Ashimwe on defying societal labels of people living with disabilities

HER tweet caught my attention. 19-year-old Ange Theonastine Ashimwe was narrating the ordeal she encountered with security guards at the recent inauguration event of the Kigali Arena; she had been barred from using the elevator because she was in a wheel chair.

As a young woman living with disability, Ashimwe has been faced with a number of challenges but none of them have managed to drain her wit and dynamic spirit. And this, I observed when we met for the interview.

She is the outspoken and enthusiastic kind and lives by the mantra of ‘accepting who you are for nobody will ever use it against you’.

Ange Ashimwe says her heart beats for other people living with disabilities. 

“When I was stopped from using the elevator, I didn’t take it personal because I know that some people are not bad, they are just ill-informed. This is not the first time something like this is happening to me. I tend to think that some people don’t know how to relate with people living with disabilities, may be it was their first time to encounter someone using a wheelchair so they need to be taught,” she says. 

At such a young age, Ashimwe is living on the best side of life and her forthright and heartening ability to shine a light on her daily challenges is inspiring.

“Life can be difficult but personally, I love challenges because happiness comes from solving problems, besides, problems will always be there. I also realised that even if I wasn’t disabled I would still have problems,” she says.

Ashimwe performing at Ubumuntu Arts Festival. Courtesy photos

“When I was still young, I used to pray to God to get me out of this wheelchair. But this has since changed; I always pray for courage to inspire others. I don’t take for granted the people in my life, most of whom I have met because of this wheelchair. I accepted who I was and I appreciate the life I have had so far,” she recalls.

Her heart beats for other people living with disabilities. She feels what they go through and mostly hopes they find their purpose other than wishing for a different kind of life. She wants them to impact the world and pursue their dreams.

“I don’t mind if I stay in this wheelchair, not that I love it but I appreciate the life it has given me. I do believe that regardless of one’s situation, they can still be who they want to be,” Ashimwe says.

A passionate poet, reader and painter

Ashimwe is also a big fan of art. She expresses her artistic ability through poetry mostly, but also holds a passion for painting and does script writing as well.

Through art, she is able to connect to her inner self and vividly express her emotions.  

Ashimwe performing at Ubumuntu Arts Festival. Courtesy photos

“When I am writing poetry, I forget everything except what I am writing. It’s like I am talking to someone who understands me the way I want to be understood. It takes me to another universe; a place I feel I am supposed to be,” she says.

She loves reading, and it is where she draws most of her inspiration for her poetry.

When she was in primary school, she attended a school far from her home in Musanze. This left her in the care of a nanny who at times mistreated her, and in those hard times, Ashimwe resorted to reading books as a way of escaping reality.

“Reading was an escape from reality but after that I fell in love with it and it became my reality.”

She holds this same passion for painting, remarking that this form of art for has the ability to convey different emotions for different people. 

“Painting is putting colours together and bringing them to life. What made me love painting even more is that everyone interprets it according to what they feel; a hundred people can see a piece of art and interpret it differently. Painting is a form of art with its own language and I wanted to be the one to tell this story.”

Her take on revised inclusivity for PWD

Ahimwe calls onto society to involve people with disabilities (PWD) in diverse range of activities other than seeking their participation only in charity cases.

She also notes that the drive for inclusivity will have more impact if policymakers involve people living with disabilities more when drafting strategies. 

“They should be included while making those plans because, for example, if you are designing a building, you not only consult the engineer but also that very person using a wheelchair. I believe it’s the people living with disabilities who can best explain what inclusiveness really means,” she says.

She also cites a challenge of gender-based violence that still haunts women living with disabilities, especially those in rural areas. And with this, she calls onto leaders and citizens to hold each other responsible, noting that this is the best way this issue will be addressed.

“Parents too need to be advocates; they need to seek justice for their children.”

She puts a spot on leaders, challenging them to go beyond aspects such as culture and religion, and stand firm in representing society.

Ashimwe is the last born of two children; she grew up in Musanze District and is a first year student of communications under the Kepler programme.

An inspiration to many

Amina Umuhoza, Ashimwe’s close friend, describes her as a girl who decided not to be limited by what society calls disability.

“I was among the judges on her first poetry competition where she won ‘Kigali Vibrates with Poetry’. In my mind, I was like, this is walking inspiration. I felt happy to see her going home with trophies and awards; she almost won every award there was that day. I am happy to see how she is upgrading every day. She is fearless, courageous and intelligent. I like to watch her scoring,” Umuhoza says.

Traditional Poet Olivier Tuyisenge is another close friend to Ashimwe. He says she inspires him a lot, especially with the way she does her poetry.

“Ashimwe is defying odds; she is one of the few people I know who believe in themselves and have made disability her ability to do everything,” Tuyisenge says.

“She is determined in that she goes for anything she sets her mind to. She is so fearless and intelligent and that’s why she hates violence and she speaks against it,” he says.

Tuyisenge also describes Ashimwe as an authentic person with a personality that makes her a role model for many.

“She is only disabled with her body and not her mind, her thinking is totally different from other people.”

editorial@newtimesrwanda.com

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