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Stronger together: how community groups are empowering people with disabilities

A self-help group in Rwanda has helped people with disabilities overcome rejection, isolation and poverty.

Written by Agnes McGrane | 06 Aug 2021

Leonille, from Rwanda, used to feel lonely and helpless. As a person with disabilities, she struggled to find a job and saw no way to contribute to her family’s finances. She felt rejected by her wider community and without purpose in her everyday life. But once she started meeting with other people with disabilities in her neighbourhood, Leonille realised that, together, they could accomplish more than they ever thought possible.
Leonille was equipped by Tearfund’s local partner to set up a self-help group in her community. These groups are an effective way to create a supportive environment for people to work towards common goals, transform their lives and lift themselves out of poverty. 

Leonille began connecting with other people with disabilities in her community, encouraging them to join the group.  

‘The convincing part was not easy. Most of the group members believed that they were no use for anything,’ says Leonille. ‘Once we came together, we were able to discover our abilities. Disabilities don’t necessarily mean limitations. We complement each other depending on abilities and disabilities.’ 

New purpose

Nineteen other people with disabilities joined Leonille’s group, and they started meeting every week to encourage each other. They also committed to saving money and pooled their resources and abilities to start making and selling handmade products. 

‘We hold weekly meetings, save money, organise Bible study and prayer sessions... and this keeps us busy so we do not have more time to think about our disabilities,’ says Macienne, one of the group members. 

The self-help group members meet regularly to support each other and pursue common goals. Photo credit: Tearfund partner

Since joining together, the group members have a new sense of worth and purpose. They have formed new friendships, learned new skills, and are now able to contribute financially to support their families.

Each group member now owns a goat – which provides them with milk – and many have started new small businesses making jewellery, handbags or knitted items.

‘This category of people is normally left out and the society does not consider them,’ says Leonille. ‘I encouraged others to come together to value our talents, escape from loneliness, and improve our living conditions. I used to tell them that disability doesn’t mean inactivity.’

Lifting each other up

The name that the group chose for themselves translates to ‘let’s lift each other up as disabled people’.  It’s a name they live up to: they have helped each other to overcome their challenges and found new hope for the future.

Tearfund has partnered with local churches and other organisations around the world to set up hundreds of self-help groups like Leonille’s. As a result, thousands of people are being empowered to lift themselves out of poverty, and marginalised people are finally finding a place where they are welcomed and accepted.

Please join us in praying for self-help groups, especially as they deal with the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Pray with us

Dear God,

Thank you for Leonille and all the members of her self-help group in Rwanda. We pray that they and their businesses will continue to thrive, despite the current challenges of the pandemic. We lift up people with disabilities, especially in places where they are facing discrimination and rejection. We ask that you will connect them to self-help groups, and to other people and places of support and encouragement.

In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.

Written by

Written by  Agnes McGrane

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