8 November 2012

Rwanda: Defying Disability

Mbonigena's journey to higher education despite his crippled arms:

Casimir Mbonigena never gave chance to his disability to become reason for his inability. The 24 year-old has crippled tinny arms with a jagged thumb either hands but can do all activities, like writing, using a fork, bathing from a basin and others.

He is a second year student of the School of Finance and Banking (SFB) in Kigali and also happens to be pursuing a Certified Public Accountants (CPA) course, which is sponsored by the university for students who scored an average of above 73% in the previous classes.

Speaking to Casmir, one notices that he is not just a student who over reads and passes his tests, but also the bright quality one who is also a good speaker and can express himself in both English and French though he was initially Francophone.

Mbonigena was born in Muhanga district in Southern Province in 1988 with his crippled arms though no one else in his family line has such disability. He is the first born of six children in his family and both his parents still live in his native Muhanga home. He studied both Primary and Secondary school in the same district and came to Kigali for his University in 2011. He says that he has never enrolled in a Special Needs School for disabled learners because they were unavailable in his area, and notes that it is reason as to why he is more hardworking and aggressive in his studies.

"I studied with normal people right from Primary and I was always determined and working hard to match or even beat the students I studied with because I had some disability on me. I tried to pass subjects which everyone complained that they were problematic and excel in school," says Mbonigena. The only difficulty he met was towards the start of Primary as he at first could not hold a pen or pencil. This even delayed him to start school but thanks to his supportive father who encouraged him and took his time to make sure that his son found a way to handle a pen and start school. Mbonigena now uses both hands to hold one pen and write with normal speed like any of his classmates. It is also surprising how quickly he can use the computer keyboard though he prefers to use a laptop because it is difficult for him to use the mouse of a desktop.

Augustin Mbonimpa, a classmate and friend to Mbonigena notes, "He (Mbonigena) does not receive any special treatment in class or any favours in exams but still emerges as one of the best students in our class. He is always busy in his books, the fact that he studies CPA, but still gets some time to explain for other classmates who did not attend lectures or missed some points in class."One of Mbonigena's lecturers, who preferred anonymity, notes that he is disciplined and organized in class, which explains why he is one of his favourite students.

"He is never late for class, never disturbs during lectures and is visibly hard working which is illustrated by the points he gets."

"Myself I am inspired by how he studies with students who don't have any disability and are expected to excel, but he beats them. He surely is on his way to success and if all goes well with him, his parents and SFB will be very proud of him."

Mbonimba lives in the schools internal hotels which are just behind the lecture rooms. He pays a little rent fee and clears with the general school canteen, also in the school, which provides meals for quite a number of students. Though he always has support of his parents for meeting basic needs, he also uses his Rwf25, 000 monthly living allowance, which comes along with his tuition as bursary from Rwanda Education Board (REB) which was granted to him with assistance of the Special Needs arm of the Ministry of Education. He applied for the bursary after completing secondary school as he had narrowly failed to qualify for the student study loan. "I know my parents have other needs to cater for, so I must put my money to the best use to provide for my day to day needs at school. Sometimes it is never enough just like any other student who lives in boarding would tell but at least it helps meet by basic needs," explains Mbonigena. For a normal day, Mbonigena wakes up at 5:00 o'clock in the morning and prepares for class after making a short prayer. He goes to class for the morning prep as he waits for the classes to begin.

Classes end in the evening though there is time for lunch in between. He goes for some sports in evenings. Sit ups are his favourite though he sometimes does simple jogging and plays soccer. And, he has an outgoing personality; he can be found surrounded by a couple of friends making a conversion in his free time.

The devoted Catholic also spends some time in school chapel and participates in variety church programs especially on weekends. After supper time, which is always around 7.00 pm, he starts revision or goes to the school library to make some research and complete his assignments if he has any. He goes to bed after 11:00 pm.

Mbonigena says that he was taught to appreciate the fact that he had some disability ever since he was a child, which has helped him to live without any inferiority complex, unlike most persons with disabilities (PWDs). He reasons that PWDs should not use their situation as an excuse for their underperformance but rather find a way to achieve what they want, in spite of their disabilities.

"I don't believe the PWDs who just go to the streets to beg or become burden for their families because there is always a way out if we try to find one. For instance, there are many vocational programs which give priority to PWDs," he says.

"Those without legs can use their hands and those without eyes can use special tools to write and get some white-collar jobs. There are many examples of people with disabilities up there in government positions, which should inspire the youth like us," urges Mbonigena.

He is also thankful to the government for its supportive programs towards PWDs and the fact that they have representatives at most decision making bodies in the country. Today's Rwandans are also not the kind that isolates PWDs, unlike in historical events both in Rwanda and outside societies where they would be cast or executed.

"Gone are the days when parents kept their children indoors or even got rid of them after birth because of the different disabilities found on their bodies. Today there are lots of campaigns to promote our rights and address our grievances. People themselves also don't isolate the people with disabilities, unlike those days where a lame person would hardly get a woman to wed," says Mbonigena. He notes that some people who are not used to his hands sometimes fear to shake hands with him but he never takes it as an issue because most of them later become his good friends.

Mbonigena dreams of finishing his Bachelor's degree in two years' time and go on with a Masters program. He wishes to work in any technical position in the Finance or Accounts department thereafter, in any company that has made a name, a position that can allow him to make decisions and influence general performance of his workplace. He initially wanted to do Physics in order to become an engineer but he was handed a combination of History, Economics and Geography in high school and ended up in a business school.

He however has found Accounts his passion and is comfortable with it. He in fact plans to do consultancy in the field after acquiring experience in other companies.

He also dreams of marrying a good wife and raising good children after acquiring the necessary assets and achieving the feat he always dreams of.

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