One particular day 20 years ago started normally for Frederick Ndabaramiye. In fact it was somewhat special because he looked forward to meeting his parents whom he was travelling to visit.
He lived in Ngororero District and he got onto the bus to visit his parents in Rubavu District.
While on the bus to Rubavu, then called Gisenyi, they were attacked by a group of militia that ravaged the region in the late 90s, infiltrating Rwanda from the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo.
The killers, who were mainly armed forces in the genocidal regime, had adopted the infamous name Abacengezi.
“I was spared but the militiamen cut off both my arms and they told me to go and tell the story,” Ndabaramiye said.
Without arms, Ndabaramiye, then a student in primary school, was forced to drop out.
After a year in hospital, Ndabaramiye was placed in Imbabazi centre, an orphanage in Rubavu started by an American humanitarian worker in the aftermath of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
It was from the centre, where he managed to acquire basic skills that restored hope and enabled him look to the future with optimism.
In 2003, Ndabaramiye met a Good Samaritan who helped him travel to the US where he acquired skills in painting, decoration and drawing. He also improved his language skills.
With the newly acquired skills, Ndabaramiye says he was ready to return home, earn a living and also make a difference among the people in his community, especially those with similar challenges.
“What was left of my arms were split in a surgical operation to enable me do some work and I was trained in writing using my arms. After returning to Rwanda my life changed,” he said.
Centre for PWDs
He started mobilizing funds from well-wishers to set up a center where he could transfer his skills to other disabled persons and restore their hope as well.
In 2005, he started Ubumwe Community Centre. His former care-taker joined him. Zacharie Dusingizimana helped raise him at the orphanage he grew up in.
“You see after getting disabled, one loses not only hope but also the way society perceives you changes you as well. The society I lived in helped me cope and learnt that it was very important to support others,” he said.
The centre, located in Rubavu sector, Rubavu District started with fifteen people with different disabilities.
It now has over 180 beneficiaries who regularly attend trainings and about 200 are supported from their home as some are too old or still too young to join the centre.
The center offers hands-on skills such as knitting, making arts products such as baskets, jewelers, necklaces, music among others.
Over 300 people have graduated from the center and moved on to other parts of the country where they have rebuilt their lives.
The centre also has a primary school with over 500 pupils of which 68 live with disabilities.
“We train them and equip them with hands-on skills, we mainly focus on the vulnerable who have no ways to survive, most of them are physically disabled while others suffer from visual impairment. We also have people with multiple disabilities,” Ndabaramiye says.
“I believe we are making a difference in our small way by giving hope to people with disabilities. It hurts to find a person with disability on the street begging. There are many opportunities out there,” he said.
Some people living with disabilities who were supported by the centre hailed the support adding they were optimistic life can be better.
“I learnt knitting and improved my skills in making postal cards and music, from then I started employing myself and I can get basic needs such as food, buying items such as soap, lotion and I depend on no body,” said Ismail Habufite who is visually impaired.
He earns about Rwf100,000 from his works of art but said he believes he can make more if he can get access to other markets.