Everybody is blessed with a talent. For Diane Hirwa, she has two, a creative mind and a disarming smile. She uses the first one to prodigiously earn her living while the second one is expended on charming people to see her the way she is.
During a recent art exhibition at Yego Art Center in Kimihurura, specially organised for two deaf visual artists highlighting their talents and challenges they face marketing their work, Hirwa’s sublime paintings that adorned the walls of the art center revealed a person who has taken her artwork to the zenith of the creative industry. Several people who attended the event were mesmerised by her paintings that can find home on the walls of many International museums.
Diane Hirwa was born in 1986, deaf. That is, she can neither hear nor speak. However, her disability has not impeded her from profiting from her talent and passion to earn a living for herself.
It all started in earnest at Center de Jeunes in Huye District, a primary school for the deaf where she enrolled in 1996. “ I discovered my creative streak early in life at this school where we were given the latitude to experiment with our different talents. To me, I liked drawing and doing embroidery which I used to do for fun, to please my friends,” she explains with a chuckle through her sign language interpreter Theophile Binama, a sign language coordinator at the Rwanda National Union of the Deaf (RNUD).
Hirwa attributes her educational success to her parents who supported her ever since they discovered her disability and ensured that she got the best education a child could get. “They never discriminated against me because of my special needs. To them I was just a normal child whom they gave confidence to scale the heights through educating me and giving me all the support I needed,” she adds.
Her break into the commercial world came to her very early in her life, when she was still in primary school. In 2001, when her school had broken up for holidays, she received a surprise call informing her to report back to school immediately since there was a group of tourists who were impressed by her artwork and needed her to go back and do some artwork for them.
“My mother hurriedly packed my clothing items and work tools and I rushed back to school. I was engaged for one week, doing some artwork for the tourists. It was rigorous work, considering the amount of little time I had to produce these artworks. But through sheer hard work, I managed and they gave me RwF 50,000, a tidy sum at that time,” she says.
From then on, Hirwa realised she could profit from her talent. That early introduction to making money out of what she previously did for the sake of passion and fun opened her eyes to the opportunities she could gain by making different art products for money. It was also the period she decided to take art seriously as a career.
“I went back home and used the windfall to buy some tools and materials that I used to make different artwork products. This is the time I harnessed my skills since then I realised that art is business,” she adds.
Later, in 2006, she joined Wakiso Secondary School for the Deaf where for four years, she studied different subjects and was awarded a certificate by the Uganda National Examinations Board (UNEB).
Hirwa was later to join Michelangelo College of Creative Arts in 2010 culminating in her graduating with diploma in Art and Design. At this school, they did many art courses including drawing, painting, molding, textile, making jewelry and designing wedding clothes. “I can do all these seamlessly though now, I concentrate more on drawing, painting and tailoring.
At first, after completing school she used to do her work at home. But in 2014, a friend informed her of the existence of United Deaf Women Cooperative (UDWCO) in Kabeza, Kicukiro district where she didn’t hesitate to join. The cooperative center, now boasting of more than dozen members is a sanctuary for deaf women who have passion in different fields of art and crafts plus design. They have a workshop there from where some of them do tailoring and hairdressing, painting among others.
“It’s fantastic experience working with my peers with whom we share the normal vicissitudes and challenges of life with. We bond as a family (of deaf women) and help each other scale the ups and downs of life. The communication is good since we’re using Rwanda sign language which is quite important in our dealings. When daily interacting with fellow deaf women, it helps create a feeling of camaraderie,” she says.
She adds that as deaf persons, they’re forced to travel rough terrains and chart rough waters, especially when it comes to marketing their products. For example, she’s unable to receive calls, an important ingredient in any business. She also has to rely on an interpreter when she wants to haggle with a client, something which is not easy since the interpreter is not always there to attend to her dealings and whims.
“Some people don’t know an iota about deaf language and speaking to them through sign language is hard. However, when I have a client who knows about deaf people and sign language, we interact without problems since we can easily communicate with each other,” she explains.
Diane further says that her deep passion for art is indispensable. “I love to do art and I don’t feel like divorcing it for something else. I feel comfortable when doing my art pieces since this is something which I feel running in my blood.”
She adds that she’s able to provide for herself through artwork and is not sponging on her parents anymore, adding that she’s now able to cater for her basic needs and that “ In future, I hope to get enough income which will help me build a house for myself.”
Diane advises those with this disability not to look at themselves as Cinderella who couldn’t in fairy tales see the beauty she possessed. “You shouldn’t just sit there, doing nothing because you’ve some form of disability. You’ve your talent and should use it to make a living for yourself,” she advises.
She also advises people not to discriminate those who have disabilities, saying that all people are created equal in special ways, adding that there are also the so called normal people who suffer from some disabilities like emotional disability.
Diane says that if we see each other as God’s special creations, we bond despite our diversity, and then we are helping create a harmonious world where peace and serenity reigns. “The genocide against the Tutsi wouldn’t have happened if we saw each other as one entity called human beings. But since some atrocious madness possessed some people, living an indelible black mark in our country’s history, the vital lesson to be learned is that we shouldn’t see another group of people as them versus us,” she concludes.