Imprisoned by nature and disdained by society; a sad tale of the visually impaired

When I tap her shoulder she turns with a graceful smile and offers her hand in a fashion that cannot be misinterpreted for a greeting handshake but rather one with anticipation of a handout, you could see that her plight has sharpened her instincts.
Ndayambaze and Niyomahoro at the Remera taxi park
Ndayambaze and Niyomahoro at the Remera taxi park

When I tap her shoulder she turns with a graceful smile and offers her hand in a fashion that cannot be misinterpreted for a greeting handshake but rather one with anticipation of a handout, you could see that her plight has sharpened her instincts.

Before I talk much, a boy with suspicion written all over his face appears, moments later after I fail to stand the mistrust from the boy, I drop my idea of taking them in a shade besides Remera taxi part, and I start talking to the them there and then.

Apart from too much sleep which grips her many times of the day and swelling of limbs due to lack of sufficient movements, Pasiana Mukandibana has no serious secondary health problems resulting from the blindness she acquired when she was 18 years of age.

The boy she moves with is her guide and helper at home, he goes to school once in a while depending on whether his aunt has anything to eat if not he will have to take her around the streets and taxi parks to beg for at least a day’s meal.

She talked with an unbelievable calmness and her voice carried a strong air of humility which she will go with to her grave, the misty cloud which replaced the iris in her eyes clearly shows that she is blind.

Through what my campus friend would call ‘survival instinct’ Mukandibana locates my direction and she touches my hand, then I take her through why I wanted to talk to her, differing from the rest of my interviewees she dint hesitate to speak to me.

With the aid of her guide we manage to go to the extreme side of the taxi park wall next to where the Kicukiro taxi’s park in Remera park and where she opened up to me about how she struggles through her days.

With a somber expression on her face she tells me that it is not principally begging her way through the day that brings her to places where she can meet with people but to break free from the solitary life that blindness plunges her into sometimes.

“Being home alone pains me a lot; at least when I walk and meet people I get to feel that I also belong to society, it also helps to stop my feet from hurting which is a result of over seating,”

She also tells me that her other challenge is that this state makes her sleep a lot almost all the time, “the eyes most times get tired and I end up sleeping especially when am seated, that’s partly why I decide to move,” she said with a casual grin which looked like an attempt to brush away any possible sympathy towards her state.

In the middle of our conversation the dutiful boy-guide looks increasingly impatient at me, which made me, think perhaps he has already concluded that am one of the many pedestrians who normally stop them for questions on the way, so to mystify this premonition I assure him that I will pay for their time I have taken which was fair.

In the middle of the conversation she tells me there are other blind people who also go through difficult times that I should also talk to them, that’s when she sent her guide to look for the others, with in a second I was in the middle of People with disabilities of all kinds, those with mobility problems wheel chairs and clutches, but though the target group for my story were the blind, I embraced all.

Celestin Ndayambaze was born 29 years ago, as a child he enjoyed foot ball but at the age of 14 a terrible disease locally known as (Mugiga) ferociously attacked him and paralyzed the veins of his head living him blind.

He is putting on partially torn black gumboots with a stick in his hands, besides him is his brother Yonansi Habimana who helps him to and from the taxi park where they come to beg for money from passengers.

After explaining why am talking to them, he speaks a few French words to his brother who in turn nods and brings out his phone and helps him dial a certain number, this was another blind person they were calling to also have a word and listen to me, I was amazed by the love these people who were disadvantaged by nature had for each other.

He tells me he sees total darkness at all times, this reminded me of a scenario when during my university I was invited for a fundraising dinner for the blind and the organizers put the meals in total darkness and tasked us to serve ourselves and eat in that darkness, fifteen minutes after we started serving the room was in a total mess.

Then afterwards when the lights were on we couldn’t believe what was around us, that’s when the MC told us to imagine people who spend every single day of their lives seeing darkness be it in a scotching sun, it was the most touching moment I have ever experienced.

He told me that what hurts him is being despised and taken for granted by people, he says that some people take them to be too vulnerable yet its not the case “ Some times you tell some one to help you cross the road and all he responds is that they don’t have money” he exclaimed

The most heartbreaking experience which Ndayambaze and other people with visual impairment who I talked to voiced is the fact that the only institution they have been in touch with on the national level is police and the only intervention they have received is detention in Gikondo.

“Even now when they called me to come here I first hesitated, I for sure thought it was police, its not our wish that we are we cant see like them, I understand they work on orders but they should be have some human hearts to consider our plight and get us alternatives at least not just arresting us as if we have done anything wrong,” cried the visibly emotional PWD.

He adds that the only thing police tell them before detention is that begging shames the country and that it contradicts with the Rwandan culture.

“We understand begging is bad and we are not sticking on begging because we don’t enjoy it either, but they are not helping us find a possible alternative support where we can also start from to help ourselves, all they do is detain us without even listening to us and these are our fellow countrymen” charged another visually impaired person in the names of Niyomahoro Jean de dieu.

When this paper contacted Eric Kayiranga the police spokesperson superintendent Eric Kayiranga about the issue, he said that the blind are not targeted as a group but they get swept off the streets along side other persons with disabilities in a general operation to clear the city.

He adds that these people get carried off the streets in an attempt to break the tendency of begging “getting the blind and other disabled groups off the streets is partly an attempt to eradicate the act of begging which shames the country” he added

He also revealed that what police does is to take to the transition center in Gikondo awaiting connection to support agencies but when asked to point out any they have contacted previously he said he has to first go to office.

The way he said sounded like this process is done in a spontaneous fashion but on ground the victims claim they are completely mishandled when being taken to Gikondo where they are kept in bad conditions.

On this issue the spokesperson advised that anyone who is mishandled by a police officer in these operations should report the case but one wonders how on earth a blind person can Identify a villain leave alone locating police headquarters and in any case they claimed no one listens to them, every one judges them on impulse.

Some of these people with visual impairment actually have their God given talents and others have brilliant business plans they are desperate to start to better their lives and support their families, but lack any one to support them in the beginning.

Niyomahoro Jean de dieu is a talented musician he has six songs to his name, he has received promises of being supported to launch an album but people are not responding to his pleas, he believes through his talent he can have a good life despite his impairment.

Celestin Ndayambaze said that he has a number of income generating plans among which include establishing a restaurant and a phone accessory shop which also charges phones.

Many of these people have tried to seek for medical intervention to their state but doctors have said their conditions are irreversible.  However, much as the physical healing might not be possible, we can be there for them in other aspects which include social acceptance and training them in life skills so that they can be independent.