Photo/IllutrationGatera Rudasingwa Emmanuel tries a new wheelchair in Rwanda. (Provided by Mami Rudasingwa)

  • Photo/Illustraion

A Rwandan man with a prosthetic leg and his Japanese wife have helped thousands of disabled people gain mobility over decades. Now, he wants to provide further inspiration by competing in the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics.

Gatera Rudasingwa Emmanuel, 64, creates artificial limbs in the central African country, which is known for the 1994 genocide of Tsutsi

He lost the use of his right leg after a medical error during malaria treatment in his childhood. He now uses a prosthetic leg and stick to walk.

Gatera moved to nearby Kenya after violence worsened in Rwanda in the latter half of the 1950s.

In 1989, he met Mami, now 56, who is from Chigasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture, and was studying a local language in Kenya. They later married.

When Gatera visited Japan with Mami, he was astonished by the exceptional quality of an artificial leg repaired at a prosthetist and orthotist workshop. Determined to operate a similar facility in Rwanda, Mami obtained a prosthetist and orthotist license in Japan.

In 1997, the couple opened their workshop in suburban Kigali and established a nongovernmental organization called the Mulindi Japan One Love Project to provide local users with maintenance and repairs for prosthetic arms and legs from Japan.

At the time, the number of physically disabled people was soaring in Rwanda because of the civil war.

The two have provided artificial limbs, walking sticks and wheelchairs for more than 8,000 disabled people in Rwanda, neighboring Burundi and elsewhere.

Gatera and Mami are also involved in activities to nurture and train prosthetists and orthotists and to spread sports for disabled athletes.

When a male swimmer became the first Rwandan to compete in the Paralympics, at Sydney in 2000, the couple helped him by reaching out to an international sports organization and other means.

The swimmer worked as a prosthetist and orthotist at their workshop.

Gatera also developed a desire to ride a wheelchair while watching a wheelchair marathon on TV during his stay in Japan.

Friends in Kanagawa Prefecture and others started a project in January last year to help Gatera win a spot at the Tokyo Paralympics.

A new wheelchair was presented to Gatera in late February this year after 1.4 million yen ($12,500) was donated for production and travel expenses.

Gatera and Mami assembled the wheelchair and train on streets when few vehicles are running.

Gatera also works to strengthen his muscles every day, hoping to inspire disabled people all over the world.

“Japanese people have done me a great favor, so I definitely want them to watch me compete well,” Mami quoted Gatera as saying.

To appear in the Paralympics, Gatera must negotiate with the Rwandan sports organization for athletes with disabilities. It is still unclear whether he will be able to represent Rwanda in Tokyo next year.

But even if he cannot compete in the Paralympics, Gatera still dreams of entering wheelchair marathons in Japan and being cheered by children along the streets.

“We will be full of joy if he can compete as an athlete in any form and draw cheers from spectators along the race course,” Mami said. “He would shyly--but happily--say, ‘I have received applause in public as a disabled individual for the first time.’”