Skip to main content
Jean Claude Ngabonziza sits at a table.
Jean Claude Ngabonziza has been advocating for access to white canes for people with vision impairments in Rwanda.

News

‘It was not an easy journey, but I made it’

Play audio version

Attorney Jean Claude Ngabonziza and His Work in Disability Rights in Rwanda

September 22, 2021

*** Content warning regarding genocide

KIGALI, Rwanda — Jean Claude Ngabonziza was only four years old when the 1994 Rwandan genocide began. Ngabonziza describes what he thinks he knew was happening at the start of the genocide. “… I could see that everyone was so worried,” he says. “My mother kept us in the house and was always praying and crying. They could not let us out to play, and my dad was no longer going to the fields. I was young, but I believe I was scared, too.”

After a period of hiding and trying to survive, Ngabonziza and his family were bombarded with grenades that left him with blindness. His mother, the only other surviving family member, enrolled him in HVP (Home of Virgin of the Poor), a school for children with disabilities in Gatagara, and later the Gahini Secondary School after the genocide.

Today, Jean Claude Ngabonziza is a lawyer working with UWEZO Youth Empowerment, an organization supporting youth with disabilities. UWEZO Youth Empowerment is under the umbrella cohort of the National Union of Disability Organizations of Rwanda. Since graduating from the School of Law at the University of Rwanda-Huye Campus with academic distinction, he has worked with many organizations, especially those supporting youth with disabilities. “It was not an easy journey but I made it,” Ngabonziza says. Since 2012, he has been a member of the Rwandan Union of the Blind, where he has been advocating for access to white canes for Rwandans with vision impairments.

Ngabonziza was born in 1990. Both his parents were farmers. He was raised in Kigali, in the Gasabo District and Ndera Sector. He says his family had a lot of expectations for him as their firstborn and only son in his nuclear family. He is grateful to his mother, especially for the role she played in his educational journey. Ngabonziza says, “If it was not for my mother who, instead of keeping me in the backyard, chose to take me to school, which was not an easy task for her with all the difficulties and poverty that was there after the [genocide]. She was having her own problems of trauma and post-war issues of losing her husband and family, but she fought for her son. I cannot thank her enough.”

When asked what makes him thrive, he says, “I do not limit myself. I try everything that I can do, put in more work than others. I make sure that I am satisfied with my work, which is not an easy task to achieve.” 

Rose Umutesi is a 2021 DJP Fellow and chairperson of the National Organization of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry in Rwanda (NOUSPR) and co-founder and treasurer of its umbrella organization, the National Union of Disabilities Organizations of Rwanda (NUDOR). @2021 NOUSPR. All rights reserved.

News From the Global Frontlines of Disability Justice

Retta Maha poses for the camera. She is wearing a red shirt and her hair is pulled back.

As Long as You Have a Story to Tell

DJP Fellow Retta Maha is the first blind filmmaker the DJP has worked with, and she’s paved the way in showing how individuals who are blind or low vision can tell video stories: “I found that blind people also can be filmmakers, as long as they get support. The blind have their own idea of … what the story is, and then the sighted people can help them make it real.”

Read more about As Long as You Have a Story to Tell

A shack located in Jongaya, a leprosy community in South Sulawesi, Indonesia.

‘Everyone Has Dreams’

Misconceptions surrounding leprosy continue to have significant impacts in Indonesia, a country with the third-highest incidence of leprosy in the world. In Jongaya, people experiencing leprosy live separately from the rest of the population in South Sulawesi. One former resident shares her story.

Read more about ‘Everyone Has Dreams’

Sustia Rini poses for the camera.

The Right to Health

Six years after Indonesia passed its disability law and 11 years after it ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Indonesians with disabilities still do not have equal access to healthcare. Forced to go without medical treatment, many become sicker and perhaps more disabled and fall deeper into debt.

Read more about The Right to Health

Ariani Soekanwo poses for the camera.

Rule of Law

Ariani Soekanwo became a disability rights activist as a college student. Since then, she has helped start several Indonesian disability rights organizations. Age is not an obstacle for her. Her enthusiasm for encouraging the fulfillment of rights for persons with disabilities in Indonesia pushes her to never stop thinking and creating.

Read more about Rule of Law

Naufal Asy-Syaddad stands outside homes in Indonesia.

Sticks and Stones

After DJP Fellow Naufal Asy-Syaddad was diagnosed with autism, he experienced bullying and exclusion in his early school years. Now, he’s found a home at Yogasmara Foundation, where he advocates for disability rights and raises awareness about autism. People with autism, he says, “are highly misunderstood.”

Read more about Sticks and Stones

Dija poses for the camera.

‘Treat Me Like Everyone Else’

DJP Fellow Dija spent the beginnings of her life indoors and away from others. “In my village, people with disabilities are pitied,” she says. In recent years, she has been on a mission of acceptance and opportunity for persons with disabilities. No longer afraid to leave her home, Dija draws from her own experiences in her advocacy work.

Read more about ‘Treat Me Like Everyone Else’