Supporting Youth with Disabilities in Rwanda

Reverend Dominique Ndagijimana is the co-founder and legal representative of Friends of Handicap in Rwanda, a local NGO. He has pastoral training and studied public administration and management. Rev. Ndagijimana has attended conferences and trainings about children with disabilities in the U.S., Europe, Asia and other African countries. 

Children in Rwanda with handicaps such as hearing impairment face considerable challenges. Often they are not given the same opportunities as other children in their families in terms of education and other daily needs. Parents are often ashamed of their children with disabilities and view them as a burden, which makes the children lose confidence and have low self-esteem. In addition, Rwanda is still in the process of rebuilding after the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi and there are still quite high rates of poverty and limited educational access. Few schools offer special education and those that do charge high tuition fees. However, more recently the government of Rwanda has been raising awareness about the rights of people with disabilities and many new NGOs have been founded to take care of these children and fight for their rights through advocacy.

Our first project was the Umutara Deaf School providing special needs education and support with basic sign language training and vocational training. The government donated 2.5 acres of land to build the school in 2006 and we began with 14 deaf students. By 2007, 86 deaf children were boarding there but there wasn’t sufficient school equipment and food to support all of the children. The following year, Rhenanie Palantinat from Germany and A Better World Canada provided us with the resources to improve our infrastructure and to ensure food security for our students and right now we have 99 children in the primary section.

Today, the school also provides vocational training for masonry, tailoring, and hairdressing, to 47 deaf children who want to learn a specific trade or who are unlikely to succeed in traditional schools. Three-month sign language courses are also provided to community health workers, school teachers, head teachers, police, church leaders, local leaders and youth with the goal to support deaf individuals in accessing social services.

Our organization has continued to support advocacy with families and local communities especially to protect the rights of children with hearing and speech disabilities. We have focused on access to education, national and job examinations, and equal rights. FHR also trains local leaders, health advisers, and parents who have children with hearing impairments. Through our outreach program, we’ve located deaf children and been able to support them and their communities with our services. We rely greatly on our volunteers from the neighboring towns and other countries such as Holland and the UK to keep our work going by helping us with everything from fundraising and seeking sponsorship to teaching.

Right now we are working on the outreach program to provide our services to children in their homes during the pandemic since they aren’t physically attending school. The other project that we are planning is a fundraising campaign to buy masonry, tailoring, and hairdressing equipment in order to increase the number of ones that we have.

Thank you to FHR and Rev. Dominique Ndagijimana and his team for sharing with us their wonderful work and their vision for all children to have access to a quality education–aligning with the UN Sustainable Development Goal 4. If you are interested in learning more or supporting their current or future efforts, please visit their website here.

Thanks for reading!

Maxie and Paula