20th Sep, 2017

Wheelchair user helping others around the world from her home in Stratford

WANDERLUST is a desire not easily met by those in a wheelchair.

But MS sufferer Susie Twydell is about to realise her lifelong dream to see the mountain gorillas in Rwanda, and is now also helping fellow wheelchair users realise their own travel dreams.

After researching, the 30 year-old from Stratford discovered other wheelchair users had managed to visit the endangered gorillas in their native African habitat by being carried up mountains on a stretcher.

Susie told The Observer: “I know it is going to be challenging, and I know that Rwanda is not a particularly wheelchair accessible country, but if there is one thing that I have learned is a wheelchair user, it’s that people are amazing, are so happy to help you, and even more so in the developing countries.”

Her discovery inspired Susie to set up a travel site for physically disabled people – wheelchairworld.org – to share travel stories and advice.

And it was among the site users Susie met a Rwandan wheelchair user with an inspiring story.

Emmanuel Gashirabake shared his story of living with a disability in the East African country still recovering from the genocide in 1994.

Emmanuel, now 38, was born an orphan, and had to fight for an education – a fight made all that much tougher as he was diagnosed with spina bifida.

Emmanuel was 25 before he even entered secondary education. The determined student went on to graduate university after repeating a year because he could not access his classes on the upper floors.

But despite his qualification, employers continued to turn down the graduate, who had hoped to become a teacher.

He said: “I was disappointed because everyone asked me how I could teach while sitting in a wheelchair. I don’t blame my government because it has set a good policy but the implementation is the problem.

“There has been a small improvement compared to 2002 because at least now it is talked about and wheelchair access is now considered in some public buildings.”

Like Susie, he continues to raise awareness of the challenges faced by himself and others, especially since the genocide in has left an unusually high number of people living with disabilities.

Susie is hoping her website will prove inspirational for wheelchair users around the world.

She said: ” Whilst in the UK, things are moving forward for wheelchair users, in Rwanda it is not so easy. Disabled people are still overlooked and wheelchair accessibility is still very behind.

“It is up to people like Emmanuel to fight for life with dignity. Emmanuel is a true inspiration and I am overwhelmed by his courage and motivation.

“The hardships that he has overcome give me a real reality check on my own challenges. I now have a new goal, to help Emmanuel and the Rwanda Wheelchair Users Committee in any way I can.

“I would love to meet Emmanuel and the RWUC when I am in Rwanda but the country is not wheelchair accessible and difficult for wheelchair users to travel around. Still, I am sure we will find a way! Nothing has stopped us yet!”

Visit www.facebook.com/groups/1788827838033992/ to read more about Emmanuel’s story.

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