As the Rwanda Union of the Blind (RUB) is celebrating, at the 11th Time, the International White Cane Day, this year RUB decides to celebrate this important day by focusing on the progress achieved so far in the education of learners with visual impairment.
Since the establishment of RUB in August 1994 after the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi, the organization’s main focus was on the improvement of the living conditions of persons with visual impairment in Rwanda.
As years went by , RUB established various programs in line with the continuous effort for the rehabilitation and improvement of livelihood for persons with visual impairment in Rwanda while not leaving behind the education as the cornerstone of the bright future among the visually impaired community.
Among the visually impaired students who were supported through RUB Interventions, 100% knew that before the establishment of the Union the lives of visually impaired persons were undoubtedly characterized by the isolation and solitude, stigma, lack of hopelessness and all sorts of psychological problems emanating from the traumatized and dire living conditions.
As described by Bizimana Faustin, representative of HVP Gatagara students, it is hard to explain how visually impaired persons would have been if there was no will to give them the value they deserve in the society as well as to build the self-confidence as one of the challenges faced by many of them.
Bizimana who is now completing A Level in Arts and Languages at HVP Gatagara/school for the Blind located in Rwamagana District , Eastern Province, explains that since his childhood, he had visual impairment problem which worsened as he got older.
“Really, when I was a child I didn’t know that I have visual impairment until I started school and that is when I realized that I could not see” He says.
In 2007, Bizimana decided to drop out of the school when he was in P4 due to the complications caused by visual impairment.
After a few months in the same year, RUB through its outreach program found Bizimana and many other visually impaired young people who had no hope of going to school. They were taken to Masaka Resource Centre for the Blind (MRCB) to receive six month training. They were motivated and later brought to school, and most of them are pursuing their school careers in HVP Gatagara / Rwamagana.
Like many of his colleagues, Bizimana confirms that he had no hope of returning to school.
With the support of RUB, Bizimana and his colleagues are able to follow their dreams in their respective educational domains.
Being educated in the special school with special teaching materials, the visually impaired students find this initiative very important for their future.
“In the first days, I had challenges with Braille writing and reading, but I kept the spirit of learning until I knew how to use the machine and reading text after starting again from scratch.” Bizimana narrates.
“I perform well in the class. Idon’t go below 75% of the examination marks.” Bizimana added.
RUB’s role in the mirror of the visually impaired students
Apart from the continuous advocacy programs towards the rights of persons with visual impairment, the organization makes many efforts in fighting for quality education for learners with visual impairment and this has remained one of the key organizational priorities.
After intensive coaching and daily follow up on the performance of the students, the latter are able to select the education career of their choice. It is this choice that every student is hoping to shape his/her future.
Outside the class, RUB provides school materials, makes various payments for various needs and even fares to enable safe arrival of the students at home and even back to school.
Students have seen RUB as the savior of their once endangered living conditions.
Being born in a poor family which had never had chance to go to school and even with the sorrow of having lost both parents at her early age, Mukamusonera, a visually impaired young woman narrates how her parents tried to care for her despite her blindness and unfortunately died and left her in the loneliness situation.
“When I was born I had abnormally small eyes. After one year, I proved to be blind.. My parents used to tell me how they struggled to look for treatment and unfortunately they died without getting the solution. I stayed visually impaired until now.”
She said that when she thought about the conditions she grew in, she had no hope for education. Even the society’s negative perception on visually impaired persons has not spared her.
“Frankly speaking, I had no idea of going to school because even in my family none had chance to go to school. So I had no thought for education.” She said
In 2008, through RUB, Mukamusonera attended Masaka Resource Centre for the Blind (MRCB) where she pursued the Agriculture related training. After several months, RUB decided to help her career shift from Agriculture training to school education at HVP Gatagara/ Rwamagana.
“My School life today depends much on RUB care. I am happy because I am studying. This enabled me to understand my visual impairment better and I accepted how I was born.” She explains.
