That she was born with a visual impairment is a fate she was resigned to. That she was stigmatised and scorned as a social life doomed to suffering is not something she was going to accept. Marie Denyse Uwizeye was determined to fight her way in life, even if it was an oracle chiming that she is destined to suffer just because of her visual impairment, she was ready to fights the gods.
The 33-year-old started weaving in June 2010 in her home area in Ruhango sector, Ruhango district. She was driven by the desire to be self-reliant and avoid begging.
Uwizeye works with two other women with similar impairment as a coordinator of the project known as Brilliant Weaving Company. The trio was born with visual impairment.
They neatly knit sweaters, scarves, hats, and arm floats.
“After realising it was not possible to go on with studies, I thought of something I could do so as not to remain a burden to anybody. I found tailoring feasible for me,” Uwizeye said.
She dropped out of school in 2006 while in Primary Six at Gatagara Secondary School in Rwamagana district as persistent headache that lasted three years took its toll on her.
In 2010, she took up a four-month tailoring training at Cyahafi Vocational School in Kigali.
“It needed much attention to learn what was being taught considering that I was the only student with disability. But I thank the school management and tutors who believed in my dreams until I completed my course,” Uwizeye said.
“Many people I talked to for the first time about my project laughed it off as a farfetched dream, but some understood and encouraged me.”
Her idea got down rolling after she took a Rwf500,000 loan from Rwandan Union of the Blinds to buy two sewing machines and other materials to offset the project.
“I only use my brain and my fingers to weave. By touching, I can, for instance, know how to set the measurements for the machine, how and where to insert the thread and use the blurred sight to choose the colour of thread,” she said.
Uwizeye did not only fight the odds named scorn, but also marketing challenges when the project started.
“Some of the clients used to watch us closely to see how we manage to weave given that we can’t see clearly. Some thought we rely on other people, but the trust increased over the time as our work spoke for us,” she said.
Getting the ‘fame’
Many people came to know about the kind of clothes they make during a mini-exhibition in Ruhango two years ago.
“People at the exhibition were not only excited to see us weave but also the quality of work, which gave us an opportunity to attract some of them,” she said.
Each of the three members can knit at least three sweaters per day. Each sweater is valued at about Rwf7,000.
Uwizeye said they also took a Rwf900,000 loan from Goshen Finance, last year, to boost their project. This loan enabled them to buy another machine for the third member.
Ruhango Secondary School is among their clients where they supplied 310 sweaters this academic year and plan to supply 600 scarves. The trio has taught two other persons with such impairment weaving to enable them become self-reliant.
Their plan is to get more spacious premises where other people with various disabilities could be access them for training.
“Our plan is to produce the best quality to not only build more trust among our clients but also attract more of them,” she said.
“Persons with disabilities should not feel like they are incapable of doing what other normal people can do. What matters is determination and confidence,” she said.
Uwizeye appeals to the public to stop discriminating people with disabilities, adding that those with children with disability should not hide them but let them enjoy their rights, including education and talent development.
“You are able, what remains is to show it by putting your talent into practice and develop yourself. There is no need of begging after seeing that we are can,” she said.
Oswald Tuyizere, the director of Economic and Social Empowerment Unit at National Council for Persons with Disabilities, said their plan is to eliminate the culture of begging among people with disabilities through psycho-social, cultural and economic approach.
“We are proud of these ladies. Persons with disabilities have stomachs they have to feed like any other people, so they should think of ways to survive,” Tuyizere said.
He said the council helped Brillian Weaving Company with Rwf350,000 and they are considering more support.