Murambi Genocide Memorial

Today we have officially been here a week! So far we have created some memorable and entertaining stories for our team as well as our housekeeper. We somehow created a fermented soup when our crockpot broke, made half cooked beans on our little stove, learned to wash our clothes in the bathtub, dealt with the lovely side effects that accompany malaria medication, and managed to lock ourselves out of the bedroom from the inside forcing our housekeeper to take the lock off completely. Every day has brought a new experience, testing our boundaries in some way or another.

Yesterday, I think, is the biggest emotional challenge I have faced so far. Visiting the Genocide Memorial in Murambi pulled my emotions in multiple directions as I began to understand the complexity leading up to the massacres. The school was placed on a beautiful hill with mountains surrounding it on every direction. Stepping out of the museum and taking in the serene view, all we could think about was how such a horrible thing could happen in such a beautiful place. There were 24 classrooms lined with 18,000 of the 50,000 bodies that were killed. The extent of the preservation gave me chills. The patches of hair made the bodies come to life and I could almost see the screams of the children.

What we saw that day is impossible to put into words, yet it is a picture that will be engrained in my mind forever. To me, what really made this memorial become reality was discovering that our tour guide was a survivor. What I appreciated most was that he did not tell us this right away. He let us soak in all of the information and walk deep within our thoughts. It wasn’t until I started talking to him about why he chose to work at the memorial did he provide me with that information. I was overwhelmed with emotions and questions when he spoke those words. I couldn’t believe that anyone could survive what I had just seen nor that I would be fortunate enough to be blessed by their presence. He was amazingly patient when he told his story without a drop of hatred. What he said at the end resonated the most with me. He thanked us for coming to visit and learning about his history but to please, please share these stories with everyone we meet.  Tell the world what happened to me, my family, and my country.

This blog is our small contribution to his request. Leaving him and the memorial I felt almost stupid and incredibly frustrated that I had only learned about the Rwandan genocide a year ago. This is the second largest genocide after the Holocaust yet it was never mentioned in any of my history classes throughout high school or in any public health classes at GW.  Why is there a whole museum dedicated to the Holocaust yet nothing is mentioned about this catastrophic event? How did I not know that a million people were killed within 100 days in a country that is a similar size as my state of Vermont? How could the UN have been located in Rwanda, bearing witness to the events leading to the massacre, yet were able to turn their heads and leave? All of these questions arose and of course there were answers to them that seemed reasonable at the time, but now make no sense to me.

As we were leaving the memorial, my friend Peter turned to me and said, “I hate coming here because you have to see our dark history.”  Yes, this is a dark past, yet it is important to remember that every country has a dark history. The difference is that Rwanda has chosen to literally dig up their past so that we are faced with the reality of what occurred. Within 20 years they have recognized the problems of the few and have reached back to the values that their culture is rooted in, putting in great efforts to unite their country once again. We have only been in Rwanda for a week now but so far I think we all can agree that the people we have met have an amazing spirit and have welcomed us into their peaceful home. A home where “there are no Hutus and Tutsis, just Rwandans” -Frank Ndore, RPF officer.

 

 

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Washington to Butare

A new summer, a new GROW team.  Murakaza neza! Welcome, and enjoy as we try to convey the next 9 weeks to our friends, families, and fellow GlobeMed members.

Much love,

Abhi, Hannah, Madeline, Molly, and Natasha.

After a 6am wake up call on Thursday morning, physically together for the very first time (due to Hannah, Molly, and Abhi’s study abroad semesters), the GROW team set off on what was to be a 28 hour journey to our new home in Butare, Rwanda.

As the plane took off Thursday morning, I felt a clash between anxiety and peace in the uncertainty and unknown that lay ahead of us.  But as we landed in Kigali, the tension between my emotions subsided and was replaced by a complete comfort with the young women surrounding me.  Stepping off the plane a sense of unity spread over our team.  In that moment, our minds were in the same place.  We could all understand each other in the looks and smiles exchanged.  And we recognized our combined commitment to whatever challenges, adventures and endeavors were to come.

airport

A tour of Kigali and a three-hour bus ride later, we found ourselves standing before our home for the next 9 weeks.  Peace and Pascal, our rotation officers from the Rwanda Village Concept Project (RVCP), gave us an hour to get ourselves together, and then we had the most epic dance party ever with at least 20 RVCP members.  Engaging in conversations from favorite music to HIV prevention, from Kinyarwanda lessons in exchange for rugby lessons to gender empowerment, an immediate and extremely welcoming connection was formed between the five GlobeMed representatives and RVCP.

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The first few days have blurred together as we have been going nonstop, with new friends constantly coming in and out of our house, conversations filled with vision and passion among our team and with RVCP members, and so many ideas and questions and figuring things out.