Mukamusonera’s school performance is not bad as she says. “In class, I try to do well at over 60% in grades.”
“I am not afraid of saying that RUB replaces my parent in the whole of my life.
“Because RUB brought me from far, so you can feel how I should have been if it was not for the intervention of RUB in my life.” She added.
When you speak to most of the students who benefited from RUB programs, you realize that their stories are similar irrespective of their family status.
What school Management says about visually impaired Student
Uwiringiyimana Kaberuka Placide, Deputy in Charge of Studies (DOS) at HVP Gatagara/ Rwamagana informed that Education for Visually impaired students requires special means depending on the nature of the problem.
He emphasized that visually impaired students perform well at all levels (Primary and Secondary) adding that some of them even pass the National Examination after which they continue to University.
However, as someone who works on daily basis with the school and students, he showed key challenges that affect the education for visually impaired students.
Some of them are:
- Lack of self Confidence among some students which is due to how the society treats the visually impaired persons.
- Lack of employments among the finalists and this problem starts with the early preparations of Exams for which those who prepare them do not consider the braille written examination.
- School materials are costly so that parents themselves can’t afford them. Even if the Government together with other partners works to find the materials, there are still few compared to the number of students.
Education for visually impaired persons in the mirror of the visually impaired University graduates
Even if the Rwanda Union of the Blind (RUB) is not responsible for tuition fees at university level , this organization has done its advocacy work to make sure that despite being under government/ donor scholarship they are being given special treatment and facilities which enable them to pursue their respective courses.
Ntawiha Marie Chantal, a graduate working at RUB affirms that she was able to reach this level due to RUB Advocacy work.
“Before the establishment of RUB, visually impaired persons could not even reach the secondary school level. Most of them were only supposed to finish their studies at primary level.
She adds that the first intervention that RUB did after being established was advocacy for inclusive education so that “we are allowed to maximize studies. At the time we were not less capable academically, we had skills but what was the main obstacle was the society’s mindset on visually impaired persons”
Her views are the same as the views of Sévérin Ingabire, a graduate of the former Kigali Institute of Education.
He works with the National Union of Disability Organizations of Rwanda (NUDOR) and also serves as an adviser of the Board of the Rwanda Union of the Blind.
He said that “After the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi, there were advocacy efforts to allow visually impaired persons to do the National examinations!”
“Many people could not able to understand our ability to do the exams, and it was in December 1995 that through RUB’s advocacy, persons with visual impairment were allowed to sit for the national school primary leaving exam.”
Ingabire noted that since then the government has done a lot to create space for visually impaired persons to exercise their rights.
However he explains that after 25 years, persons with visual impairment are still facing challenges that need clear solutions.
For instance he said, the education curriculum is not favoring visually impaired persons.
Apart from him, this issue has negative impacts on visually impaired learners in all levels.
With the support of the Danish Association of the Blind, in 2007, RUB Conducted a country wide search of the visually impaired youth at the age of going to school and those who dropped out of the school.
The search found 120 cases, however the number might be low because RUB was not able to search house by house and in some cases families hide them due to poor mindset on visually impaired persons.
In 2008, after evaluation, 88 persons were sent to HVP Gatagara Rwamagana and G.S Gahini where RUB in partnership with the Danish Association of the Blind supported them through School fees payment, transport allowances, school uniforms, hygiene, etc…
RUB also supported Over 70 Visually Impaired Adults to acquire vocational training skills especially in knitting domain
Challenges as narrated by learners and RUB Administration
It is obvious that after 25 years since the establishment of RUB, the journey for the improved living conditions of the visually impaired persons continues.
Visually impaired students have been recording their challenges especially in Education.
Better living conditions, enough commitments to quality education but the existing teaching materials not enough for all subjects.
Students also revealed that for those who pursue scientific courses including Maths and Chemistry are not able to do well because the teaching modules include the special characters/objects that can’t be found on the braille machines.
