Wenceslas Nsabikunze, a resident of Gikondo in Kicukiro District, is proof to the correctness of the old adage, ‘disability is not inability.’
Nsabikunze was born a healthy child in Rulindo District 50 years ago, but at the age of two, he was afflicted by polio that rendered him immobile.
Like other children with a similar problem, his parents enrolled him at HVP-Gatagara centre, an institution that looks after children with physical impairments, at the age of three.
Constrained by his physical disability, he dropped out of school after primary six. Left with no option, Nsabikunze stayed at HVP-Gatagara from where he acquired skills in tailoring—a lifeline that turned him into the successful family man and philanthropist that he is today.
Armed with his skills and determined not to be held back by his condition, Nsabikunze joined Société de Confection Rwandaise (Socorwa), a cooperative of people living with disabilities, in 1980 where he works as tailor.
Today, he seems to have put behind his hopeless childhood past and is pleased with his success and big dreams.
“After being affected by polio, I couldn’t go anywhere. I thought that my fate had been sealed—to stay at home and to be fed until I die,” he said during a recent interview.
Apart from skills in tailoring, Nsabikunze also got some physiotherapy and had his joints replaced—an exercise that increased his mobility and enabled him to go to work.
Getting started was not easy, but Nsabikunze says he was motivated by the Japanese International Cooperation Agency that gave him a tailing machine and basic materials he needed to start.
“I had no capital to start my own shop, but the centre provided machines, materials and a building where we, people with disabilities, came together to work as a group,” says Nsabikunze.
He added: “Getting started was not easy. I had to use one machine and to work with a cooperative with no legal status. I did not expect any dividends, but I was committed on my work.
Yet as he looks back, the father of three is glad that he worked against the odds to claim his place in society and play his part in nation building. Not only is he taking care of his family, he is also sponsoring two orphans in school. His children go to one of the best private schools in Kicukiro District.
“I always insisted that being disabled does not affect the mind—that is my philosophy.”
To date, his estate includes a family house and three hostels for students.
He recently bought a hectare of farm land which he intends to use to grow crops.
From the cooperative, Nsabikunze says he earns about Rwf120, 000 per month depending on the volume of work got and executed.
“I managed to build all those houses because of hard work—working for long hours and remaining focused on improving the standard of my life. I feared to be a beggar on the streets and that motivated me to get involved in this cooperative since I was young until today,” says Nsabikunze.
Even with all the property he owns and the monthly income that comes with it, Nsabikunze feels that he is not yet in the comfort zone. “I have a vision to build another house in future,” he said. He also hopes to support more orphans in the area because one of the thing that gives him a sense of fulfillment is helping less privileged people.
He advises people living with disabilities to work hard so as to improve their lives and never to consider begging as an option.
Nsabikunze’s road to success however is not smooth all through. Limited market for the products, difficulty in securing tenders and old equipment that breaks down often present obstacles to faster progress.
Médiatrice Uwambayinema, accountant at Socorwa, is all praises and marvels at the rate at which Nsabikunze has improved his life by being committed to his work.
“Most of [Socorwa members] were raised in VP-Gatagara and have been trained in different fields. The formation of Socorwa, an initiative of HVP-Gatagara, many people living with disabilities have been able to work and improve their living conditions.
Socorwa membership has declined to 22 having lost 8 of its members in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi and others to natural causes of death.
According to the executive secretary of National Council of Persons with Disabilities, Emmanuel Ndayisaba, the biggest challenge faced in the search for solutions to improve living conditions of people living with disabilities is the lack of formal education.
This, he said, calls for the need to provide them with skills through vocational and technical training.
The Council intends to register all people living with disabilities now estimated at 522,856. “We still need support to fully support cooperatives of people living with disabilities,” he said