them. Any help rendered to them makes them feel included and welcomed in society. When anyone is valued, they turn out to be bright individuals,” she concluded.
With just a simple start-up, Birashoboka dufatanije is now seven years into existence. It started from simply paying visits to disabled children until she reached somewhere and she realized that something must be done. She registered the organisation and got legal status three years ago.
Gospel singer Clémentine Uwitonze with some of the disabled children she supports at her Remera-based Birashoboka Dufatanyije organisation. / Courtesy