By Mutanganga Emmanuel
The Rwanda Union of the Blind (RUB), a national organization advocating for the rights of persons with visual impairment in Rwanda, has organized the international white can Day, an event which is typically celebrated each year on October 15th worldwide and serves to highlight the significance of the white cane as a tool of independence for blind and visually impaired people.
As Part of the celebration, the Rwanda Union of the Blind has organized weeklong activities during which various themes around the white cane and other challenges will be highlighted for further actions.
This year, the day celebrated for 15th time in Rwanda, under the theme, “The white cane, my independence”, and took place on 15th November because the October 15th concurred with other national events.
During a press conference, Dr. Donatilla KANIMBA, Executive Director of RUB, emphasized the objective of White Cane Week: to promote inclusivity and raise awareness about the importance of white canes for persons with visual impairments.
She stated that “The ultimate goal is to enhance the lives of visually impaired individuals through education and rehabilitation, aiming to foster genuine equality and integration.”
“Owning a white cane is a fundamental right for every individual with visual impairment to ensure their safety. We have successfully established 64 branches that aid us in providing support to the visually impaired. Prior to 1995, it was uncommon to see a blind person walking unaccompanied. However, they now have the courage to attend schools and have gone on to become doctors, journalists, teachers, and other influential figures, all thanks to the assistance provided by a white cane.” Dr. Kanimba said.
Dr. Donatilla emphasized, “The white cane is beneficial in our daily lives and work. If we utilize it effectively, we will not have any regrets. We must spread this message to everyone we encounter, regardless of their location, and emphasize the significance of the white cane. Unfortunately, some people perceive it as a regular stick, but it serves a much greater purpose.”
“Let’s make people know the significance of the white cane, so that drivers on the road can recognize it when they see us and understand that we require attention. It is important for our family members, roommates, acquaintances, and everyone we encounter this week to make an effort to promote and raise awareness about this tool.” She added.
For Dr. Beth Mukarwego, President of RUB, “It is crucial for people to understand the significance of the white cane, know how to assist disabled individuals when necessary, and treat them with the same respect and rights as others.”
She focused on the independence of the visually impaired, saying that they should also know themselves, know the capabilities of the white cane, and stop thinking that they should always be held by the hand of people who don’t always interact with them.
Dr. Beth said “RUB wishes to see that people with visual impairment live independent lives, live life that they are able to support themselves, and feel that they are successful in life without having to depend on their family members or any other person.”
Members of the Media fraternity attending a Press Conference organized by the Rwanda Union of the Blind to launch the White cane Week
“We know that sometimes, many of them may decide to be alone, especially those who become blind as they age, leading a lonely life. RUB has a mission and a responsibility to seek them out and ensure their independence. That’s why we established the Masaka Rehabilitation Centre, where these individuals can learn valuable skills and ultimately return home to live independently and work towards earning a living.”
“This week we are advocating for the white cane because this is something that is celebrated for every year in all the countries in the world. At RUB we are celebrating and we want this week to make people know the use of a white cane, the importance of a white cane for people with visual impairment, because we want the white cane to give a person with visual impairment independence, living without having to depend on other people in the society because sometimes depending on another people may be frustrating, you may depend on somebody, you go out the person leaves you there, sometimes you can be left standing, somebody tells you stand here and wait for me am coming, then you stand the person forgets that he/she was with you. If you have your white cane and feel that maybe you have stood for too long, you may decide to start walking, find your way and finally you get yourself back in your home. That’s why we want to campaign for the white cane to be recognized, the buses, the drivers, to recognize its importance, to recognize why they should give us an opportunity to cross roads safely”. She added
She concluded by asking the government to take part in facilitating the lives of people with disabilities in order for all to be able to get white canes