International Day of Persons with Disabilities – Henriette’s Story
In the countries where we work, people with disabilities remain one of the most marginalised groups. They are discriminated against and stigmatised by the general public and are often overprotected by their carers. We strongly believe that every person deserves an opportunity to maximise their well-being, independence and potential, whatever restriction their disability might impose on them. When participants are encouraged and enabled to carry out activities, when they can make decisions, when they are given responsibilities, their motivation and interest grow which then result in increased quality of life. One shining example of this approach is Henriette, whose story you can read below.
Henriette is 23 years old. For the past 18 years she has been living at the Urugo rw’Amahoro (Family of Peace) in Rwanda. It is a small church-based centre in the small town of Kayonza for people with severe disabilities, who are rejected by their families and found on the streets. Henriette was picked up from the streets when she was about five years old. She has learning difficulties.
The centre is staffed by volunteers who are extremely committed to their disabled residents but have been lacking support, education and information to meet their developmental needs. Henriette used to say “No” to everything suggested to her; she would never get involved in any individual or group activity. Sometimes she would be aggressive. She refused to take care of herself or her belongings and volunteers were doing everything for her.
As part of World Jewish Relief’s ENABLE project, our long term partner in Rwanda, the Streets Ahead Childrens Centre Association (SACCA) collaborated with Urugo rw’Amahoro and started organising regular visits of professional staff and volunteers, as well as a range of capacity building and social activities.
The work started from building relationships with residents and volunteers, offering modest practical help and socialising regularly. Former street girls who are now residing at SACCA’s centre have proved to be great social workers. They entertained residents at Urugo rw’Amahoro but also taught them various self-care and domestic skills. Seeing new faces and observing new activities really stimulated Henriette. Slowly, she started to get involved. Praise and encouragement from SACCA’s psychologist and girl volunteers further motivated Henriette and she started helping with chores at the centre. Music played a very important part in unleashing Henriette’s spirit. She started expressing affection towards the centre volunteers and other residents. She became more relaxed and stopped biting her nails.
After only six months of the project, Henriette is very joyous, active and social. Now she takes care of herself and her clothes, she helps to clean the centre and welcomes the visitors. She also looks after Christian, a disabled young man who lives with his family but now spends time at the Family of Peace. Henriette appreciates what she is learning from Juvenal, SACCA’s psychologist and she calls him “Teacher”. Henriette’s speech is improving, and she is doing her best to communicate. She said;
“I like all the people who live here and Christian is my friend, mon cheri. The girls from SACCA and the Teacher are coming to teach us songs and dancing – they are my friends. I can dance now, I am happy.”