Braille is a reading and writing method that breaks language into a code of raised dots. It is a method of reading and writing that is equal in value to print for sighted people.
Additional serious challenges are
- Lack of screening system ;to facilitate identification of children with visual impairment during enrolment
- Negative attitudes of family members and community which underestimate the talents and potentials of children with visual impairment,
- Lack of capacity and efficiency of teachers to deal with the unique and specific educational needs for education of children with visual impairment and issues such as orientation and mobility skills, braille, use of assistive devices and technology to support children with visual impairment in regular schools;
- Lack of standardized braille in schools educating children with visual impairment in Rwanda
- Lack of inclusive recreational facilities: the findings show that children with visual impairment are still lacking playgrounds, equipment and training to do some sports such as goal ball, etc
- Lack of textbooks and learning materials in accessible formats such as braille, large print, audio, electronic and other appropriate formats in regular schools;
- Lack of Accessibility, affordability and availability of assistive devices and technology for children with visual impairment as well as training in their use;
- Incompatible education systems such as curriculum and other teaching and learning materials.
- The same issue for those pursuing Arts and Languages Section: They said that books like Novels can’t be found in the braille text. They only get the summary which results into the course failure during the examination.
As stressed also by the Executive Director of Rwanda Union of the Blind, Dr KANIMBA Donatilla, students who are doing scientific courses for instance can’t find scientific structure of organisms on the braille machine.
She asked for the involvement of the Government in updating the school materials that visually impaired are using.
Dr. Kanimba said there are still many challenges today specifically in the education for visually impaired persons.
She expressed concern that if there are no tangible solutions to the existing challenges, the living conditions of the beneficiaries and the union members would be at a risk.
“We do the advocacy and we are a Non-Governmental Organization. Any time our partners can stop providing support to our organization, and we would not be able to continue our work due to the fact that if we are not getting supported we will not be able to advocate for visually impaired students as well as for our members in general.”
”The Government of Rwanda should put in place tangible solutions to deal with the challenges of the visually impaired persons in the long-term.” She emphasized
Call to the Ministry of Education
The call is addressed to the Ministry of Education and Rwanda Education Board to find solutions to the above mentioned challenges that may hinder the smooth and quality education to visually impaired learners.
There is also a need for E-Library that can allow students to access reading materials online as well as the need to have one shared braille system that can be used in the whole country.
Call for mindset Change
Really, visually impaired students have proved to be able to perform well and compete with others in the education; however the society’s negative belief on their abilities is still a challenge.
There are people who still believe that persons with visual impairment can’t manage to study like other students. However, for visually impaired students and their teachers as well as from the RUB’s side these beliefs should change.
Rwanda Union of the Blind (RUB) is a local non-governmental organization legally operating in Rwanda since 1995. RUB was created in August 1994 by visually impaired persons themselves and was officially registered in March 1995. It is registered with Rwanda Governance Board under registration number 60/05 of 16/03/1995 to work towards the improvement of the living conditions of persons with visual impairment in Rwanda.
KEY ORGANISATIONAL ACTIVITIES
¨ Rehabilitation programme
¨ Encouraging VIP to form associations with the aim of helping them to come out of isolation and solitude.
¨ Promote the education of children with visual impairment through dialogue with the government and other partners in development.
To implement rehabilitation program , RUB has in the year 2000 established a centre called’’ Masaka Resource Centre for the Blind (MRCB) which is located in Kigali city- Kicukiro district in Masaka sector. The centre provides 6 month training to visually impaired persons from all corners of the country. Trainees are taught Orientation and Mobility, Activities of Daily living, Braille Literacy and Farming or Agriculture and Animal Husbandry and the skills acquired facilitate a blind person can comfortably join the mainstream society .
TOPAFRICANEWS publishes this article as part of the continuous advocacy for visually impaired persons. Data were collected by our Reporters Ange de la Victoire Dusabemungu and Kayiranga Justin with the support from Rwanda Union of the Blind.