In an interactive session with the audience during the recently concluded annual Umushyikirano (national dialogue) Vanessa Bahati talked about something close to her heart and now her life mission; Helping poor children born with disabilities.
In a voice shaking with emotion, she thanked the various government institutions that helped her start the Jordan Foundation, a Rwanda-based organisation that supports local children living with visual impairments.
Articulating challenges and needs of these children now comes natural to her, and so she used the national platform to call on Rwandans to reach out to the many children especially from poor families living with disabilities.
Bahati was once a carefree young mother living a regular life of worrying about the mundane things of life like the next person, juggling a corporate job and motherhood. Then everything changed suddenly changed in 2015.
On what was supposed to be a normal visit to the hospital to deliver her fourth child, nothing had prepared her for what was to come.
She had a normal delivery and a health baby, or so she thought, until the doctors informed her that her child was born blind.
She was suddenly faced with a new reality.
“It was difficult for me to accept, and I just could not comprehend giving birth to a blind child. It took me some time to accept and face this new reality, but with time I did,” she said.
Love won. The shock was soon to be consumed by the potent force of motherly love.
She quickly realised how this tiny human being she had brought into the world needed her. She reckoned any child was fragile and helpless but a blind child was something beyond fragile. She then decided to form the Jordan Foundation.
I got to know about the Jordan Foundation through Clarence Fernandez, an Indian national and a well known friend of Rwanda who had brought Indian tourists to visit the holy site of Kibeho.
I had never met the man but when he introduced himself at the national dialogue session, I quickly remembered the name, and my memory jogged back to eight years ago when he wrote me an e-mail responding to a feature story I had written about the plight of blind people in Rwanda.
He had asked me then if there was a way those blind people could be reached and helped.
Here we were, eight years later, and the same man was telling me that the former Miss India was in the country and that a few days ago she had signed up as a Goodwill Ambassador for the Jordan Foundation.
I made a mental note about the coincidence and I wanted to ask him about it, but I decided not to distract him.
He took me and the cameraman to the hotel where Simran Deenz Ahuja whom we later got to know during the interview is Miss India 2013, was staying. \
Bundle of energy
Being around Ahuja is invigorating, she is this bundle of beautiful energy, jovial and controlled at the same time with an organic grace about her. Listening to her speak is captivating, every word that comes out of her is like a dose of peace.
She said how humbled she was that they chose her to be the Goodwill Ambassador of the Jordan Foundation, and that she will do everything in her means to support the cause especially through bringing people’s attention to the plight of the visually impaired children.
Among other things she promised to do for the foundation is shoring up support back in India to see to it that these children get special needs education for the blind, saying she will link the foundation with a big special needs school for blind children in India.
As she spoke, Fernandez would interject to complement her, and it was in one of these moments that I asked him the question that has been lingering on my mind.
Framing it on that e-mail he sent me eight years ago after my story about the plight of the blind and the current efforts he is involved in helping blind children under the Jordan Foundation, I asked him what shapes his sensitivity about the issues of blind people.
Shoring up support
He was so overcome by emotions that he broke down and cried. The room went silent, a heavy air of discomfort hung between the four of us, he tried to fight the tears but couldn’t. The question caught him by surprise just as the reaction caught me off guard.
After he composed himself he shared that his younger brother suffered from cancer of the eyes which made him blind at the age of three. He said that the agony this took him through has been with him since. He said his brother later succumbed to the cancer but left him with a hole in his heart and he made a commitment to always do whatever he could to help blind children.
Being an avid reader of the Rwanda paper The New Times, he came across the story of Bahati Vanessa and how she started the Jordan Foundation, after which he contacted the writer for Bahati’s contacts and like they say the rest is history.
“I have to thank Clarence because without him I wouldn’t have been in touch with the foundation. A few months ago he told me the story and asked me if I can be the ambassador, he didn’t force me into anything, he even told me I can make the decision after reaching Rwanda if that’s what I preferred,” said Simran.
She also revealed that six years ago her brother lost his eye when someone hit him with a stone in a jealous rage over a girl. This has affected her and her family.
Several expensive surgeries later her brother is still blind in one eye and the accident has left him with other problems too.
This month, Bahati will travel to India on the invite of Ahuja and Clarence where she is scheduled to visit the school for blind children and be part of other activities meant to shore up support for the Jordan Foundation.