Alice Higiro, a marketing and sales officer at AOS, a tech company, has had a passion for children since she was a child herself. Her turning point, however, was when she went to the UK to pursue her studies and realised the need to help disabled children back home. Last year, she joined Itetero Foundation, an organisation helping children living with disabilities. The 23-year-old spoke to Women Today’s Sharon Kantengwa about her contribution to the cause.
Tell us about Itetero Foundation. How did it start?
It was started in 2015 by me and a co-founder, Aloys Ndayizeye. He made visits to Musanze and saw the state of disabled children and asked to use the church premises to start the organisation. I had always wanted to help children with disabilities as well and so when we teamed up, I chose to strengthen what he had started. I joined him in October last year and we now have 20 children.
What drew you to these children?
When I was young, I loved kids and I always dreamt of opening up an orphanage. I went to college in the UK and while I was there, I worked in care homes with the elderly and also with disabled adults and children. So, realising how much they had and how better their lives were, I wondered why it was not the same in Rwanda. Before I left for the UK, I had no idea how big the community of disabled people was. When I came back, I wanted to set up what I had seen abroad, but I met many people who discouraged me and told me I did not have the resources and that I was too young for something like this. When I met Aloys, who had already started something small, I realised that that was my opportunity and I immediately seized it.
What is your contribution to the organisation?
Most of the children are from impoverished families and several of them have single mothers. Their families are not educated. They have no understanding of disabilities and so they regard their children ‘retarded’, or ‘cursed’ yet they can be clinically with disabilities and assisted. At Itetero Foundation, we give them basic education and healthcare.
My personal contribution has been gaining the visibility for the school and campaigning for the presence of these children using my marketing skills, my network, and social media and, soliciting funds.
Where do you get the funds to take care of these 20 children?
There is a lady that we met from a different organisation in the UK and when I met Aloys, she was funding the project. When I joined Itetero, I had friends who pitched in and started paying for at least one child every month, but sometimes, we also use our own money. We pitch in and make it work, somehow.
What are some the challenges that you face?
We have a lot of work to do regarding awareness, for parents and the community to understand that as much as it may sound cliché, disability is not inability. It’s imperative for society to know that being disabled does not mean that you are incapable of doing anything. Also, at the moment, we have one teacher who takes care of all the 20 children but also, having no resources really hinders us from having more teachers because that means more money.
We turned away 40 children who came to our centre in Kigali and in Musanze, where we are setting up another one; we had to turn away another 20 because we could not afford to take care of them all. The need is really huge and we know the Government is doing something to help these children, but we know that they cannot do it all, which is why we decided to do something. It might be small but the impact matters because it’s not just about the numbers, even if we save one child, it will mean a lot to us.
What are your plans for this organisation?
If we get the resources, we want to make the centre fully fledged. We will be able to receive children, do an assessment, diagnose them, identify what disability they have and then develop a personalised care plan for them. We have had a few people interested in giving us some teachers and with REB releasing a new curriculum for the disabled, we can make it a proper school and have them graduate from one level to another. We will then release them at the age of 20 because then they will be adults, able to take care of themselves.