Germaine Byukusenge (center, with son) was stricken with polio but she teaches new students, some of them with disabilities, at the Nyanza Vocational Training center.
Germaine Byukusenge was stricken with polio when she was 6 years old. She has been in a wheelchair ever since.
One day recently the petite Rwandan woman, her young son clambering noisily in and out of her lap, was busily teaching a group of young people how to use knitting equipment at the Nyanza Vocational Training Center.
She works five days a week there, having originally been hired as a teacher with financing from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).
In the aftermath of Rwanda’s 1994 genocide, the new government was faced with the almost impossible task of knitting the country back together again: burying the victims, caring for millions of people who had fled their homes, reintegrating the two main warring communities, the Hutus and Tutsis, demobilizing soldiers, and caring for the victims of genocide and disabled people who rarely receive adequate assistance in any developing country.
JICA teamed with the Rwanda Demobilization and Reintegration Commission to help tackle the situation. One approach was to mobilize 11 existing training centers to help ex-combatants and other disabled people.
According to Commission Chairman Jean Sayinzoga, some 1,570 people in those two special categories had received training to help them reintegrate into everyday life. An overall total of 80,573 received some assistance in such basic skills as knitting, carpentry, masonry and welding.
JICA provided financing and technical assistance, starter kits and other equipment.
Sayinzoga said the demobilization process and the specialist skills training had now ended but the program’s legacy continued.
The 11 training centers continue their work and teachers like Byukusenge, who themselves had benefitted from the program, were now helping to teach a new generation of young, often vulnerable, Rwandans.
According to Sayinzoga, several innovations introduced by JICA had also received wider and permanent application.
The workshops and classrooms at the Nyanza center are built on an undulating incline that would be difficult for persons such as Germaine to navigate in her wheelchair.
JICA helped transform the site into a handicapped-accessible campus, modifying walkways and entrances.
The commission chairman said this innovation had now become a national law.
“Other laws offering stronger help and protection for disabled people also started here, with this program,” he said.
Learning the techniques of welding at the Nyanza training center
Former combatants learn new skills to encourage them to re-integrate into mainstream society. (Ryuji Seno / 2013)