When visual impairment struck him at 19, Ismail Habufite, without a sense of sight, thought his life would be ruined and dreams shattered forever.
That time, about eleven years ago, Habufite was an artisan making postal cards that he sold to earn a living.
“I got sick and became totally visually impaired. That time I felt hopeless and could hardly imagine how my future would be. I thought I was going to be a burden to my family which was also poor,” he says.
It was not until he heard of Masaka Resource Centre for the Blind (MRCB)that he was able to acquire mobility and orientation before taking on Technical and Vocational skills to cope with normal life.
The Centre is run by the Rwanda Union of the Blind (RUB) of which Habufite is a member,the Newtimes reports.
RUB is a non-profit making organization established in 1994, shortly after the end of the Genocide against the Tutsi and was gazetted a year later.
Currently Rwanda Union of the Blind has 54 well-established branches operating in 27 out of the 30 districts with about 2,500 members.
The organization works towards the improvement of the lives of blind people through education and rehabilitation to facilitate them to live a meaningful life and to gain integration and equality.
RUB is a member of the National Union of Disability organizations of Rwanda (NUDOR). It is also affiliated to the African Union of the Blind (AFUB) and the World Blind Union (WBU).
It helped Habufite regain the hope for a better future and affirming the notion that disability is not inability.
He says that along with other people with disabilities, he went through training such as Braille, agriculture and livestock management as a way of helping him cope with outside environments once rehabilitated.
“It took me two years and what I learnt was huge. I leant how to write and read using Braille and I could manage to use a hoe to dig and grow some crops. I also acquired other hands on skills which I could use in doing own things and blindness was no longer a burden,” he boasts.
Just fresh from Masaka Resource Centre for the Blind, Habufite returned home and started engaging himself in growing some crops where he does other activities that help him earn a living.
However as he gained experience with more hands-on skills in art and crafts, he also joined Ubumwe Community Centre, a Rubavu-based Centre that serves children and adults living with disabilities with counseling, primary education and vocational training.
“ I learnt knitting and improved my skills in making postal cards and music; from then I started employing myself and I can get basic needs such as food, buying domestic materials such as soaps, lotion and I depend on no body,” he says.
He says that he earns between Rwf60,000 and Rwf100,000 from arts products per month but can get more than that if he gets market.
However, he says there are still challenges as some members of the society still consider them unable.
For instance, as an artist, Habufite has ten songs of various categories such as gospel, classic among others which are not well promoted
“Society does not value our products as we have no platform to prove ourselves. My songs are only played at the Rubavu based radio station and I only perform on events organised by people with disabilities, but I am optimistic I can even perform at big events,” he says.
All will be fine
Habufite is very optimistic that the road has been curved out and that the future will be bright given the foundation laid by RUB.
“What was important was to shed off the stigma, prove that we can do something and be self reliant. I am particularly thankful for the Rwanda Union of the Blind that took me through mobility and orientation plus technical and vocational skills that I have used to improve my life,” he appreciates.
“With the skills I have now, I am optimistic I will be able to live a better life as my colleagues with no disability; the amount of money I earn will increase as time goes by and as I keep improving on quality” he said.
Other visually impaired youth speak out
Like Habufite, other youth with visual impairment like Penina Niyobyose; the secretary of RUB youth committee have benefited from RUB-provided skills and can do much for themselves without relying on anybody.
“I practice knitting where I can make between five to seven pieces of clothes and sell each between Rwf 4000 and Rwf8000,” she says.
“Life is different from what it was before when I depended on my family and often faced discrimination. I do things I could not expect and despite disability, nothing can fail me in this field on account of being blind. But I do have weaknesses like all other human beings, “ adds the 28-year old Niyobyose from Giheke sector in Rusizi district who established herself in Rubavu where she runs a business.
According to Dr. Patrick Suubi, the RUB president, the current progress registered by People with Visual impairment is significant thanks to the Masaka Resource Centre for the Blind which provides rehabilitation and vocational training since the year 2000
Before RUB was created, Dr. Suubi says, there was no way of tracking visually impaired people but now their whereabouts of some of them are known.
Besides they have been brought together in cooperatives and supported towards creating small projects from which they earn a living. “They are able to create their own projects and live better lives like other members of Society, “ Suubi says.
He observes that it is currently easier for them to advocate for their rights as they have an organisation (RUB) which they belong to.
Currently, RUB has about 2500 members in 54 branches from 27 districts of whom over 600 have gone through the rehabilitation centre and acquired the skills they are using to create their own jobs and are no longer beggars or dependants on their families for survival.
“What we want is to keep mobilising people with visual impairment, bring them together in associations, making it easy to easily get support. We have women and youth wings where we engage them in various developmental activities. We will continue advocating for them to ensure their better future,” Suubi says.
Currently, thanks to advocacy, visually impaired People have access to the mainstream education and about 40 have completed university though only a few of them are employed.
According to Dr. Suubi, much as the government has done a lot to support people with visual impairment, RUB still faces challenges of relying on donors and sometimes run short of means to do more to support its members.
Another challenge is that even some visually impaired people are yet to come out of stigma shadows while some communities continue to stigmatize them.
The mission of RUB is to work towards the improvement of the livelihoods of blind people through education and rehabilitation to facilitate meaningful equality and integration.
Its vision is to ensure a situation where blind people access all rights as all other citizens, receive rehabilitation and education and can be employed as all other citizens.