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Fausta, the advocate since her tender childhood. (A story of Fausta Bakunda)

My name is Fausta Bakunda, I live in Gashiro Village, Mutara Cell, Mwendo Sector in Ruhango District. I

am 49 years old and I currently live with disability. I have finished secondary school, I started a little bit late. I started Senior 1 at the same time as my firstborn. At the time, I was 35 years old and it was something new in my village. “Everyone was very surprised” she admitted. Every Voice Counts program asked me to work with them because everyone knew how I was always eager to support and take care of others.

The EVC program identified and selected me as someone who can work with and represent people living with disabilities. And of course, they checked if I was

okay with it. They also asked me when I became an advocate, I replied to them that it was since I was born because I have always fought to eradicate any form of injustice, I have always advocated for other kids in my neighborhood and everyone here knows that I don’t keep quiet when there are cases of violence. I ensure that they are reported, so far, I have reported more than four

cases in my neighborhood, but I am sure they are more I handled and we will continue to fight against gender-based violence. Through Every Voice Counts program, we received trainings on how to use umugoroba w’ababyeyi (mothers’ evening platform) as an opportunity to solve some of our most urging issues- like violence against women and girls.

EVC encouraged me to continue that advocacy journey and I even ended up creating an association of people living with disability and we have a saving scheme that helps us to access funds where members can borrow money with a 5% interest rate. This association was trained on the planning process of Imihigo and how to include the ideas of the people living with disabilities. They have elaborated on the special needs of this particular group namely : activities that fight community stigma against different forms of disability, accessibility of public places and spaces to people living with disability, and access to funds that can cover special support systems.

One example of a time when I advocated for someone else was that in this neighborhood, there is a child who was severely hit by her parents just because the child was stunted. I approached them and told them it was not the child’s fault and that they should rather try to understand that most of the fights in the family are a result of poverty and in this case poverty was the lead cause of the child malnutrition. They stopped mistreating her.

When I am talking to people, I use my personal life as an example. I told them the challenging part of my family life when we would spend a day without eating but my couple was the happiest in the neighborhood that people would even wonder why we were laughing that much. I tell people that what matters the most is the humility in our hearts.

Another example of my interventions is with families that have children living with disability and who tend to hide them, ashamed that their children were born and live with disabilities. As someone who is the representative of the people living with a disability, I like to reach out to them and encourage them to let their children be free. Now, the families are more courageous to bring those children to some of our meetings. Furthermore, I have been reporting cases of gender-based violence.

There was also a case of community conflict where I intervened and talked to the police officers. Later on, the local authorities and the police were able to fairly resolve that conflict.

So far the biggest impact that Every Voice Counts Program had on my life was an advanced level of empowerment. I used to listen to people’s issues without knowing what should be done to solve or cope with their issues, now I have been trained on the next steps of reporting to and collaborating with the authorities in charge. I used to just pass by but now I am no longer a bystander. I take the time to talk to people about the issues we are facing and we share advice on the change we want to see in our community and what can be done to improve so we can all have happy lives. I am no longer pleased to just say ‘Oh, that situation is sad’. I do something about it.

Some of the challenges I face on my day-to-day life are that some people are resistant to change and chase me away because they think that I amplify issues and the local authorities at the village and cell levels take much longer to intervene when we report community issues to them. Although I am in charge of regularly following up on 13 households on how to sustain gender equality and equity at the family level. I am getting a little bit older and the energy I had is reducing, I am now discussing with the local authorities to see if I can mentor my successor.

My advice to people living with physical disabilities is that they should never feel isolated or incapacitated to do good work in their community. They can do a lot with the lives they have. For instance, I am here advocating for the most vulnerable community members.