Jeannette Uwimana visiting a school dedicated to early childhood development in November 2023. | © N. Nyirabageni / HI
In October 2023, Jeannette Uwimana, the young woman with hearing loss who was elected Miss Rwanda Innovation 2022, became HI's ambassador in Rwanda.
Jeannette Uwimana was born with a hearing disability. As a child, she had difficulty accessing education until she enrolled in a school that welcomed children with disabilities. Thanks to this opportunity, she was able to prove herself a brilliant student and thrive. Now aged 27, Miss Jeannette is committed to ensuring that all children, with or without disabilities, have this same opportunity.
HI chose to work with Miss Jeannette because she shares the same values as our association. Living with a disability herself, Miss Jeannette is convinced that, given the opportunity, everyone, with or without a disability, has potential that can be developed.
“It was to prove something that I decided to compete for the title of Miss Rwanda in 2022. A lot of people thought I was being too bold because of my disability. But I succeeded. I may not have won the Miss Rwanda crown, but I'm proud to have won the Miss Innovation crown... I want to use it as a means of achieving my ultimate goal: to give a voice to all those who are being not listened to and who, even today, remain shut away at home.”
"Humanity and inclusion are two values that resonate with me. My aim is for people with disabilities to be treated with dignity, for their rights to be respected and for them to be able to participate in all of life's activities, without any barriers. I believe that together we can change the lives of people with disabilities."
This is the vision that she shared with the parents of children with disabilities she met during her visit to HI’s Homes and Communities project, which is being run in consortium with World Vision and the Imbuto Foundation. Miss Jeannette visited two groups of parents of children with disabilities, including children with hearing and sight loss.
"Going to school gave me a lot of self-confidence," she told them. “If my parents hadn't given me that chance, I wouldn't be here today. I wouldn't be the person I am today. It was because of school that I dared to enter the Miss Rwanda competition with my disability. Everyone was amazed at my audacity...So, take your children to school, whatever their disability! You're opening the door to a better future for them..."
It was with these words that she encouraged them, as their children practised learning sign language and Braille. They were delighted and reassured by what they heard.
"When I found out my child had a disability, I thought the heavens had fallen in on me...," confided Jacqueline, who has two children with hearing loss. Jaqueline suffers from the stigma she experiences, but Miss Jeannette's testimony has given her the courage to move forward and support her children.
The collaboration contract signed between HI Rwanda and Miss Jeannette defines the ambassador's role as being to promote HI's mission and values, in particular the values of humanity and inclusion. These values are reflected in HI's actions in Rwanda and its work alongside people with disabilities.
Thanks to this collaboration, HI and Miss Jeannette will be able to work together to promote inclusion and participation for all, to defend diversity and equity and to valorise differences.