A visually impaired student’s zeal to defy odds
Like the common adage ‘disability is not inability,’ Emmeline Muhawenimana, who is visually impaired, has gone about her life believing that nothing could stop her from achieving everything she wanted.
Muhawenimana has completed her University of Rwanda studies. She has excelled academically as well in everyday life activities. She is a visionary and self-motivated girl who is determined to succeed in life.
“As visually impaired people, even if we need people to help us sometimes, it doesn’t mean we need them in everything and every time. They are just like every other person. Even if I’m not with anyone else, I can still do as much as anyone else. All I need is to get used to the environment I am within,” Muhawenimana says.
As she was growing up, she couldn’t stop wondering why she was the only one who was visually impaired among the six children that she was born with. She had complications which resulted from the society’s attitudes towards her, including her family.
Emmeline Muhawenimana suffered from visual complications during her childhood, which led to her blindness. But she has overcome all odds to pursue her dreams of a college education. Pictures/ Courtesy
She narrates how her siblings oppressed her. She said that she used to ask her siblings for help finding something for her. They would then ask if she was blind. You could also bring an object and place it in front of her, to see if she can see.
She was mocked by everyone around her as soon as she started school. She wondered if anyone loved or supported her, even though her parents were always encouraging her.
Her blindness story
Emmeline was born in Burundi and had good sight until she was three years old when she was struck by a strange illness.
“My parents told me it started when I had a very high fever to the extent they thought I was dead, then they took me to the hospital and it took some days for me to recover from that disease and when I recovered, it’s when they found I couldn’t see anymore.” She explains.
At six years old, she started school. The school assumed responsibility. A medical checkup revealed that she had cataracts. This is a condition that can be treated and cured provided the patient is closely monitored. Unfortunately, her treatment was not successful due to negligence by some doctors.
She was able to have an operation and she began medication. After that, she started to notice improvements and she began to see light and close objects.
It is during the medication period when her attending physician went abroad and unfortunately, the new doctors gave her drugs that did not improve her eyes.
Muhawenimana’s treatment has been offered by some people who have offered to help, but the doctors still believe that Muhawenimana cannot heal.
She attended primary school in Burundi and then moved to Rwanda to complete her secondary education at Gatagara in Rwamagana. Later, she went to the University of Rwanda, where she is currently a Communication major in the Faculty of Journalism and Communication.
The 21-year-old shares that as she was growing older she never felt uncomfortable because it’s something that she grew up with, besides some people in the society trying to intimidate her.
She claims that her schools were concerned about her, particularly her secondary school, which was for visually impaired students. There, she felt safe and supported.
It was a little more difficult when she started university, as there were very few people like herself and some lecturers weren’t used to dealing with such cases. Lectures would often visit a class and lecture randomly, not realizing that there were people who could not see or use body languages. This could make it difficult for her study with the usual people.
Another challenge was during the exam period and the visually impaired had no revision notes because it’s a process for the person responsible to prepare their notes using the dedicated technology, and also due to low equipment’s for them to use.
The student said that although they can’t see, their other senses are stronger and she can recognize people by their voices or touch. She uses technology tools such as telephones and computers like other people. She can do all of her home activities.
She believes that it would be helpful for the visually impaired if schools try to bring enough equipment, disabilities’ resource rooms and all other things that help students in their learning processes.
She also stated that society needs to change the way it views people with disabilities. For example, parents should not belittle their children with disabilities but support them to reach their goals. People with disabilities should feel responsible for the future of their lives and not accept disability as an excuse. They can learn as much as they want and they will be able to do other things rightly if they can.
Emmeline is so happy with the course she is taking because the majority of her work in this field is done via technology. She plans to become self-employed after graduation. She also wants to work in technology, such as teaching or working in industry.