Good Cause: Seeing Hands Rwanda

Seeing Hands Rwanda

Seeing Hands Rwanda is an awesome massage therapy and training NGO that supports visually impaired people in Rwanda. Two of my good friends are regular customers and huge fans of their work who book regular massages to their home. You can learn more about them on Facebook and can book an appointment by calling 0782 543 561.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

My name is Beth Gatonye and I am a dual citizen of Rwanda and Kenya with two children.

I am trained in esthetic arts and sciences from the Pivot Point International Cosmetology Research Center. I am also Certified in the art of body wrapping and contouring From Totally Africa, and have a Diploma in Shiatsu from the Japan Body Care Academy.

I have more than fifteen years experience in this field. I’m an entrepreneur and I have been giving free training in massage therapy to women in Rwanda since 2011.  But since 2017, I started focusing mainly on visually impaired women.

I first came to visit Rwanda in 2010, then settled here in 2012 when I started a spa business in Gacuriro.

Can you tell us about Seeing Hands Rwanda?

Seeing Hands Rwanda is an NGO that promotes the social and economic well-being of persons with visual impairments by giving free  massage therapy training and tries to create employment opportunities for young Rwandans with visual impairments, who desperately need support to help them get jobs. We are also trying to break the barriers of inclusion and social connection.

We mainly focus on women with   visual impairments. We want to serve as an interface   with an interrupted transitioning skills , bridging the critical link between training and employment , in order to overcome barriers .

I founded it in 2017 as a social enterprise, then it recently started functioning as an NGO.

Where did the idea for Seeing Hands come from?

According to the Rwanda National Census  statistics 2012, there was a population of more than  57,513 persons with visual impairments. The population continues to grow and most of them face social and economic prejudice.

The idea came when I realized that women with visual impairments and those with mental disabilities,  are the most marginalized and have the highest rate of unemployment among persons with disabilities  in Rwanda. Most of them are isolated and cannot meet their most basic needs. I started it to try and help change that.

What has been some of the feedback so far from your customers?

Most of it is very positive, most of our clients come back and they bring others.

Why did you choose to start this in Rwanda?

My husband is Rwandan and I am a dual citizen of Rwanda and Kenya and I have lived and worked here for almost ten years. I did not move here to start Seeing Hands, I actually was training and working with poor women in massage therapy for about five years and it grew from there. I have also been a volunteer.

What are some of the challenges Seeing Hands has faced so far?

Unfortunately, bling and visually impaired persons are pitied and marginalized and few people believe they are capable of living independently or working. Their chances of getting a job in the primary labor market are very limited,  The vast majority are unable to use their education to find gainful employment. For example there are people who believe that our therapists have no right to work in some places because of their disability and believe that it portrays a bad image which is not true. The discrimination is worse than anyone can imagine but we are working hard to help with this.

We lack  external funding which  may hamper training and employment program expansion plans. We need to cover the living expenses of our beneficiaries for the duration of the training. There are many young visually impaired in people villages all over the country who are willing to get the free training, but might not be able to cover other expenses. This year we have only enrolled three trainees so far and we hope to grow that number.

We are not yet connected to the networks that we need to advance in our work and so this is a continued challenge.

How has your experience been so far running a social business in Rwanda?

I am very passionate about issues relating to women. Much of my experience with Seeing Hands Rwanda has allowed me to gain a deeper understanding about social entrepreneurship and to get a closer and more meaningful look at the issues visually impaired Rwandan women are facing on a daily basis. It has provided me with a lens to examine and understand gender and development issues that visually impaired women are dealing with in Rwanda.

What is the training process for a new masseuse?

Seeing hands Rwanda provides training for its beneficiaries in professional sports and remedial massage, Swedish massage therapy, and Japanese dry massage (Keiraku). We also started short courses for those who were already trained in massage therapy some years back but, due to lack of employment, they  forgot what they were taught and had to undergo refresher courses.

The first course lasted three months, and they started working upon completion. In addition, with time, we will be able to train those who have never been trained and these courses will last one year. At the moment, I am the one training but I hope to find volunteer tutors from overseas, with assistance from local  blind staff. We do not have Scholarships yet provided to cover the living expenses of beneficiaries for the duration of their training, but that is a goal of ours.

Seeing Hands Rwanda will also conduct advanced training (training of trainers or ‘TOT’) for qualified therapists to develop their capacity and involve them in the running of the project so that the project can be increasingly localized in-line with our sustainability goals. Seeing Hands Rwanda also operates an employment program where jobs are provided for qualified therapists (course graduates) within income generating massage clinics (there are four presently in operation) with the revenue from paying clients helping to cover overheads, fund the training program, and the continued and sustainable expansion of the project.

Primary activities include:

  • Training of blind beneficiaries in massage (and soon we will start training  in business management and administration skills).
  • Training of trainers (TOT).
  • Coordinating volunteers.
  • Administration including inductions, placements, marketing,  and maintaining necessary institutional registrations.
  • Managing the day to day operations of four income-generating clinics, with 10 staff (including blind and sighted support staff).
  • Developing & expanding links and partnerships with relevant local and international agencies.

What are some positive stories to come out of your work so far?

Karuhura immaculate was born in 1987in Nyabihu district, the third born in a family of seven.  Her family is very poor. she lost her sight  at the age of three due to glaucoma.

Before she cleared high school in 2009, she got pregnant and she had to go back to the village. After three years, she went to study massage at Makines but before she completed her course she got pregnant again and gave birth to her second daughter in 2013.

She never got a job since completing her course until she joined Seeing Hands in 2017. She lived in the village as a single mother for many years with no job, but when she heard about Seeing Hands, she moved to Kigali, took a refresher course, and now she is one of the best in massage therapy and works at the Kigali International Airport. Her life changed and she is no longer depending on her parents who are also very poor.

Where can people get a massage from the team at Seeing Hands Rwanda?

People can get massage from the following places:

  • Above Igihozo Supermarket – Kacyiru on KN 3 Avenue (not far from the American Embassy). Open every day including weekends.
  • Ituze Yoga and Mindfulness Center – #19, KG 529 Street (Wednesdays and Saturdays only)
  • Kigali international Airport – Inside the departure lounge next to Viva Shop.
  • Peponi Living Spaces – KG 729 Street, Kagugu (by appointment only, any day)
  • We also go to homes and offices (call 0782 543 561 to book). We are fully equipped.

What are some future plans and goals for Seeing Hands Rwanda?

I would like the Project to have an entirely sustainable future. In the long term, the goal is to be run by the visually impaired for the visually impaired. We hope to provide long term, life-changing employment for our  beneficiaries far into the future!

 

About Kirsty

A Canadian who left in 2001 to wander around the world in search of sun, beautiful views and goat brochettes. Found Kigali in July 2010 and it seems like the perfect fit. I expect to be here until I get kicked out for defiantly walking on the grass while wearing flip flops.