Challenging the exclusion of blind students in Rwanda
Evariste Karangwa initiated and facilitated the inclusive education of blind secondary school students in Rwanda in 1997. Evariste was the head teacher of GS Gahini, a post-primary school, from 1994-99. It is estimated that one million people were brutally murdered in the genocide of 1994 in Rwanda, and many children became orphans. In his promotion of educational inclusion, Evariste faced considerable economic and social challenges during this period of Rwanda’s history. Following the completion of his MEd at the University of Birmingham in 1999, Evariste founded the Department of Special Needs Education in the Institute of Education, in Rwanda’s capital, Kigali in October 2000. In this article Evariste shows how enormous barriers can be overcome, and how community members can work together to achieve inclusion. This is an inspiring story.
It would be easy to point the finger at the poor state of the economy in Rwanda, the lack of resources and overcrowded classrooms as reasons why it would be too difficult to include marginalised groups in education. More than 65 per cent of Rwandans live below the poverty line, according to the UNDP Human Development Report of 1999. Yet some of the poorest areas in Africa have managed to overcome these challenging barriers and serve as examples to us all.
In the Rukara Commune (community) enough income was generated to sustain an inclusion project of children with visual impairment in the local secondary school, Groupe Scolaire Gahini. The project attracted the attention and support of the government, non-governmental organisations and community members. Gahini is a small government-aided school, which is very poorly resourced and overcrowded. It has 800 boys and girls, a third of whom are orphans who survived the genocide.
It was in 1997, through strenuous negotiations between the Rwanda Blind Union, myself as head teacher, and the Ministry of Education, that GS Gahini school finally admitted eight students – the first visually impaired and blind students to enter secondary education in Rwanda.
One year later at a parents’ meeting, I boldly announced plans to raise funds for the education of those blind children included in the school. Within the following month the project was ready and the first ‘parent fundraising committee’ was formed.
I explained the potential of pupils with visual impairments and talked about their needs and rights to learn with others, and how society has neglected them.
The fundraising committee was an income generation initiative that would greatly improve their education and their lives. It was made up of three parliamentarians, religious leaders, local community and opinion leaders, parents, teachers and students. They mobilised funds through charity walks, plays and dances by pupils, the sale of farm produce, etc.
Eight months later, a resource room for blind students, seven houses for volunteer staff and a reading room were opened. The inclusion of pupils with visual impairment thus took root. Since then, a capacity of 33 pupils has been sustained and now the first ever Rwandan blind students have been registered in the Rwandan Universities and higher institutions of learning in the academic year 2002-2003. My current pre-occupation is to facilitate the inclusion of blind graduates from Rwandan secondary schools in Rwandan Universities.
Head of Special Needs Education,
Institute of Education,
PO Box 5039
Tel: +250 86890
Fax: +250 520731
“It takes the whole village to raise a single child.”
This story is proof of the untapped potential in deprived African communities.
African people have a well entrenched and admirable culture of extensive and family bonds, community solidarity and a spirit of mutual support – all of which should be exploited for the benefits of inclusion for people with disabilities.