“Nothing for us, without us” – RNUD launches strong call for improved public and political participation of the deaf and hard of hearing

Aug 23, 2017

Rwanda Sign Language

Enshrined in the programming principles of the United Nations reforms – and indeed the Global Goals and other global development agendas – is the principle of leaving no one behind.

In layman’s terms, this means putting in place measures to ensure that all facets of society – youth, women, the disabled, marginalized groups, etc. – have equal access to, and benefit from, sustainable development activities with no one being left behind.

In a conference room in Rubavu District headquarters in Western Rwanda, this was the main talking point for Samuel Munana, Executive Director of the Rwanda National Union of the Deaf (RNUD).

During an interaction meeting with Rubavu District officials, Samuel painstakingly explains – through his dutiful interpreter, Binama Théophile (and a well prepared PowerPoint presentation) - the difficulties deaf people and those that are hard of hearing face in their fight for recognition.

Samuel is seemingly always smiling. Whenever he makes a point, a smile inevitably creeps over his face. A striking feature for one who has had to confront the realities of growing up hard of hearing and with slurred speech. But this did not deter him from getting an education, and making something of himself.

He is now determined to ensure that others like him lead a happy, fulfilling life too.   

Samuel tells us that it’s been four years since he took the helm at the Rwanda Union of the Deaf, a registered national NGO established in 1989 by deaf people devoted to raising awareness of the challenges and needs of deaf Rwandans and how to address their concerns.

Supported by the One UN in Rwanda, through the UNDP’s support to CSO programme, RNUD has managed to make notable progress towards the realization of the rights of persons with disabilities, a key achievement being the ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) in 2008, and the inclusion of disability as a crosscutting issue in the Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy 2, and the Rwandan national strategy 2013-2018. It is the second time that the RNUD has recieved support from the One UN. They are using this added support to extend the thier services to Rubavu, Nyagatare and Huye districts to enhance the participation of deaf and hard of hearing persons in decision-making processes at decentralized level.        

“Always include deaf people right from the planning stages for projects meant to help deaf people and those that are hard of hearing,” said Munana in his statement before district and sector officials.  

Despite the achievements in recent years, it remains the case that deaf people and those hard of hearing are often not well represented in decision-making structures at all levels of government. The lack of representation of deaf people means many are not included in government development programmes planning, and do not have a say in the issues that affect them.

This was the purpose of the interaction meeting with Rubavu District officials, to relay to them in person the issues facing deaf people and those hard of hearing, and to suggest ways to alleviate some of those issues.

“From this interaction we have had with district officials, it has become apparent that the message has been heard, which is very encouraging. The message of supporting deaf people, and including us in projects. No one should be left behind.” Samuel says.

“It was a good meeting to come together to connect each other and talk about the situation on the ground.” Munyaneza Wellars, a member of the RNUD from Rubavu District who participated in the meeting said. “The District has too many services to provide to its citizens. So, it fails to provide service to marginalised deaf people. But if the RNUD continues to provide the training on the sign language to officials including at the sector level, it would help us to communicate with them.”

Currently, there is no cooperative of the deaf in Rubavu.  Munyaneza wants to build capacity and to have a cooperative which can support the deaf to participate in the decision-making in the district. He says, “I want our service to reach the people in remote area and mobilise the villages.”

From the local authority side, the interaction meeting was also well attended including the Executive Secretary of the district of Rubavu, administration staff and social protection officers. All present agreed on the need to have grassroots leaders and social protection officers trained in sign language, which would considerably ease barriers of communication with deaf people.    

“We have lots of interaction with locals of the area, each and everyone’s voice is heard during the planning process. However, when we encounter deaf people, it is difficult to communicate with them” said the Executive Secretary of Nyundo sector, Tuyishime Jean Bosco.

For Umugire Kagaba Jeannette, the National Commission for People living with Disabilities (NCPD) coordinator in Rubavu District, there is also a need to sensitize people with disabilities (PWDs) to come out of their shell, and avoid isolating themselves, as has been seen to be the case with some.

She launched an impassioned plea to the district officials and representatives of the deaf people in the room, to reach out to the other members of the community and spread the message that they need to be proactive and also seek out solutions to their challenges.

The meeting was thereafter concluded by a closed-door session in which RNUD officials discussed with district officials preparation for the upcoming “Deaf Awareness Week”, slated for early September in Rubavu District.

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