In 2003, I was finishing up high school in Rwanda, studying biology and chemistry, when my dreams of becoming a doctor or an engineer were shattered. My life changed suddenly when I lost of my sight, the result of long-term use of eye drops for an eye allergy.
I went to live among blind people, learning Braille and how to attend to the daily activities of life—without sight. I became a social worker at the Rwanda Union of the Blind. It was there, working with blind orphans, that I came to really understand the reasons behind extreme poverty, exclusion, isolation and low self-esteem that can accompany people with disabilities in my country.
There are so many people with disabilities in Rwanda, including the survivors of the civil war and genocide. And there are deep-rooted cultural beliefs and negative stereotypes; some people say that a disability is a bad curse, that people with disabilities are a burden to the family, or they are inhuman.
In Rwanda, it is very difficult for people with disabilities to get the services they need. Many children with disabilities have to travel great distances to attend special schools, and young people with disabilities often have to beg on streets in order to survive. Rwanda ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, but there are huge gaps in implementation. When will we see the effects of this UN Convention here in my community?
I decided I could not wait for change to happen. As a founding member of the African Youth with Disabilities Network, I help train young people with disabilities to advocate for their rights, raise their voices for inclusion, and fight discrimination. I am also the president of the student association for those with disabilities at my university, the Kigali Institute of Education, and head of an organization that helps blind youth in my country.
I strongly believe that we can fight poverty and discrimination through quality and inclusive education. I am working with all who will join me to make the future brighter for young Rwandans with disabilities.
The African Youth with Disabilities Network is supported by the Open Society Foundations.