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After I finished primary school my father was unable to provide for our family, so I moved to the capital city of Burundi, Bujumbura, in order to work. I successfully started my own business; but fell ill and the left side of my body became paralyzed.

I joined Handicap International which provides therapy, education, mentoring and treatment. I learned three things which have since guided my life and my work:

  • Accept myself as a person with a disability.

  • A mental disability is the most severe kind.

  • No one is exempt from a disability.

I wanted to share this learning with others and was fortunate that Burundian Development Solutions (BDS) leaders approached me to work with physically disabled participants. Their plan was to use income generating activities to teach self- acceptance of their individual disabilities.

In our society people with a physical disability are ashamed--some families even hide them away from the eyes of the community.

We started by working together making mats out of Banana tree leaves. The mats can be used to shade the mushroom spawns. BDS found a market for our mats and we recently sold ten for 40,000 FBU ($20 USD). Our group divided the money, and each of us received $1.50 to buy soap, salt, or whatever else we needed.

When working with my group, I use the Stewardship Program promoted by BDS to teach that we are all blessed as children of God. Our disabilities are not a punishment: we do not need to feel shame. We CAN contribute to our families and communities.

I thank BDS for being an organization without discrimination. BDS staff treat people with disabilities the same way it treats people without disabilities. BDS leaders invested in me because they understood that having one arm and one leg did not mean I was not able to work to help others.

Fabien Ntakarutimana

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