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CMS - Inspire October 07

Drs Wim and Bertha Schoonbee have found unique ways to share “another kind of light” with blind people in Rwanda

“This happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life,” Jesus says of a blind man in John 9:3. Sadly, in Rwanda, many take little notice of the blind. Job opportunities for them are practically non-existent, and often they end up frustrated, neglected and bored.

Enter Drs Wim and Bertha Schoonbee, who moved from South Africa to Rwanda so that Wim could establish at Gahini Hospital. Bertha, who has two blind siblings, says she’s always had an “inborn love” for the blind.

Wim concentrates on restoring vision to people like Mukarukundo, who at age 9, had her congenital cataracts removed: “It was amazing to watch as she discovered what a fl ower looks like, what colour a banana is, to see her running unafraid down a path.”

Meanwhile Bertha works in rehabilitation with those whose blindness is inoperable. This includes a group of 40 or so students at Gahini Secondary School. “As they try to study and live alongside 1,500 sighted students, their biggest frustration was lack of physical activity,” she says.

Searching on the internet, Bertha discovered the Paralympic sport of goalball, which uses a heavy rubber ball with bells inside, so blind people can hear it. Participants compete in teams of three, and try to throw the ball into the opponents’ goal.

To Bertha’s amazement, a day after she began reading about the sport, a goalball was donated to the school.

“I’d been wondering if I was capable of coaching these students, and receiving this goalball out of the blue was a huge encouragement.”

Bertha began teaching the students how to play. “Their enthusiasm was incredible. For the first time, they were able to play sports like the sighted students and it was so liberating for them.”

Over the next 18 months, the Gahini players formed goalball leagues, even hosting a tournament in March 2006, where the Lion Winners edged out the Heroes to achieve victory. Now, the Gahini teams have taken on teams from other towns, too.

“Coming back from a win against a neighbouring team, the minibus taxi reverberated with the sound of triumphant team songs,” Bertha recalls, “It’s amazing to see such a difference in these once timid students.

“They also now feel they can come to me with their problems and we pray together.”

The games have attracted onlookers from the community, who at first watched out of curiosity, but now come out to support and cheer on their team (though during play the crowds must be silent so the players can Hear the goalball).

Bertha says the crowds fuel the students’ excitement. “I remember one of the guys, Prosper, when he scored a goal, he started dancing so wildly, he ended up losing his orientation completely and ended up with his back against his opponent instead of facing him,” she laughs.

The hope is that by seeing what these students are actually capable of, the community will learn to embrace them more.

Buoyed by the success of goalball, Bertha is now looking to teach cricket to some of the students. “It’s a miracle to see another kind of light dawning in their lives … Our prayer is that they will walk with Jesus who said: ‘I am thelight of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.’”

For more information on the Schoonbees’ work in Rwanda, contact CMS on 0845 620 1799 or e-mail

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