Jean Marie Furaha is a man of opinion and intent. Although our interview was done with the help of sign language, it was easy to perceive his zeal and determination in imposing purpose to his life and that of others.
Furaha lives with both visual and hearing impairment. As we spoke, he would hold onto his interpreter to feel the hand shape he was making as he spelt out his words.
He wants advocacy and a better life for those living with disabilities. That’s his goal and vision he has always had ever since he lost sight.
The 54-year-old was born with hearing and speech impairment, and only lost his sight later in life, something he says put a halt to so many dreams he had in life.
But this didn’t stop him from pursuing a purposed life.
“I faced so many challenges but the main one was communication. My biggest worry is not being able to communicate with my family; I can’t watch news and know what’s happening in the world. It’s like living alone in the world a very big challenge for me,
Movement is also a challenge, though innovations such as the ‘white cane’ are trying to address this. Accessing different services is hard too, I am sure others face the same. This is very tough, for example when I want to go see a doctor, without an interpreter, it is impossible for me. So, we are left at the mercy of others who in most cases think for us,” Furaha reveals.
Motivated by these tough situations he endures daily, Furaha decided to learn tactile sign language and braille in order to be able to communicate and lead a fuller life, for him and others.
He knew that as long as he was able to write at least, somehow he would be able to tell the rest of the world about the challenges people living with disability face, more so the ‘deafblind,’ and do advocacy on how to improve their lives.
In the process, he became part of an organisation-Rwanda Organisation of Persons with Deafblindness- where he serves as the chairperson.
Along with his interpreter, Furaha is able to carry out his duties diligently, ensuring that society becomes inclusive and develops enhanced standards of living for people with Deafblindness.
His organisation also works to ensure that more people learn sign language in order to have access to information and be able to speak to other people.
It also serves to bring together persons with disabilities and offer them a space where they can share their opinions, that way, ensuring the observance and protection of their rights.
“As a family here at the organisation, our role is to do advocacy such that those who didn’t get a chance to go to school, get some education. But also, get a chance to interact with others, because it can be lonely out there for us.”
Desire for inclusion
“Even though I got this chance and privilege of serving others, I still face challenges. Most people think we are not capable of being useful to society,” Furaha shares, adding that some parents are still ashamed of their children who have disabilities to the extent of locking them in houses.
“A parent can have a child that neighbours know nothing about. They consider them hopeless and lock them inside houses. It can be traumatising for such children and this remains a big challenge. Advocacy is still needed,” he says.
As a leader, Furaha believes he would have done more than leading the organisation but communication is his biggest barrier. Nonetheless, he is thankful for the impact he is making.
He is also grateful for the different platforms that work hard to ensure the rights of those living with disabilities are fulfilled and respected.
His goal is to continue advocating for the disabled and ensure mind-sets for society in general are changed.