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Ultra Poverty, Multiple Discrimination: The experience of Historically Marginalised People with disabilities in Rwanda during Covid-19

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13 members of FPDO stand in front of the camera after a class in advocacy, literacy and numeracy. Joseph is second from the right, wearing brown trousers and a light-coloured shirt. Gloriose is fourth from left wearing a black shirt and brightly coloured skirt.

Interview with Joseph Siborurema and Gloriose Yamfashije, from the First People’s Disability Organisation (FPDO), Rwanda. Joseph Siborurema is the President of FPDO and Gloriose Yamfashije is the vice legal representative. FPDO was set up in 2019 to support self-advocacy and training of Batwa with disabilities in Rwanda with the support of African Initiative for Mankind Progress Organisation (AIMPO) and MRG. 

Interview by Richard Ntakirutimana, Executive Director of African Initiative for Mankind Progress Organization (AIMPO), a community-centered, grassroots organization in Rwanda that seeks to protect and promote the rights, welfare and development of the Indigenous Batwa. (Photo: 13 members of FPDO stand in front of the camera after a class in advocacy, literacy and numeracy. Joseph is second from the right, wearing brown trousers and a light-coloured shirt. Gloriose is fourth from left wearing a black shirt and brightly coloured skirt.)

Richard: What has been the impact of the Coronavirus on your well-being as Historically Marginalized People[1] with a disability?

Gloriose bend down to write letters on a white board at the front of the classroom during a literacy lesson with other members of FPDO.
Gloriose bend down to write letters on a white board at the front of the classroom during a literacy lesson with other members of FPDO.

Joseph: Poverty has been plentiful because we could not work and the situation has resulted in misery life to our family members. For example, during the stay at home period, shoemakers could no longer sew, potters could not find a place to sell their pottery products, those who work for a daily meal, and those who scavenge for food could not go out ; therefore the hunger becomes worse for us.

In short words, Historically Marginalized People with disability are back in loneliness, we are desperately thinking about how we are going to live in the future. You see, if the child was accustomed to eating twice a day, and now could not eat one time, this is a big problem.

Gloriose: Especially for women: Caring for children is very difficult for Historically Marginalized women with disability.  The children used to go to school and this helped us so much, so now, they are all at home, and we have nothing to feed them. Keeping them clean is a problem when we have such extreme poverty.

Richard: But has the government has provided support to such vulnerable families?

Joseph: I didn’t see it I don’t know when it was delivered. I talked to the village authorities and they told me that I should continue to wait, maybe they will provide me the support later, until now I don’t get it yet. Rather, more people with means of life, businessmen get support. I think it is corruption and the familiarity that caused it.

Gloriose: I received no government assistance except one of the few food from donors. I do not know why the government did not provide us the support, what I know is that life is not easy for us. Some parents are going to beg with their children.

Richard: How are Historically Marginalized People with disabilities living after simplification of measures to fight against the spread of Coronavirus in Rwanda?

Joseph: By now we are still wondering how we are going to live. I would say that I think life should be back as it used to be but I do not see any source of revenue to sustain our life.  There are no jobs for us as many employers are recruiting few workers. Due to our way of life, means of movement, I think no employer is going to recruit any of us. For example, I used to work in construction before Coronavirus situation, and now I have no job, I am always staying at home.

Richard: What can be done to improve the life of Historically Marginalized people with disabilities in this coronavirus situation?

Joseph:  A special advocacy approach should be initiated so that people with disabilities can be given special attention. If companies are employing fewer employees, people with disabilities are less likely to get a job because of the way they get to work. A person with a disability who used to be unemployed has a worse quality of life, you feel that life expectancy is low, people are depressed.

Let them be given the opportunity to work, they should be facilitated to start up profitable small businesses to make a living. The government and other donors should help us figure out what to do to make a living. For example, they should provide us the training in entrepreneurship. Although a person may have a disability in his legs but his hands can act to do things like sewing shoes to make money. It’s good to help people help themselves.

Gloriose: The state should help us change attitudes and help us to live and prosper. The government would help us take care of our children at home.

Richard: What are your measures to fight against the negative impact of Coronavirus?

Joseph: I believe that I have to live by myself. I have to do whatever it takes to work and make a living. We need to work, and if there is another kind of help available it should be additional. A donor will support what we have started and make a progress. I advise my counterparts that they must get up and work, not feel that someone is waiting for them to support and create hope in their life. They are the only architects of their life.

[1] In Rwanda since the Genocide in the 1990s, the state does not recognise any different ethnic groups or indigenous peoples. Their term for any disadvantaged community is “Historically Marginalised People”.   The Twa community often self define as an indigenous group, who traditionally followed a hunting and gathering life style in their ancestral forests.  Excluded from the forests, normally with no access to cultivable land, they have turned to making pottery and other similar craft professions to make a living

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