True to the adage that disability is not inability, an association of persons living with disabilities in Rubavu District has not only crafted employment for the disabled, but gone an extra mile to even employ the able-bodied.
They have become main players in the cross-border trade between Rwanda and DR Congo, mainly at ‘Petit Barierre’, which is arguably Rwanda’s busiest entry point.
Through their cooperative, COTTRARU, the 109 men and woman ferry tonnes of merchandise between the two towns of Gisenyi on the Rwandan side and Goma in DR Congo every day, using customised tricycles.
They acquired the lucrative contract to do the work through a competitive bidding process.
Marie Gorette Ntakirutimana, 28, contracted polio when she was three. She grew up in a hopeless life, where even her own family did not treat her the same way her siblings were treated.
“I couldn’t move, I would stay at home just seated. I was the house keeper, my brothers and sisters went to school but my parents couldn’t let me, they said a disabled person was unable to study,” says Ntakirutimana.
She would lead this same life as a social reject, with no friends to speak of, until she was in her late teens.
The mother of three says she got her breakthrough in 2003 after she heard of an association of people with disabilities in Rubavu, which she eagerly joined.
“Immediately after I joined, I felt I had finally got the solace I had lacked during my entire childhood. We were all required to have a tricycle, which I did not have. I went back home and asked my parents to give me money but they initially refused,” she says.
Ntakirutimana said one of her colleagues then offered her his tricycle, on a rental arrangement.
“After some time, I learnt it was my right as a child to get support from my parents. I confronted them and asked to be given a piece of land as inheritance. They were understanding and gave me a piece of land, which I later sold and used the proceeds to buy the tricycle at Rwf60,000. It is now my source of livelihood,” Ntakirutimana said.
“My life changed since I joined this business. I am now able to feed myself, I got a husband and it wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t have this job. We now have three children and thanks to the money I get, they are well fed, clothed and are going to school,” she said.
The woman whose job generates at least Rwf7,000 per day shares the job with more than 100 members of the cooperative.
She said over time, she managed to save up and is now a proud owner of a house worth Rwf4 million, and she sums up her story with the counsel; “To other disabled persons, sitting at home and giving up on oneself should not happen, with determination we can make it instead of resorting to begging.”
Emmanuel Mukiza used to manage a saloon in Kigali before the house in which they operated was demolished to pave way for development.
“Even before managing the saloon I lived a deplorable life, depending on family members, having no education and with other sorts of problems that are shared by other people with disabilities,” Mukiza said.
“I can now earn more than Rwf 15,000 per day,” he adds.
Mukiza, who contracted polio when he was in Primary Three, says he went through a lot of pain, having spent three years in hospital where he received treatment with hope of ever getting back on his legs, which was never to happen.
The minting machine
The tricycle carries between 500 and 800 kilogrammes and the merchandise they transport include cement, sorghum and beans.
“Begging is a bad habit and not advisable. We were few when we began but we kept welcoming other members and now we are over 100, the government should also help those still begging to leave the street and create cooperatives like we did,” says Mukiza.
The cooperative also has members who were handicapped in the service of the nation, mainly former soldiers.
“I was incapacitated physically when I was shot in the left leg. I couldn’t do anything for years until I joined this cooperative,” said Safari Ketu.
According to Innocent Ndagijimana, the president of COTTRARU, the cooperative has received more wheelchairs from government, which they will distribute to other people with disabilities.
He said Rubavu District, the National Youth Council and the National Council for Persons with Disabilities have all periodically supported them.
“Through their support, we managed to buy more wheel chairs, we wish to encourage other districts to also help improve the welfare of the disabled,” says Ndagijimana.
He said for people with disabilities who are unable to buy their own tricycles, the cooperatives extends to the utility to them on loan.