Reaching Your Destination: Artisan Jean De Dieu’s Story

Story by Claudine Tuyisenge 

“We are all able. I can’t adjust the wind, but I can adjust the sails to always reach my destination. Disability is not an obstacle to success.

Jean De Dieu Nsengiyumva (Jado) sits at a table proudly displaying his hand-carved wooden ornaments. A member of the Inganzo Cooperative based in Muhanga District, he began working with Azizi Life in 2010.

Jado was born in 1976 with a physical disability and has been on crutches since he was ten years old. Growing up, he had little hope for a meaningful life, as he never expected to get very far in life. He considered his other siblings to be very able and capable- much more so than himself.

Jado (far right) and the Inganzo Cooperative

At the age of 9, someone took Jado to a center that treats people living with disabilities, about a four-hour drive from his home. They offered him health services and primary education.  Jado started Primary 1 (first grade) when he was 10 years old.  He had never expected to be able to study. He didn’t know how to read and write. When his primary education was finished, Jado, unfortunately, did not continue to high school as he was from a poorer family and did not have family connections. When he went back home to visit his family for the holidays, he found out that his young sister had passed away, leaving Jado with two remaining siblings and his parents.

His father would motivate and encourage him saying,

“Fear not my son, hard things are put in our way, not to stop us, but to call out our courage and strength. I am sure you will become someone great. Ignore what you see, and work hard.”

Sadly, his father passed away unexpectedly when Jado was in school attending Primary 4. He was studying far from home and had not been informed of his father’s death. He was not able to attend his funeral. A year later, when Jado finished his Primary studies, he went back home and found his mother had passed away, too. Again, he had not been informed at the time as communication was a significant challenge.

Jado carving new products for Azizi Life

Jado found himself in a nightmare – losing both his parents and his sister, on top of living with a disability. “I started asking myself: how am I going to survive?” He knew that the majority of available jobs in the village involved physical work, like cultivating or building. He started thinking of artwork using his arms which won’t require him to stand up while working. In his early teens, he loved drawing.

He decided to be strong as the head of the family, the orphaned first born.

A few years later, as they were struggling to survive, his young brother left home and Jado was living with his only remaining sister, but it was only a few years later that she too passed away. Jado was facing a lonely future with no family to help him. “I did not think I would get married…living life in this world seemed worse than dying.”

“I started to think that maybe I can go to the church and join a church choir.” He did, and in that parish, he joined a theater group also. He was very popular there and made many friends. The nuns loved the way that he was always friendly and smiling, despite his disability. Knowing that he was an orphan living alone, one of the nuns invited Jado to visit her at the convent. Knowing his creative gifts, he showed him different images including a crucifix and asked him if he could draw some of them, but Jado was not able. Nevertheless, the nun had compassion on him and the next morning she offered Jado a room to stay at the convent. Whilst there, he met some Italian tourists who had formed a partnership with that parish, and one of them started training him in various art and craft skills. Later, they brought other young men to train together and from there, the Inganzo group was born. The new group made little money, as work was not coming in consistently; the Italians were only coming once a year. Still, Jado was thankful.

A few years later, at the very beginning of Azizi Life, staff heard about Inganzo and went to visit them.  The young men of Inganzo were among Azizi Life’s first artisan partners, and the relationship remains central to both groups to this day. Jado enjoyed sharing ideas about new designs and expanding his skills to improve the quality of his craft. It was an encouraging time for him. He aimed to save money from the sale of his products in their saving group. With the future looking brighter, he started to think about dating.

Through his savings from Azizi Life sales, Jado managed to purchase a piece of land and build his own house; something that he once thought he would never be able to do. He went on to marry his fiancée in what he described as the “happiest of days.”

Jado and his wife on their wedding day

Today, Jado is the father of two sons. “I can provide for my family’s basic needs and fight the spirit of begging.” He remembers a time when he went shopping, and the shop keeper gave him money before he had a chance to buy anything. Later on, his neighbor told him that coin was for him since they thought that he must have been coming to beg, as many disabled people do. For Jado, this just motivated him to work even harder and never beg, for the sake of his dignity and self-reliance.

With the fair wage he receives from the sale of his products through Azizi Life, Jado can truly provide for his family. “I try my best to make sure my family can afford food, school fees, and family medical insurance,” he says, smiling. Indeed, disability need not be an obstacle to success, as Jado’s life testifies.

If you feel inspired by this story, give it a ‘Like’, share it, and spread the word! Purchase Inganzo’s beautiful hand-crafted products here.

Stay tuned from new products carved by Jado and the Inganzo Cooperative coming Fall 2019!

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