Chantal Mujawamariya is 19 years old; her parents passed away when she was very young, and surviving as an orphan has been a challenge, to say the least. With her daily struggles that include physical disability, accessing the basics in life, such as education, have been an elusive dream at best.
“I was fortunate and found sponsors who paid for my school fees but when I reached senior two, they ran out of resources and I had no choice but to drop out. This was in 2013,” she says.
Three years later, a close friend and former schoolmate, Ange Ashimwe, went searching for her after establishing a foundation — Arahirwa — an organisation that aims at supporting people living with disabilities, especially girls from vulnerable families.
Through this foundation, she got a chance to learn tailoring and was also given a sewing machine. Mujawamariya is now a tailor, and through her sewing business, she manages to make ends meet.
Ashimwe says she found her friend ‘on the verge of suicide’.
“Though we couldn’t afford to send her back to school, we managed to change her life for the better. We paid for her three-month training in tailoring and she is now a tailor. Her life changed too, as an orphan who lives alone, she can afford basic needs now. And she is progressing emotionally because when we met, she wanted to die but we offered her counselling and now she has dreams,” Ashimwe says.
Living with disability herself, Ashimwe decided to use the little she had to give back to the community.
In 2016, along with her sister, Noella Joyeuse Arahirwa, they established Arahirwa Foundation. It’s been four years, and a number of young people, especially girls living disability, have had their lives change for the better through this foundation.
One of these girls is 12-year-old Grace Uwase. She can’t walk and her parents could not afford a wheelchair.
Ashimwe met her through local authorities in Gasabo District after she went searching for kids who have physical disabilities and needed help.
Uwase was integrated into the organisation and was given a brand new wheelchair, the organisation also provides her with basics such as food and sanitary materials. Her life has changed because she can now wheel herself from one place to another.
Ashimwe wishes to do more for her that could help her make a living, but that is all they can afford for now, she says.
How it all started
It all started with a conversation Ashimwe had with her sister about the many challenges faced by people living with disabilities. This is when they decided that they could do something for at least one of them.
They then set a box aside where they would save Rwf200 to 500, and after six months, they had about Rwf300, 000.
They used this to donate sanitary materials, food, wheelchairs, and other things that they could afford.
Ashimwe strongly believes that one doesn’t need that much to contribute to the improvement of someone else’s life.
Through their little earnings, they are currently helping 15 girls. Family and friends have joined their cause and they at times help with financial, social and psychological support for their beneficiaries.
Ashimwe has observed that many of those who live with a disability face the challenge of accessing information, transport, buildings, and healthcare because it always costs more for them.
“And most of them cannot afford that, or their parents are not ready to pay that cost for them. Another challenge is the myth that many Rwandans, especially from rural areas, have about physical disability, they believe that it is caused by demons among other kinds of stereotypes. That attitude people have towards them makes it difficult for their mental health,” she says.
“Another crucial challenge is poverty. Most of them cannot afford simple basic needs and healthcare because almost all insurance policies don’t cover disability. It is expensive, and they cannot afford it,” she adds.
Those challenges can be addressed by capacity building — by creating an enabling an environment with appropriate policy and frameworks, institutional development, including community participation, and every system in the community, she recommends.
She also notes that education, training and awareness amongst society should be employed. “A major concern is related to the fact that there is little awareness on disability issues and a lack of sensitivity amongst society and persons without disabilities.”
She says, their organisation is achieving its motive because as their motto says “Raise a hand, Raise a hope,” the organisation is bringing hope to these people by giving them a few essential things, but it also provides them with information on mental health, something that isn’t usually talked about in culture.
Ashimwe values the chance she has to serve those who live with disabilities, revealing that what motivates her the most is the fact that she can relate to their struggle.
“Giving hope to them is humbling, as well as calling forth empathy and sympathy. Knowing that I am where I am because of the different people who did the same thing for me. I feel like I am doing what I am supposed to do. And that is the best feeling in the universe,” she says.
They plan on increasing the number of beneficiaries. They also plan on initiating an education and training programme for them where they can learn how to make different handcrafts and learn different languages like English and French.
“After giving them such skills, we hope and plan to find a market for them because we want to build their capacity so that we don’t provide for them forever. We prefer them to be self-sufficient. I believe that when you feel sorry for someone, you may give them money. But when you love someone, you give them the knowledge to make their own money.”
Ashimwe (in a wheel chair) believes that one does not need alot to contribute to someone’s life.
The foundation also provides basics such as sanitary materials. Courtesy photos
Beneficiaries have access to essentials like wheelchairs.
Ashimwe hopes to motivate her beneficiaries into self-reliance.
A number of well-wishers offer support to the organisation. Courtesy photos
What more can be done to support people living with disabilities?
People with disabilities are still discriminated against in the workforce. Employers should ensure to hire them, some of them have skills and are qualified to hold certain positions but few are actually given the chance to showcase their abilities.
Grace Mbabazi, Cashier
Discrimination is still a big issue, at times those who have disabilities are differentiated against in society and this paves way for stigma. But this is not fair and people alongside communities at large should be sensitised on how best to treat and relate with them.
Sarah Tuyishime, Businesswoman
People with disabilities face a number of challenges, this is why it is important for them to have access to education. With this, they can attain skills and abilities that can allow them be self-sufficient.
Lambert Nkusi, Student
One of the biggest obstacles faced by people living with disabilities is the case with infrastructure. Some buildings and roads are not convenient for them, hence making movement hard for them. What needs to be done is for policymakers and decision makers to take them into account when planning for infrastructure.
James Bashaija, CashierFollow https://twitter.com/DonahMbabazi