Activists in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo hosted the first fashion show for differently abled people on Friday April 19, to promote acceptance and removal of barriers that the disabled face in the country.
Under the theme Toza Fier, meaning “We are proud” in the local Lingala language, 15 models living with disability proudly walked down the runway, showcasing a variety of outfits by local designers.
Organisers – the Kontinental Foundation, said the fashion show was the first of its kind in the the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Sometimes, we see ourselves as people who do not have much value, we see ourselves as lesser than, but because of this event I have regained confidence in myself. I can walk on the runaway and forget that I have a disability and forget about that complex.
They said they wanted to encourage dialogue and inspire a new generation of disabled Congolese that feel accepted and confident.
“The Kontinental foundation is a foundation that cares for people living with disability, and after this event, we are even more committed to take care of those who live with disability. There are those who are not studying, there are those who are struggling to make a living, so we have to help them out. We want to remove the stigma and give them a better life,” said Joaquim Malu Malu, the event organiser.
About 11 million Congolese live with disability according to the country’s Ministry of Health.
Most physically disabled people have limited access to education, healthcare and employment and live in poverty as a result.
Those who participated in the show say they hope the visibility that comes with an event like this will change perceptions.
“Sometimes, we see ourselves as people who do not have much value, we see ourselves as lesser than, but because of this event I have regained confidence in myself. I can walk on the runaway and forget that I have a disability and forget about that complex,” said one disabled model, Mechaque Msimunu.
“The message that I want to pass on to people living with disability is to never lose their self-esteem, and not to view their disability as something that will hamper their lives. I would also like to tell other people living with disability to be proud like I am,” said another disabled model Joseline.
“The message is not to ignore people living with disability, because they are just like everyone else. We have a right to live like anyone else, we can go to school and we are beautiful,” added another disabled model Esther.
Audience members said they appreciated the fashion show as it was a fresh and important idea.
“I am really proud, as their slogan says (We are proud), we are all proud of them because I can see people who were stigmatised and today they can showcase their talents. It’s a call for all of us to be more like them,” said one guest.
The Kontinental foundation is expanding its work with the disabled and plans to create a centre where they can learn skills in IT and fashion among other sectors to help more people become economically independent.