Yvette Mukamwiza is making headlines after winning a national innovation competition on October 3, 2019 for designing a digital cane for the blind. The achievement is even more impressive when considering the challenges, she has overcome in her own life.
The 19-year-old was raised by her single mother after her father abandoned the family when Yvette was three years old. “It was a tough time for me to raise two children as I had nothing at all,” said her mother Françoise. “I didn’t even have a garden to dig to get food for my children. I had to provide for the rent, school fees and upkeep for my two children. It was a hard life.”
To the relief of her mother, Restoration Church began partnering with Compassion and, at six years old, Yvette was one of the first children registered into the Child Sponsorship Program at RW0551 EPR Gahondogo child development center.
“The Compassion project came into our community at the time when I needed support the most,” said Françoise. “She was enrolled in school immediately, she was given scholastic materials, uniforms, a mattress and a blanket. Ever since she started school, I have not struggled with her school fees thanks to the support from the project.”
Yvette thrived at the child development center, which she credits with helping to shape her character.
“I was in nursery school when I was registered in the project. So for the last 15 years, I have learnt so many life lessons through interactions with my peers at the project, the letters I exchange with my sponsor and the teachings I received from the project staff have shaped me to become a responsible girl,” Yvette reveals.
A bright child, she initially dreamed of being a doctor but soon realised there was an obstacle in the way.
“Although there several reasons why I didn’t get the opportunity to pursue medicine, my extreme fear of seeing blood or wounds crashed my hopes of becoming a doctor,” she said. Instead, she began pursuing her passion for technology. “While growing up, I always wanted to become a doctor, now I’m pursuing to become a doctor for machines,” she laughed.
When Yvette reached her final year of primary school, Compassion’s support became more important than ever when her mother fell sick.
“I could not do anything,” said Françoise. “The doctors asked me to rest all the time or I risked having a stroke because of issues with my nervous system. But even with my sickness, Yvette has turned out to be a great young lady thanks to her sponsor and project staff.”
With financial support from Compassion, Yvette is pursuing an Advanced Diploma in Information Technology at Integrated Polytechnic Regional College, where she heard about the INNOVATE4Women Hackathon. The national design competition involves developing digital information and communication solutions to address challenges facing women, helping to improve their living conditions and respond to their needs.
The competition process involved pitching the invention to a panel of judges, an experience Yvette said she found simple after building her confidence at the child development centre where she learned her identity in God.
“While growing up, I liked the way they were teaching us the word of God at a tender age. I came from a Catholic background but I enjoyed the Sunday school sessions at the church,” she said.
“I’m able to interact with people better thanks to the project staff who nurtured us to be responsible and God-fearing children. At the project I was given small projects to participate in such as discussions and debates and this boosted my confidence. When I got the opportunity of being at the forefront of pitching the digital cane it was easy for me.”
Obviously impressed with her presentation, judges crowned Yvette’s team the winner. They walked away with with five million Rwandan francs (US $5494) to further develop their invention and even produce it.
“I’m happy that we won, God is gracious. It gave me more motivation to be innovative and I’m more confident now because the pitches I made gave us a chance to win. We have an Innovation Center at school and I’m part of the Innovation Club so we get a mentor who helps us go through workshops and teaches us to be able to develop innovations that provide solutions to our community,” explained Yvette.
While developing the digital cane, she said she has learnt a lot about using innovation for social change.
“I have been inspired to find ways to be innovative and provide solutions for people living with disabilities because they have the potential of attending school, conferences and contribute to society’s development,” said Yvette passionately.
RW0551 Project Director Justin Rugazura is proud of Yvette’s achievements, describing her as a role model amongst the children at the child development center.
“We are happy to see that Yvette was awarded and recognized as an innovator nationally and our prayer is for her digital cane to become global. We are more motivated and inspired to see that most of our children emulate Yvette. She has always been supportive to her peers at the project through discussions and sharing her school experience, thus inspiring those who have not gotten places at universities to join vocational centers,” he said.
Yvette may have not had the opportunity of having a father figure in her life, but the support of her mother, sponsor and project staff have motivated her to provide solutions to bring social change in her community.