She lost her sight at 19 but that didn’t stop her from owning the runway

When Ugandan model Jane Arinaitwe was 19 years old, she began to have headaches. Her eyesight began to fade and she was admitted in a hospital. She lost consciousness and woke up blind.

Arinaitwe had just finished her high school education in 2005 at the time.

“I managed to sit three papers. By the time we did the fourth paper, I was unconscious in hospital. For three years, I found herself overwhelmed by the dark, Arinaitwe told CNN.

But being a blind teenager didn’t deter Arinaitwe from going after her dreams. She loves to wear long feminine dresses. She likes to change it up with stylish trousers. She can wear anything that makes her feel beautiful and stylish.

“When I lost sight, I knew my education and career had come to an end. And I lost self-confidence, I started like, ‘I wish I died instead of becoming blind,'” said Arinaitwe who is 32-years-old.

In 2008, adjusting to life without her sight, she learned to read Braille and went on to university – graduating with a diploma in Community Birth Rehabilitation in 2011.

Today, she is part of Hot Pink Catwalk, a fashion show held every year in Uganda’s capital Kampala. It is the largest fashion show dedicated to inclusion in the country.

Last year’s event had 32 models hit the runway and out of that number, 22 had disabilities.

“Before I lost sight, I used to admire models. I used to admire modeling,” says Arinaitwe.

Hot Pink Catwalk is the brainchild of the Malengo Foundation which began in 2015. Michelle Omamteker, Malengo’s CEO, says the organization is about helping the country reach the United Nations sustainable development goal.

The goals advocate for the reduction of inequalities and the word ‘Malengo’ is Swahili for reaching goals. “Looking at an Africa that sees people beyond differences and focuses more on similarities,” she says.

The show is now in its third year, but at the beginning Arinaitwe remembers thinking “Will I be able to manage like cat walking on the runway?” But thinking about doing something worthwhile for herself pushed her to give other persons with disability confidence that they can also do it.

Arinaitwe, who lives in Mbarara about 290 kilometers west of Uganda’s capital, could not have imagined putting herself through that kind of “exposure.”

Arinaitwe has been counseling parents of children with disabilities in Uganda by telling them to stop keeping their children indoors. She says: “Let them go out and get the exposure, because when they go out, get the exposure, then they gain the confidence.”


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