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One Rwandan Teen’s Story: From Extreme Poverty to Award Winning Inventor

Yvette is making headlines after designing a digital cane for the blind.


Yvette presents her digital cane invention.

Yvette, sponsored through Compassion in Rwanda, is making headlines after winning a national innovation competition for designing a digital cane for the blind.

In Rwanda's INNOVATE4Women Hackathon, a national design competition, contestants were tasked to develop solutions to address challenges facing women. Yvette decided to focus on those living with a disability. A sensor in her digital blind stick alerts users of obstacles in their path. Along with her teammates Adrien and Mathias, Yvette won the top prize for their design.

From humble beginnings

The achievement is even more impressive when considering the challenges that Yvette has overcome in her own life.

Her single mother raised the 19-year-old after her father abandoned the family when Yvette was just three years old. "It was a tough time for me to raise two children as I had nothing at all," said her mother, Françoise. "I didn't even have a garden to dig to get food for my children. It was a hard life."

To the relief of her mother, Restoration Church began partnering with Compassion, and, at the age of six, Yvette was one of the first children registered into its Child Sponsorship Programme.

Yvette sits and smiles with her family.

"The Compassion project came into our community at the time when I needed support the most," said Françoise. "She was enrolled in school immediately; she was given scholastic materials, uniforms, a mattress and a blanket. Ever since she started school, I have not struggled with her school fees thanks to the support from the project."

Dreaming big

Yvette thrived at the Compassion project, which she credits with helping to shape her character.

"I was in nursery school when I was registered in the project. So for the last 15 years, I have learnt so many life lessons through interactions with my peers at the project, the letters I exchange with my sponsor and the teachings I received from the project staff have shaped me to become a responsible girl," Yvette said.

A bright child, she initially dreamed of being a doctor but soon realised there was an obstacle in the way.

"Although there are several reasons why I didn't get the opportunity to pursue medicine, my extreme fear of seeing blood or wounds crashed my hopes of becoming a doctor," she said. Instead, she began pursuing her passion for technology. "While growing up, I always wanted to become a doctor, now I'm pursuing to become a doctor for machines," she said.

A doctor for machines

With financial support from Compassion, Yvette is pursuing her dream. She's studying an Advanced Diploma in Information Technology at Integrated Polytechnic Regional College, where she heard about the INNOVATE4Women Hackathon.

The competition process involved pitching the invention to a panel of judges, an experience Yvette said she found simple after building her confidence at her local Compassion project, where she learned her identity in God.

Yvette reads a letter from her sponsor.

"I'm able to interact with people better thanks to the project staff who nurtured us to be responsible and God-fearing children.” She said.  “At the project, I was given small projects to participate in, such as discussions and debates, and this boosted my confidence. When I got the opportunity of being at the forefront of pitching the digital cane, it was easy for me."

Obviously impressed with her presentation, judges crowned Yvette's team the winner. They walked away with five million Rwandan francs (a little over £3540) to develop their invention further and even produce it.

"I'm happy that we won, God is gracious,” said Yvette. “It gave me more motivation to be innovative, and I'm more confident."

While developing the digital cane, she said she has learnt a lot about using innovation for social change.

"I have been inspired to find ways to be innovative and provide solutions for people living with disabilities because they have the potential of attending school, conferences and contribute to society's development," said Yvette. 

With the support of her mother, sponsor and project staff Yvette has been motivated to provide solutions to bring social change to her community. What an inspiring young woman!

You can empower a young life, just like Yvette's, by sponsoring a child today.

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WORDS : Doreen Umutesi

PHOTOS : Compassion International


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