Skip to main content

Ensuring Deaf young people aren’t excluded from sexual and reproductive health services in Rwanda

In Nyagatere, an isolated region of Rwanda, the Imbere Heza (Bright Futures) project works to improve sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) for marginalised and at-risk deaf young people.  

As a result, increasing numbers of deaf young people have received previously-inaccessible SRHR information, enabling them to improve not only their health, but also their wider life chances.  The scheme has also helped to identify at-risk deaf young people, who are then further supported to participate in VSO’s livelihood skills development projects. 

Training healthcare providers in sign language and Deaf culture

Community health worker George Gahamanyi with Imbere Heza participant James Sandes VSO/Mussa

Community health workers, like George Gahamanyi, have learned about Deaf culture and Rwandan Sign Language.

The project has trained 147 healthcare providers (22 professional nurses and 125 volunteer community health workers) in Deaf culture and Rwandan Sign Language (RSL).  

Raising awareness of – and encouraging more positive interactions with – the region’s Deaf community.

The community health workers identified 239 deaf young people aged 15-24 (126 females and 113 males), and have subsequently raised awareness of their family planning needs, as well as the potential SRH risks they might experience.

Breaking down communication barriers

By working proactively with their communities, health workers also identified that many of the participants would benefit from taking part in RSL sessions alongside them, as many only knew basic sign language and lacked an understanding of the specific signs most relevant to sexual and reproductive health. By breaking down these communication barriers, the project has helped to make the provision of SRH services more inclusive of deaf young people.

Improved services for the Deaf community

As a direct result of the project, advances in healthcare providers’ skills, alongside changes in their approach and attitudes, have led to an improved sexual health service, notably for both deaf young people but also for wider deaf community.

Healthcare providers have developed a proactive human rights approach to ensure deaf people have access to the correct family planning information and services, whilst also providing increased support and protection for children born to young deaf mothers.

By gaining skills in basic Rwandan Sign Language (RSL) and learning about deaf culture, healthcare providers have reduced any fear of working with deaf clients. This has resulted in improved family planning provision to young deaf women. For example, before the project, five deaf women at one health centre were reportedly prescribed a contraceptive they did not want; following training, however, health workers at this centre feel more confident interacting with deaf clients and have ensured these women receive their preferred choice.

National volunteer Brown Niyonsaba with one of the Imbere Heza project participants VSO/Mussa

Rwandan volunteer Niyonsaba Brown has been instrumental in breaking down communication barriers.

Working with local volunteers

The input of Niyonsaba Brown, a deaf volunteer from Rwanda, has been fundamental to the project’s success.

Niyonsaba has worked to provide SRH information to young people, and has also delivered RSL training and encouraged its practice in the health centres and at community outreach sessions.

By acting as an inspirational role model to other young deaf people and to the wider community, she has helped to break down stereotypes surrounding deaf people and raise the visibility of the disabled community as a whole.

Scaling up for the future

Thanks to the project's successes so far, VSO Rwanda is looking to intensify Imbere Heza, starting with collecting robust examples of best practice, whilst seeking further funding to reach more young people across the country.

Find out more:

Latest posts