Birasasira and Grace have powerful testimonies. Together this courageous mum and daughter have faced death threats, harrowing grief and homelessness. Their strength and relentless faith is compelling and challenging. They look back on the last 18 years and simply give thanks to God for His provision.
They thought my daughter was a curse - Birasasira’s story
From the moment she was born, Birasasira was proud of her daughter.
“When I saw my baby, I just thanked God. I wasn’t shocked because I had never seen a disabled person before. I loved what came out of my womb, that which God created within me,” explains Birasasira with a gentle but focused tone of voice.
Grace was born missing three of her limbs, but from the outset she had the fierce protection of a mother’s love.
Tragically Birasasira’s acceptance wasn’t shared by the wider family. Hearing of Grace’s condition, Birasasira’s in-laws were quick to reject the beautiful new-born - in their community in rural Rwanda, physical difference is viewed with suspicion. In the days after Grace’s birth, their rejection became more extreme.
They demanded that Grace be killed.
Birasasira and Grace’s experience of disability discrimination is echoed in many of the countries where Compassion works. Globally there are an estimated one billion people with disabilities. Those with disabilities are often the poorest in their community and face multiple barriers that stop them from realising their rights and living with dignity."*
Thankfully Birasasira and her husband rejected the claims that Grace was a bad omen. The young couple vowed to do everything in their power to protect her. And yet still the family pressures grew. Grace’s uncles began to threaten to murder her father if he did not kill his daughter.
Birasasira suspects that what happened next was a follow through on that threat. Grace’s devoted father was murdered during a break in at a neighbour’s house where he was working as a security guard. “We think the robbers were organised by his brothers,” Birasasira whispers, her voice wavering.
Mourning the loss of her husband, Birasasira took the bold decision to flee from Rwanda to Uganda with Grace and her four other children. With no land and no home she began working long hours to feed her large family.
Despite having travelled across the border they still faced danger: Birasasira’s husband had family in Uganda too. They insisted that no child with Grace’s disability could belong to their line. The death threats continued.
Uncertain of where to turn, Birasasira asked Betty, a local village leader, to help her family. “Birasasira was frustrated because her in-laws wanted to kill Grace and then marry her [Birasasira],” Betty remembers. “I told her I would take care of them.”
Joining Betty’s family was an immediate blessing for Grace and the whole family. Her authority provided protection and she quickly helped Grace to enrol in the local Compassion project. Grace’s sponsor was critical in easing the family’s heavy burden.
“When Grace was registered, they paid for her school fees and bought her a school uniform, wheel chair and medicine,” says Birasasira. “When she fell sick, she was admitted at Mengo Hospital and Compassion took care of all the bills. They also bought her books, a mattress, and clothes. Without Compassion, all my children would be home with me. I would not have managed to pay for their education.”
For the first time in years, Birasasira and Grace felt safe.
"My motto is ‘disability is not inability" – Grace’s story
Her smile is captivating. Her laughter is beautiful. 18-year-old Grace carries the gift of joy. Grace doesn’t see her disability as a limiting factor.
My motto is that disability is not inability. With God, all things are possible.
She uses her full length arm to move, pushing her weight forward with ease. Watching Grace carry out her daily chores is inspiring. She gets up at 6am to clean, wash up and prepare the meals for the day.
“Grace can do all things,” says Betty with pride. “One day, I went to the garden and there were some potatoes and cassava in the kitchen. When we returned, we found she had peeled and cooked food. I don’t know how she does it. I think God is always with her.”
Grace has thrived thanks to the support she has received over the years from her mum, Betty and the team at her project.
“I used to ask myself why God created me like this. I would ask my mum, ‘Am I your child or am I not.’ She would say ‘yes’ but I would just sit there and watch other children my age play. But then one day Uncle Masaba [at the project] was preaching and he was talking about believing in ourselves. He told us God loves us. He encouraged us. I was so touched. Afterward he came and talked to me and said not to cry or be lonely. I was set free in my heart.”
The simplest of encouragements can have the most profound impact on a child. Uncle Masaba’s words continue to spur Grace on.
Today she is an eloquent and outgoing 18-year-old. She’s passionate about educating others and speaking out against disability discrimination. One of her biggest dreams is to meet speaker, author and Compassion Ambassador Nick Vujicic. “I used to think I was the only disabled child in the world,” she says. "But now I know God has plans for me. The reason God created me like this is to make a beautiful story."
*DIFID, Tackling disability discrimination in Uganda, 2017