April 20, 2024

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From Homelessness to Harmony: Ndagijimana Felix’s Remarkable Transformation after Recognizing the Rights of Women with Disabilities

Felix together with his wife Clementine. Photo: UN Women

UN Women received funds from the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) to implement the Joint Programme on Sustainable Cities which aims to support the Government of Rwanda to create livable and inclusive cities.

Ndagijimana Felix is one of the men engage pioneers that benefited from the UN Women and UNABU (Rwandan Organization of Women with Disabilities) training on GBV prevention, and the rights and inclusion of people living with disabilities. His wife Clementine was afflicted by a degenerative disease at an early age that took away the functionality of one of her legs. Married in 2014, they have three children, and through UN Women support, the couple received different trainings and start-up capital which enabled them to pursue income generating activities to support themselves and their family. Coming from a life of hardship and violence, they now live peacefully and lead a much more comfortable social and economic life.

“Looking back, it is quite remarkable that my wife and I are now living harmoniously and in full support of one another. Before being a part of the trainings from UN Women and UNABU, I was completely lost and leading a reckless life. I met my wife Clementine while I was still homeless, living on the streets, and struggling to survive.

When I met Clementine, her disability was not a big issue for me at the time until we started to experience the social and economic difficulties that came with it. People in the community used to look down on me and question my sanity for marrying a woman living with a disability. I did not feel proud to be seen with her in public and started to feel a deep sense of shame and resentment towards her. With my excessive use of alcohol as a means to cope, the shame I had over my wife`s disability eventually transformed into physical violence, also making life very unstable for our three children.

I got invited to the UN Women trainings, I really did not know what to expect. Over the course of 3 days, they took us through detailed sessions on GBV prevention, the rights and inclusion of people living with disabilities, as well as how to become Men Engage pioneers. By the time the training concluded, I was a completely changed man. I immediately went back home and with utmost sincerity asked for my wife`s forgiveness for how I mistreated her, and eventually asked for her hand in civil marriage. From then on, I have committed to providing her and our children with all the support needed, including in household chores to help relieve the burden on my wife who was limited by her disability.

Felix and his wife Clementine together with members of the Ubumwe advocacy group.

I now publicly recognize myself as an agent for change and actively work to fight against social norms that discriminate against people living with disabilities. I am also a member of the Icyitegererezo (meaning role model), which is a group of thirty men with wives or children living with disabilities, and together we sensitize the communities on their rights. Despite facing the challenge of disability, my wife is also the president of the Ubumwe (together) advocacy group that advocates for the rights of people living with disabilities, and together they also run a bakery operation to generate income.

I now fully believe that disability is not an inability.” testified Felix.

In March 2022, UN Women received funds from the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) to implement the Joint Programme on Sustainable Cities which aims to support the Government of Rwanda to create livable and inclusive cities that provide security, access to jobs, decent housing, and a better quality of life for all citizens. In this framework, UN Women partnered with UNABU, the Rwandan Organization of Women with Disabilities, to support the implementation of this programme.

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