Burundi Time’s Joella Niciteretse spoke with Bernadette Niyoyitungira a student at Summit University a victim of 1993 civil war, shared her passion and experience in social and professional life.
Bernadette is finalizing her studies at Summit International University majoring in Hospitality and tourism. She became the first Runner- Up of the Miss handicap Burundi event in 2014. Bernadette is also a sports woman playing sitting volley-ball and competing in swimming.
How did you get physically disabled?
I got my leg cut during the civil war of 1993-1997 while in Gitega in Bugendana commune. That morning, I lost all my siblings and, the bullet that killed my mother passed through my right leg.
Due to a number of people who were hurt, doctors had to do quick treatment to save the lives, so they had to cut off my leg without checking it up.
How has the amputation of your leg impact your life?
On a negative side there are so many activities I wish I could do and I am not able to. I lost my self-esteem because my society was not giving space and with some setbacks, I could not even be creative. It was hard for me to get a prosthetic since this one is very expensive and my father could not afford it. So this prevents me to wear any kind of cloth I wished and put on different style of shoes.
But on a positive side it opened many doors for me to grow my network, be involved in different associations and Paralympic activities. I got to understand that life depends on God just surviving from the war when I was half dead. I got to avoid the stigma and stood up to advocate for people with disabilities, mentor some of my friends and be in this world as a living testimony to give courage and motivation for other people like me and even for others who feel like giving up.
How was it like to start swimming?
Sincerely speaking it has been a challenge to me. First I could not believe that I could swim neither could I believe that someone could rescue me from drowning.
I was not seeing myself taking off clothes in front of the normal people, I could imagine myself what they would be talking about, how they would look at me and mainly how they would laugh at me.
I had to get courage from other people baring in my mind the objective and goals. I was weighing much by that time, and I was getting advice from friends on how to lose weight then someone mentioned that I had to do swimming.
I remember my first swimming practices, I could sit and wait for the number of people to reduce in the swimming pool. When I started, I felt I would never be absent but the only problem I had was people who were staring at me when I took off clothes and my prosthetic
What lessons have you learned from your disability?
I learnt that no matter how good one can be the society may try to turn the success down. Then I decided to stand up, speak and do what is best for me and for the society.
I also learnt to set goals and objectives and to give them direction to where I want to be. I must work on myself first to become an inspirational in order to find something to give and advocate for.
I also learnt to be thankful to God for who I am today. I would have been dead by now, but God kept me safe and still alive. Everything that I have was given by him, nothing comes by an accident it is by the grace of God.
Disability is not inability that is the important thing that made me who I am today. I believe in myself and I am not ashamed by failure.
Who inspire you? Or who is your swimmer idol?
Elsie Uwamahoro inspires me a lot. She performed well and got International prizes when she represented Burundi by then, she became an Olympic champion. Whenever I was looking at her and anytime I sat with her our conversation was about how she got to that level. Apart from being a champion she is also working as a secretary from National Olympic committee in Burundi.
What are your achievements so far?
I was awarded a certificate and a trophy for ICT in Egypt as a Burundian ambassador for people with disabilities. Was also awarded a certificate for participation in YALI (Young African Leadership Initiative) in Kenya a program founded by the former American president Barack Obama. Apart from that, the volley ball team in which I play from has been winning different matches.
What is your dream as a swimmer?
I dream of representing my country in the upcoming Paralympic Olympic Games, be a successful woman in my career as well as in my marriage and remain an advocate for people with disability.
What is your message to people with disability?
I would like to tell them that they should believe in themselves. They are not the first and the last to have disability, but the fact of not believing in themselves is a total inability.
They should know that success is not an accident. They have to stand up and fight for their rights as well as contributing to the economic development of the country.
They should also join associations and sports groups where they will have to be with others to avoid being pessimistic
Message to Burundian Government?
I call on the Burundian government to provide us with financial and moral support in our activities especially in the sports domain.
Showing less interest for people with disability is like leaving one kid in the street in the middle of the night.
We should have a focal person in the government representing disabled individuals to effectively communicate with the boards.
Finally, the government should monitor all public buildings to ensure that they are accessible for the disabled individuals and should also look for an agreement point so that International handicap retakes its activities in Burundi. It was so much supporting us in different domains.
What is your dream place?
I dream about traveling to Singapore and New York City for tour because they are wonderful tourism destination. However, I wish to stay in Burundi it is good for investment and life is affordable.
What is the most valuable thing people you wish to receive?
The most valuable thing that people should give me is respect. I wish to be treated equally no matter how I am, where I come from, my ethnicity neither my race.