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Africa

Living with blindness in Rwanda

Access to education, finding a good job and being accepted in society is a struggle for thousands of blind people across Africa. Jean-Pierre Munyankiko and Venancie Mukanziza have managed to beat the odds.

The pictures shows the blind couple, Jean-Pierre Munyankiko and Venancie Mukanziza with their two children. The picture is taken in front of their house in Kigali. ------ Photo: Sylivanus Karemera, Dezember 2012

Springende Lachse

Jean-Pierre Munyankiko and Venancie Mukanziza live in Rwanda’s capital, Kigali. They are both blind. Apart from their physical disability, their lives are not very different from any other Rwandan couple. They are happily married and have two children.

"When I was born I was able to see,” Jean-Pierre Munyankiko told DW. “My parents said that I suffered from measles as a small child and later became blind“.

The loss of his sight did not, however, stop Munyankiko from setting high goals. He wanted to study and take over responsibilities in his community.

Building a new life

In a country that has few educational facilities for the visually impaired, Munyankiko had to move to south which boasted the only school for the blind. There he met Venancie Mukanziza. The couple married in 2002. They now have two children, aged seven and nine, who both have their eyesight.

Children raise their hands in a primary school in Mayange, Rwanda. Rwanda has few schools for the blind. Photo: DW/Christine Harjes

Rwanda has few schools for the blind. Photo: DW/Christine Harjes

Today the family is doing well. Munyankiko is a physiotherapist and his wife works for the Rwandan Education Board. They managed to buy a plot and build a house in the capital Kigali. Their children attend one of the better schools in the country.

"We live normal lives, while many other blind people have to live on the streets", Muyankiko says. "We are lucky, because we have work.“

Technology helps

The use of modern technology also makes their life easier. The couple is able to use mobile phones, like any ordinary person. At work, they use conventional computers with a vocal feedback application.

"There is a voice that tells me what I am doing. When I type, the voice tells me which letters I am typing. The voice can also read out what I have written,“ Venancie Mukaziza explains.

The couple’s success, has however not shielded them from the stigmatization, which many blind people face in Rwanda. Many people still marvel at their way of life, Mukanziza explains, as they find it hard to believe that visually impaired people have the same mental capabilities as those who have their eyesight.

One neighbor said she had learnt from the couple that where there is a will, there is also a way. "It is astonishing to see that there are people, without disabilities, who don’t come to terms with their life, some are beggars. But these two people are blind and they are successful,.“ she added.

Reaching out to other blind people

Munyankiko and Mukanziza know that they have had opportunities in life, which others have not. In the future, they plan to start an association for people with vision impairment. The aim is to enable blind people to study, perhaps open their own business and take their life into their own hands.

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