When you realize you aren’t an NGO

If it is possible for a brain to overheat, I think I speak for all the GROW interns that this has been a common occurrence this week. Let me assure you that in between our adventures to rainforests,  Kigali, and safaris, we actually have been doing some productive work. In fact, I don’t think I have ever spent so much time thinking in my entire life. I think our friend Paci agreed…


During our first 4 weeks here we had spent much time discussing with RVCP on how the program was running, specifically the income generation portion. We received vague answers that the crops have not been doing very well and the women have not made as much money as they would have liked. However, there was no concrete data on how much they actually had made. So we decided to visit the women in the cooperative and speak to them directly to see what they thought of the program.

With each interview my heart dropped a little more. One after one they explained to me how their goats had died, how they couldn’t afford health insurance anymore because the government increased the price, and how in 3 years the cooperative had only made a profit during one season. Week after week these women walk 2 hours with their babies on their back to tirelessly work in these fields. Yet, in the 3 years that they had joined the cooperative they had not been able to receive any money in return.

A wave of guilt rushed over me. How many times had I told the women in our MHEP sessions not to worry? That once they joined the cooperative they would have more money to buy nutritious foods, and to pay for health insurance so they could deliver their baby in a hospital rather than on the side of the road on her way back from cultivating the fields. I naively came to Rwanda this summer expecting to find a program that ran smoothly and achieved exactly what it aimed to. However, it was becoming evident that this was clearly not the case. How come GlobeMed and RVCP didn’t know the severity of the problem? That we were running an income generation program that simply had not given the women any income? I began to run over our previous RVCP meetings in my head and it started coming together. There were few records of the cooperatives profits, many documents were lost due to computer crashes, and the entry survey evaluations were in a large folder rather than entered into an excel spreadsheet where the results could be summarized. The simple answer was that GlobeMed and RVCP just didn’t know exactly how the program was doing because there were hardly any monitoring and evaluation systems in place to track this.

As I was sitting in front of these women listening to them confide in me about the numerous gaps the program has, I remembered this quote:

 “Do not depend on the hope of results. You may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results, but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. You gradually struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. In the end, it is the reality of personal relationship that saves everything.” –Thomas Merton

Yes, our program requires some large improvements, but this is a challenge that we can face. As I looked into the faces of these amazing women, it was impossible not to develop the same determination as theirs. Even though they hadn’t received anything from their hard work they were still here week after week working side by side. They had a common goal to improve their families health and that is what drives their daily move. They had so much hope in their voices when they talked about ways to improve the program and I became determined to make this work for them. All of us did. We left that day with renewed energy and determination.

Our following meetings revolved over how we can achieve our “dream” program and ensure that it has the results that the women need. Luckily we had visited Gardens for Health the week before and saw amazing aspects that would benefit our program greatly. The first and major aspect we are missing is an agricultural specialist. When we conducted the interviews, the women had voiced the desire for better training so they knew the different techniques of farming. This makes complete sense and is a vital part in ensuring that the women can grow productive crops in order to make a profit. In addition to this we would also like to start giving the women chickens so that they are able to have another income generating activity where they can receive the profit directly themselves. To ensure that the women are taking care of their livestock properly and retain the information they learn from the MHEP sessions, we are planning on incorporating follow-up visits throughout the year. In addition, we are working to implement a year of health insurance for the family of each graduate. This way they will be able to save the money they make from the income generating activities for the following years health insurance.

While making the plans to implement these improvements it’s been important to remember that we are unfortunately not NGOs but rather two student run organizations. We don’t have the capacity to pay fulltime staff and have to rely on our own volunteers who are busy balancing school and work as well. Nevertheless the beautiful faces and amazingly optimistic spirits of the women remain engrained in our heads and drive us to make this program successful. 


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