Being deaf and mute will not slow Hirwa down

On a bright morning, I met 27-year-old Diane Hirwa in Gikondo, Kicukiro District.  The joyful and funny Hirwa  is not  the typical woman next door. She has a disability but this has not stopped her from aiming at the sky.
Hirwa finishing a drawing
Hirwa finishing a drawing

On a bright morning, I met 27-year-old Diane Hirwa in Gikondo, Kicukiro District.  The joyful and funny Hirwa  is not  the typical woman next door. She has a disability but this has not stopped her from aiming at the sky.

She says nothing, not even her disability, will stop her from achieving her dream.  

During the interview, with the help of her younger sister, Cynthia Buranga, 19, who was our interpreter, the energetic Hirwa said she wants to use art to send a message to the world about the challenges disabled people face.

When I visited her home, she was drawing. She also designs wedding dresses, makes jewelry, does textiles, molding and painting.

She went to Michelangelo College of Creative Arts, in Kisubi in Uganda, and graduated with a diploma in creative art.

I asked how she is able to perfect her work yet she is unable to listen to what her clients want; she looked up and took some minutes before responding.

 “People say I am talented. I try to imagine what a client would want,” she said. 

Her young sister added, “She is a warm person and everybody loves to associate with her.”

Born to Jean de la Fountaine Ndengejeho and Marceline Mukamutabazi, residents of Rubavu district, Hirwa is the third born in a family of six children- three boys and three girls.

Her parents live in utter poverty. Their problems were heightened after they realised Hirwa was going to be their third child born deaf. Two of her brothers are also deaf.

They hoped that she would eventually talk or hear as she grew. But 27 years down the road, nothing has happened. They sat down and turned to God.

At first, her parents thought God had forsaken them by giving them a third deaf and mute child. But Hirwa proved to them that her disability would not slow her down.

She is just like any other person. While some people undermine disabled individuals, Hirwa’s family has supported her through and through.

“My parents have really helped me. In a society where some parents think that disabled children are a burden, my parents have been helpful,” explained Hirwa.

At the recently concluded 16th International Annual Trade Fair (EXPO) at Gikondo, she won the second best exhibitor spot in the arts and craft sector. Many people were mesmerised by her talent.

After primary at Ngoma in Butare, in a school that was owned by priests who took care of people with disabilities, she joined a secondary school for the deaf in Wakiso district in Uganda where she stayed till senior four. By then, her teachers had noticed her talent and tried to help her.

“It wasn’t easy for me in Wakiso because the sign language I was using back in Rwanda didn’t help much. I had to put in extra effort,” Hirwa said.

 Her colleagues in Uganda were at an advanced level and it required her to work twice as much.

They say “Charity begins at home”. True.  She wouldn’t be where she is if her family hadn’t cheered her on.  They started by buying  art pieces that were later admired by family friends and that is how it went on till she found herself an exhibitor at the EXPO that exposed her talent to people from all walks of life.

“She would make some pieces at home and we would buy them as a token of appreciation. This gave her motivation to be more creative and innovative,” her aunt said.

Begging has never been her thing and aiming higher is her goal. The vigorous Hirwa is looking for a suitable location for her business to widen her commerce and prosper further.

When asked whether she is in a relationship, she took a deep breath, looked from side to side and tried to avoid the question.  But after I insisted, she said, “Yes I am engaged. My fiancé is still a student though he works too and we are planning to get married after he completes his studies.”

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