Syndicate content

Portrait of the Month - Theo Nsega

Q: Hello Theo, and thanks so much for participating in our monthly column "Portrait of the month".

A: It's a pleasure.

Q: First of all, were you born blind?

A: No, I became blind at the age of 5 due to an eye cancer.

Q: But I seem to recall that you're not blind at the moment [laughs].

A: No, that's right. I had an operation in Liège, some years ago, with a very innovative system which used my tooth to "fix my eye".

Q: That sounds pretty unusual [laughs].

A: It is indeed. I'm not really able to explain the ins and outs of it, and I know that everybody freaks out when I say that I regained my sight thanks to my tooth... but it's really the way it went. I have to go back to the hospital in Liège very often though, to check that everything is fine with it.

Q: Were you born in Belgium?

A: No, I was actually born in Rwanda, and came to Belgium 11 years ago, as a refugee.

Q: Did you come with your family?

A: No, I came with my uncle, but he died a couple of years later. A Belgian family took care of me then, and I grew to consider them like my own family: even now that I live on my own, I always love to visit them.

Q: Did you go to university?

A: No, I didn't. When I finished high school, I went to live on my own, and I found it too hard to manage my new life alone and university at the same time. Besides, I had developed a great passion for running, so I didn't have much time to study anyway [laughs].

Q: Running... tell me more about that.

A: Well, I started running just for fun with a friend, but we ended up taking part in many competitions and races, not only in Belgium but also in Rwanda and in other countries. Running was definitely a life-changing thing for me: things haven't been easy in Belgium at the beginning (I had to get used to the new culture, the family etc.), and running gave me a lot of strength. It made me feel much more self-confident and gave me something to hold on to even in bad moments.

Q: That sounds beautiful. So, do you still run these days?

A: For sure! I just came back from a marathon, actually... a marathon with a very symbolic meaning behind it.

Q: What was it about?

A: Well, we started from Lesbos (Greece) and finished in Brussels, at the European Parliament. And the route we ran was exactly the same route that Syrian refugees take when they try to escape war and poverty and find a better life here in Europe.

Q: I see. So there was a clear message that you wanted to get across, by participating in the marathon.

A: Exactly. We wanted to protest against governments which want to stop refugees from coming to Europe. We want to protest against countries like Hungary, which build walls to stop the flow of immigrants. I think that human beings are just human beings, and that they are all the same, no matter where they live. Syrians have the right to happiness just like everyone else, and so they should be allowed to look for that happiness elsewhere, if their country is at war. That's why we ran through Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary and Germany, ending up here in Belgium: to support those refugees and get their voices heard.

Q: That's really amazing. Is it a cause that you really have at heart?

A: Of course. After all, I was a refugee myself when I came to Belgium 11 years ago, so I know how they must feel.

Q: That's right. However, now you have Belgian citizenship, don't you?

A: Yes, I do: I have both European and African citizenship right now, which means that I can go and live practically everywhere in the world.

Q: Do you know what you want to do in the future? Stay in Belgium, go elsewhere...?

A: I think I'll stay in Belgium for the moment, but I don't rule out any option: I really feel that people are all the same, and that it doesn't matter too much where you live, as long as you're part of the flow. So I could live in Spain, Italy, China, Brazil... and I'd still feel comfortable.

Q: Would you consider going back to Rwanda? The situation for visually impaired people must be completely different compared to Belgium.

A: Yes, of course... there's just no comparison between the two! There are not many opportunities for blind people in Rwanda, and things are still pretty inaccessible. The situation is starting to change a bit, but it's a very slow process... and the progress is not always visible. I would like to go back and help improve the situation of visually impaired people, thanks to the experience I gained here in Belgium, but I don't know when. Actually, I already try to help in that field whenever I get the chance: for instance, some years ago I went back and brought Braille books to some schools for the blind... I do what I can, and I love doing it, but it's just a drop in the ocean: the whole system should change in order for visually impaired people to get more empowered and have more working opportunities.

Q: What are your plans for the future? Keep running, of course...

A: Yes, that's for sure. I'll do another marathon on 6th May, to support medical research on cancer. Actually, the marathon is for people who have problems with walking, and the point is that everyone can run the distance he prefers: you can finish your race after 2 km, 5 km or 20 km. The message we want to get across is that everything is possible, and that you should never stop trying.

Q: That's really inspiring.

A: Also, I have a personal mission (we can call it like that!): running in as many countries as possible. Thirty years from now, I want to be able to say that I visited the whole world while running. I already did Italy, Spain, Belgium and many other countries, and this year it will be Germany's turn. I'm already booking hostels, and I'll probably go with a couple of friends. It will be great, because it will also give me the opportunity to visit the country in my spare time (in the evening, after running).

Q: What about your working situation? Are you looking for a job, or is it something you're not really bothered about at the moment?

A: Actually, I think I want to start studying to become educationalist. I'll start next year if things go according to plan.

Q: Educationalist... how did you come up with that idea?

A: I've always loved to help others, and I got the inspiration in Italy. I saw how young visually impaired people were helped at the Institute Rittmeyer, and it really made me realize how good it would be to do the same, to guide people while they are trying to find themselves and build a strong identity.

Q: Would you like to focus on people with a visual problem, or just young people in general?

A: Everybody, both disabled and non-disabled. It's true that disabled people have a lot of challenges to face, but I believe that that goes for everybody: there are many non-disabled young people out there who don't really know what to do with their life and need a guidance, someone to tell them that everything is possible and that they should really go and do something meaningful with their life. And that's what I'd like to be for them.

Q: I think you would be a very good role model for them. Thank you so much for your time, and for sharing all these inspirational, interesting things with us.

A: You're very welcome!