In Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, a fashion show—the first of its kind—was hosted for people living with disability on Friday in a bid to promote acceptance and removal of barriers they face in the country.
Preparations for the mega fashion show began November last year. Among more than five hundred candidates, 18 were selected for the official debut this Friday, April 20 at the Beatrice Hotel in Kinshasa. The fashion show was run under the theme Toza Fier, which means “We are proud” in the local Lingala language.
Several Congolese stylists and modellers pledged their support to Kontinental‘s mission to change perceptions about people living with disability as the models living with disability proudly walked down the runway, showcasing a variety of outfits by local designers.
The Kontinental Foundation organised Toza Fier with the aim of enabling people with disabilities to fully exercise their life choices and their role as citizens through a fashion show to change attitudes about disability, and 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,” said Joaquim Malu Malu, the event organiser. “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.”
About 11 million Congolese live with disability according to the country’s Ministry of Health. That is nearly 15% of the population feel marginalized, and are victims of harassment because of their differences, 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,” model Mechaque Msimunu said to Africanews. “I can walk on the runaway and forget that I have a disability and forget about that complex.”
“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 model Joseline.
The audience and participants present noted their appreciation for the fashion show in propagating an important message.
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.