Thirty-year-old Rwandan woman Rosette Uwifashije, who lost her sight in 2000 due to illness, can skillfully pass a thread through the eye of a needle with speed like a clear-sighted person.
A resident of the Muhanga district, in southern Rwanda, Uwifashije has set up a tailoring business knitting different styles and also trains other people despite her disability.
In an interview Uwifashije said she used to struggle to make a living. At the family and society level, she also had to deal with stigma and neglect. Navigating both of these affected Uwifashije’s spirit and she despaired that she would be unable to achieve her life dreams.
But after being introduced to the Masaka Resource Center in the capital city of Kigali by a friend, her life has since changed. She is one of the selected blind women who were supported by the Rwanda Union of the Blind (RUB) to build independent lives and realize their potential through a donor-funded Dream project.
The center ensures rehabilitation support that helps individuals with visual impairment to learn reading and writing braille, which change their lives. Besides orientation and mobility lessons on how to use a white cane, the center also helps visually impaired persons to build up their independence by introducing new practical skills such as crop and livestock farming.
Thanks to the center’s orientation and mobility training, Uwifashije was able to overcome self-pity, move around independently, engage in farming and do other activities.
Seeking to fulfill her dreams against odds, she would later pursue a one-year tailoring course at a technical school in Rubavu district, in western Rwanda, where she graduated with a certificate.
“The training from Masaka Resource Center was enough to build on,” she said.
“I had to work very hard to pass the tailoring course, the school was far from my home but I was determined to study,” she said. Uwifashije has been able to set up her own business, also offering skills to many people in her home village of Kibangu sector in Muhanga district.
“I am able to knit different styles depending on clients’ choice,” she said, adding that to boost her income streams she trains people in tailoring. “I have mastered the use of a sewing machine that is normally meant for clear-sighted people,” she said.
Her trainees include visually impaired people recommended by the Rwanda Union of the Blind.
“I find a sense of purpose and connection with the rest of the people, I’m more confident and inspired to pursue my dream,” said Uwifashije.
She knits clothes for residents and students’ uniforms to make money.
In 2019, Uwifashije was among the winners of Rwanda’s Youth Connect Awards for overcoming challenges to build entrepreneurship, walking away with 500,000 Rwandan francs (about 488 U.S. dollars), which boosted her business and welfare.
In 2021, she achieved another milestone when she got married. “I can’t describe how happy I am, this is something many people can hardly understand but I am so grateful that we are living a better life, it is a great achievement,” she said.
“I have managed to acquire a plot of land. I’m able to pay school fees for my young sister after we had lost our mother,” she said.
Twenty-two-year-old Gloriose Umuhire, one of the trainees with partial vision from Uwifashije’s training center praised Uwifashije for being helpful. “I’m able to sew different cloth styles. I hope that I will soon be able to set up my own business which will change my life,” she said.
Donatile Kanimba, the executive director of Rwanda Union of the Blind, said the project was initiated to empower persons living with visual impairment to live independent lives instead of being a burden to family and friends.
The Masaka Resource Center for the Blind in Kigali serves as the first point of reference for Rwandans who lost their sight and have been staying home without hope, according to her.
The rehabilitation program helps them to learn reading and writing braille, and to do house chores on their own, she said.