One woman's efforts to empower visually impaired women economically are being dampened by stigma in the society, where even those who are skilled are discriminated against and denied a chance to work.
Beth Gatonye moved to Rwanda several years ago to work as a professional masseur and physiotherapist, but felt compelled to help after seeing the appalling conditions of the visually impaired women, most of whom are single mothers are barely able to take care of their families.
She launched an initiative called “Seeing hands,” where she started training the women how to be professional massage therapists and earn a living.
However, even after gaining these skills, they are rejected by potential employers like hotels because of being visually impaired.
Nyirabera Clarisse 30, graduated in clinical psychology four years ago, but she failed to get employment in her field of study. She joined other visually impaired women to get trained on massage therapy.
“The society is unfriendly to the visually impaired and is divided between those with disabilities and those without disabilities. These two groups don't mix and the level of stigma is appalling,” said Ms Gatonye.
Up to 26 visually impaired women, including those with children, have been trained under the seeing hands initiative, which Ms Gatonye wants to turn into an NGO.
Ms Gatonye’s father is deaf and a businessman bin Kenya. She grew up seeing first-hand the effects of stigma.
According to a World Health Organisation report released in 2012, one in every 100 people in Rwanda is visually impaired. The number of visually impaired people is currently estimated at 400,000.