Historical Background

Before 1994, only Christian missionaries tried to take care of people with disabilities in Rwanda but their efforts could not go far because the government was not involved and there was no law protecting people with disabilities.

In the whole country, there was only one center for people with disabilities that admitted blind people to get basic education. This is HVP Gatagara, which was founded by a Roman Catholic Church Missionary in 1962.

The school admitted between 5 and 10 blind children annually since 1979 to 1994.

These lucky children got primary education but they went back to their families without sitting for the national end of primary school examinations in order to join secondary schools. They thus stayed at home and were considered invalids. Many of them spent their entire life begging at market places, churches and streets.

A blind person in the family was considered as an embarrassment or a curse to the family.

Most families preferred to keep their blind members out of sight either in bed or in the backyard where nobody could see them.

Economically it was generally believed that a blind person was the poorest in the society because he owned nothing and he could not manage property.

This very misinformed belief started to change when RUB was established and began to inform the Rwandan Public about the potentials, needs and aspirations of people with visual impairment.

Different people, including Government officials, now believe that a blind person is as able as anyone else except for the lack of sight.

Some Rwandans with visual impairment are now university lecturers, teachers in secondary and primary schools, company managing directors, leaders of their families and most importantly many of them are raise from hopelessness to confidence. However, the Journey Continues.

The idea of founding RUB started in exile…….

Due to the political situation, Rwandans fled their homeland to neighboring countries since 1959. Among the refugees, there were parents of Donatilla Kanimba who fled to Burundi in 1961 and she became totally blind at the age of 5 years in exile.

In 1983, when she was still at the university in Kenya, she met someone from Rwanda who told her what was done for blind people at HVP Gatagara. “I was very shocked to hear that they put them together in a center, taught them how to making sisal  strings as a career, they left the center after growing up and went to beg all the rest of their life”, RUB co-founder and current executive Director.

From that time she started thinking of how the situation could be changed in her home country.  This wish began to take form 1993 when Donatilla kanimba met up in Kenya with James Ndahiro, another Rwandan who had recently lost his sight.

After completing her University Education, Ms Kanimba worked in Kenya for a number of years until 1996 when she came back to Rwanda to head the Rwanda Union of the Blind office as Executive Secretary.

After the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, Rwandans started to come back from the exile.

Donatilla Kanimba, Bihira Bartumayers, Leandre Rugema, Betty Mukarwego, Dr Patrick Suubi, Dr James Ndahiro and others were among refugees who came back from East Africa countries where they studied and founded Rwanda Union of the Blind.

“They started discussing about RUB while we were still in exile until August 1994 when it was finally founded with the able leadership of Dr James Ndahiro as President. In December 1994 the first general meeting which included sighted friends of the new organization was held and in March 1995 RUB appeared in the government official gazette as a fully registered as non-profit organization in Rwanda.

It was founded but the leaders were still staying outside the country because they were full time employees or students.

Challenges starting

“It was not easy. It was very hard. Some policymakers did not believe that blind people could be taught how to cook, cultivate or even be educated aiming for employment”. Explained Ms Donatilla Kanimba.

By 1994, there were changes at HVP Gatagara schools because blind pupils were undertaking primary education using Braille but they couldn’t continue to secondary schools because they did not sit the primary leaving exam (examen de fin d’annee). After the primary education most went back home. A very small minority selected by the teachers depending on their performance were taught massage.

 RUB started by lobbying the ministry of education (MINIPRISEC). In December 1995 when the primary leaving exam was done, 11 blind candidates sat it together with other children. Brailing of the examination papers had to be done for the blind students on the same day while they waited in another room.

 The next challenge was to place the blind students into secondary school. The first school they were sent to, did not want to admit them because as the headmaster said they were unprepared for the undertaking  When this problem was reported to the ministry, the response was that RUB should find something else for these children because there was nothing else the ministry could do.

They missed one academic year until 1997 when G.S. de Gahini accepted to take them, by this time they were a double in take.

The first students graduated from secondary schools in 2002 but they could not Join University until 2008, for the same reasons, the universities felt unprepared to admit them.

Secondly, due to the challenges faced by the blind students none of them had attained the required pass mark.


After this first activity, RUB felt the need to reach out to blind people who could not go to school and who were invisible in their homes. In 1996, with financial support from Trocaire, an Irish NGO, RUB visited blind people at commune level in Kigali city and Kigali rural prefectures. It was obvious that rehabilitation was necessary for blind adults and youth beyond school age. The idea of a rehabilitation program was conceived.

The ministry of youth provided the premises where to set up the program and the first support came from SHIA now called MYRIGHT through the Swedish Federation of the Blind ( SRF).Isolation and solitude coupled with poverty were identified as the greatest problems that blind people faced. To solve this problem, RUB came up with the idea of establishing local associations (RUB branches) where blind people could meet regularly giving them a chance to get out, and think together how to combat poverty among them.