I’m writing from the breakfast area of a little motel in Gisenyi. We were able to leave Butare for two nights, and decided to visit Lake Kivu. We spent one night in the secluded and tropical town of Kivuye. There are extraordinary Genocide memorials near Kivye, such as Bissesero. After one day and night in Kivuye, we traveled through Lake Kivu in a small wooden boat to Gisenye. We stopped at a couple of islands on the way for lunch and to view island bats. When we arrived in Gisenyi we found a much busier and bigger city than Kivuye. Gisenyi, just 2.5 km from the DRC border, is nestled between the volcanoes of northern Rwanda, and Lake Kivu, creating an incredible atmosphere.
Our days in Butare have been focused on preparing for this year’s Maternal Health Education Program. The program consists of ten sessions regarding maternal health. RVCP and GlobeMed determine the 50 women in the village of Rukira who are the most susceptible to maternal health issues, or infant health issues for their children. This year, we received 200 names of women who would greatly benefit from this program, and we had to narrow it down to 50 women. At the end of the ten sessions, which are prepared and taught by members of the GROW trip and RVCP, each woman receives a goat and a plot of land, providing them with the potential to generate income.
This summer will be the second time that the Maternal Health Education Program has been performed. Last summer, the program proved to be greatly successful. This year, as we are able to reflect from last summer’s program, we have spent a lot of time improving the sessions to better fit the needs of the women.
The ten sessions are Risk Factors, Nutrition, Nutrition During Pregnancy, Contraception, HIV/ AIDS, The Place and Value of Women, Post-Natal Care, Implications of Delaying Care, Commitment to Safe Motherhood, and a wrap-up session.
The first session took place on Sunday afternoon at the Huye Health Clinic. We had never met or even seen the women who were chosen from the session; we only had a list of names that were chosen based on facts about their health. Before the session I was a little bit nervous that no one would show up. We had been working on session improvements for months, and it was hard for me to believe that the editing marks of my red pen in Washington DC would somehow reach individual mothers in the small rural village of Rukira, Rwanda. However, when we reached the clinic on the afternoon of the first session, there were 67 young women waiting for us. Some of the 50 chosen women must have brought friends or neighbors. They sat cross-legged in rows the grass in front of the clinic, all of them facing forward. Many of the women came barefoot, and an even larger number were breastfeeding their babies there on the grass. All of the women were dressed in brilliantly colored and patterned fabrics, creating a beautiful sight as they all sat there together on the grass. I was amazed that each one of those women came to meet us to take part in the program that we were offering, sharing the hope that we have for them for healthy lives for themselves and their children.
We moved the women into the clinic’s waiting room, GlobeMed at GWU’s most recent contribution to the Huye Health Clinic. The women sat on benches lining the walls of the waiting room, as their babies slept in their laps and toddlers ran around the room. The first session was about risk factors regarding maternal and infant health, and it lasted about an hour and a half. Alyssa was assigned to help direct this particular session (each GROW team member has two sessions that they will lead). She stood in the front of the room with two members of RVCP. She began the session, introducing the GROW team and the program as the RVCP members translated her words into Kinyarwanda for the women. Despite noises of the village outside, the chaos of tens of toddlers and babies in one room, and the brief appearance of an old drunk village woman (who took the liberty to preach in Kinyarwanda about the importance of family planning – causing an eruption of laughter from the women), the women still participated in the session enthusiastically. The women even asked if their husbands could come with them to the next session. We were thrilled. In fact, after the session, one RVCP member, Richard, commented on how impressed he was with the attentiveness of the mothers. We too were incredibly impressed with the women, and proud of our work. Standing there in the waiting room that was built because of GlobeMed’s fund-raising efforts, teaching the session that we spent so much time editing, and looking at the faces of the individuals who we came to meet, I have never felt like my work has gone so far.
As we continue the next sessions throughout the weeks, we will ask ten women to stay afterward so we can interview them and get to know them more personally. We also plan to go door-to-door in Rukira, visiting the women from last year’s session. We hope to create and evaluation report comparing the two years, and to assist with even more improvements next year.
Breakfast is ending and we’re going to spend a few hours exploring the city, and then begin the six-hour journey back to Butare to get back to work.