Rwanda: How Cooperative for the Visually Impaired Restored Dignity of Members

Visually impaired people's cooperatives in agribusiness and craftsmanship have shaped the path towards self-reliance after training and capacity building in Masaka Business Incubation Centre.

The centre is located in Kicukiro district.

Rwanda Union of the Blind has 54 well-established branches from which the associations and cooperatives are established.

Thomas Uzabakiriho became visually impaired at 7 years old. He hails from Nyange Sector of Ngororero District.

He was born normal and only became visually impaired before he has started school.

Over 15 cooperatives are set to get advocacy funds across the country. Courtesy photos.

"My conditions only worsened because I never got enough care. I was only given herbs. This led me to become completely visually impaired," he recounted.

His journey since the impairment was characterized by low self-esteem, social discrimination and begging but all changed to better after he was trained in agribusiness and knitting at Masaka centre.

Together with other visually impaired people, they formed an association "Abadahogora" loosely translated as those who have not to weep. The cooperative currently runs agricultural and livestock businesses.

"We were trained in Masaka Business Incubation Centre and when we graduated, we came back to form an association. We worked hard to change our lives through agriculture and livestock farming activities. Previously, I could hardly get clothes or soap. I used to beg on the street," he said.

After training for 6 months in agribusiness, he started with rearing sheep after receiving some start-up capital to implement the skills by the union of blind people.

"They gave me a sheep. My neighbors used to jeer at me saying that I would not manage to look after it but I made the difference since my sheep grew up and gave birth to lambs," he said.

With his colleagues in the association, they also started to plant vegetables and cassava on a small parcel of land to strengthen efforts to cope with poverty and are currently tilling up to three hectares which they rent using savings in the cooperative.

The association started with 18 members and they later increased to 28 visually impaired members.

"We are now cultivating cassava on 3 hectares which we are soon to harvest. Every month, we meet and each member contributes Rwf500 to the saving association. Then we invest the savings in agribusiness activities," he said.

Uzabakiriho narrates that the support that led to his self-reliance enabled him to marry, something he said was a distant dream in the past.

"My sheep delivered three times and I sold lambs. After selling them, I built a house and I got married. I am also in the process of relocating from a high risk zone," he said

The father of two, one in P4 and another in pre-primary school- has also a cow and a pig with plans to buy more cattle.

"One challenge I have is that I do not have my own farm for my agriculture and livestock activities. When I need to grow any crops I have to rent a small piece of land where I grow cassava, beans, sweet potatoes and others. Otherwise, I grow crops in the cooperative land" he said.

"Our current plantation was attacked by a disease, but we will not lose all the harvest. We have leased tillable land at Rwf100,000 and bought the seeds. Altogether we invested Rwf570,000 including other agricultural activities we have carried out. We sell one kilogramme of cassava root at Rwf 170 during harvesting season," he said.

He also acquires loan from the association to afford different basic needs.

"After investing over Rwf570,000 in the current cassava plantation, we also bought pigs using our savings. We plan to distribute piglets to our members so that everyone gets a piglet besides ongoing cooperative's business in agriculture," he said.

He said that they are no longer facing injustice and discrimination in the community after being grouped in associations.

Over 15 cooperatives are set to get advocacy funds across the country.

Uzabakiriho and his colleagues can now conduct an advocacy campaign in the community to rescue other visually impaired persons who are still being hidden by their families.

editor@newtimesrwanda.com

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