The leadership of the Rwandan Union of the Blind (RUB) underscores the challenges faced by the visually impaired, notably the difficulty in obtaining white canes due to the absence of a manufacturing industry in Rwanda.
For over a decade, RUB has persistently brought this issue to the government, urging health authorities to include white canes in the budget for affordable acquisition through health insurance known as Mutuel de santé. However, as of now, they have not received a response.
During an interview with the media on November 10, 2023, Dr. Kanimba Donathile, the Executive Director of RUB, emphasized the ongoing struggle for visually impaired individuals in acquiring white canes. Importing these canes from abroad proves challenging and expensive, with each cane priced at $35 upon arrival in Rwanda.
She expressed the lack of accessible places within the country to purchase white canes, suggesting the possibility of making them available at District Hospitals. She highlighted the financial strain, stating,”Being able to pay that amount is not easy, hard, not so good.”
Advocacy efforts persist to make white canes more easily accessible, acknowledging the difficulties faced by those in need. Dr. Kanimba emphasized that the current process requires coordination among multiple individuals for efficient importation.
Despite more than ten years of advocacy, white canes have yet to be integrated into health clinics in Rwanda. Dr. Kanimba conveyed determination, stating,
We will not get tired; we will continue to do this advocacy.”
Dr. Mukarwego Beth, the President of RUB, stressed the significance of the white cane for the blind. She highlighted its positive impact on their lives, saying,
Our white cane is beneficial for our daily life and activities. It enables us to navigate without difficulties. Consequently, if we utilize it appropriately, we will not encounter any problems. This is why we aim to communicate this message to those we encounter this week, urging them to inquire about the reasons behind our cane usage.”
She also urged people to understand the importance of the white cane, sending a message during the dedicated week.
A white cane is a device used by people who are blind or visually impaired. It primarily allows its user to scan their surroundings for obstacles or orientation marks, but is also helpful for onlookers in identifying the user as blind or visually impaired and taking appropriate care.
Celebrated since 2009, the International White Cane Day in Rwanda carries the theme “The White Cane, My Independence” in 2023. Activities leading up to the celebration on November 15 aim to raise awareness about the crucial role of the white cane in the lives of the visually impaired.