So far we have been a part of two RVCP programs.  The first was the HIV/AIDS Candlelight Ceremony.  In collaboration with the HIV club at secondary schools from nearby villages, the event was a reminder of the importance of education on transmission and prevention of HIV.  It gave us a taste of RVCP’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Program, a program that we will have more involvement in throughout our stay here.  The second program we participated in was the first of our 10 Maternal Health Education Program (MHEP) sessions: The Place and Value of Women in Society—Beliefs, Traditions, and Taboos.  This being our main initiative while we are here, we were really looking forward not only to being part of the session, but to facilitating conversation, learning from the women in the program, and exchanging ideas, questions, and experiences.  After the 2-hour session, the women thanked us with song and dance (we obviously jumped right in).  I think we all (GROW team, women, children, and RVCP members) are looking forward to our remaining sessions to go deeper into the issues and questions that were brought up in our first meeting.

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While our first few days here have been incredible, there have inevitably been some challenges and questions about everything new and different.  But these challenges are accompanied by a discovery of our own individual strengths as well as the commonalities and openness across humanity.  I cannot think of a better example of this than the shared energy between all of us attending the MHEP session—coordinators and participants together.  We shared a dance and a song that allowed our souls to speak, connecting us in a mutual appreciation for each other’s whole being.

To finish my thoughts of the past few days I want to share a story that Pascal shared with me on the walk home from the clinic on Sunday (paraphrased):

“There were two goats, both very hungry.  Their food was on opposite ends of the road.  However, the goats were tied together with a strong cable in the middle of the road.  The goats began to pull and tug at each other, each trying to reach his own bowl of food.  As they each pulled in opposite directions, tension in the cable connecting them increased.  The conflict between them rose greater and greater.  At some point, the opposing pulls and rising tensions reached a maximum, and both goats fell right where they were in the center of the road.  Realizing what was happening, they negotiated to help each other out, walking alongside each other to one end of the road so one goat could eat, and then to the other end of the road so the second goat could eat.  In the face of conflict and opposition, and in the face of great need, it is important to realize that there are always those around us to help us out, even if it means embracing differences.  There is positive conflict and negative conflict.  If we see conflict as a means to let our differences solve the problems, we will see that differences are not opposites.  Rather, they are tools to help us see different perspectives, to learn and to help out.  Let us treat all conflict as positive conflict, so that even when we think our views are opposite, we are still able to depend on each other, no matter how different we are.  We are all tied together.  We all depend on each other.  We need each other to reach our goals.  And it is up to us to realize that instead of pulling against each other, we must walk alongside each other and accept our interdependence.”

Madeline

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A Visit from the Public Health Institute

Blog 8

 

On Friday, we had the pleasure of hosting Christine Carabello from the Public Health Institute in Butare. Christine was staying in Kigali for the week for various meetings and to meet with GW and Lawrence’s GROW teams to get a better idea of what the internship consists of. Over lunch with Emmanuel, Epa, and Super Peter (the former director of initiatives), we spoke to Christine about what RVCP’s activities and initiatives aim to accomplish and about the facets of the RVCP-GlobeMed at GWU partnership. Throughout our discussion, she was very attentive and genuinely interested in what we had to say about our partnership. 

 

We continued our discussion after lunch at the RVCP house, where she asked us insightful questions about our prospective futures in public health, the long term goals of the partnership, and what we have learned from our experiences in Rwanda. In many ways, this was one of the best imaginable ways to begin the end of our trip, as we were able to reflect on what we have accomplished in two months, what we hope to accomplish in the coming years, and what both of these things mean for our professional futures as well as the future of RVCP. 

 

Afterwards, we were able to spend some time with Christine at Nzozi Nziza, our favorite ice cream store in town, and got to speak candidly with Christine about her previous travels, her time in Rwanda, and her work back home. It was a treat to be able to show someone else around town for the first time, as we’ve spent the past two months being escorted around Butare. We thoroughly enjoyed meeting with Christine and hope that our discussions provided a comprehensive glimpse into our GROW trip.

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En Vacance

This week, from Monday until Wednesday, Melissa and I travelled to Gisenyi, a town in the Western province of Rwanda which borders Lake Kivu and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Everything about Gisenyi, including the bus ride there, was breathtaking. While stunning landscapes and rollings hills are standard fare for Rwanda, Gisenyi distinguishes itself with Lake Kivu. Its cool breeze and calming presence make it a destination for both domestic and international tourists. Luckily for us, one of our friends, Abdou, lives in Gisenyi, and was incredibly generous and introducing us to his family, bringing us to lunch, and showing us the lake and the hot springs. All in all, our trip to Gisenyi was refreshing and relaxing, and highlights the incredible diversity in landscape offered by Le Pays des Milles Collines.

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Baby Naming Ceremony

Blog 7

This past weekend, Alex and I were invited to participate in the baby naming ceremony for Vincent and Joselyn’s three week old son. In Rwandan culture, the baby naming ceremony is a traditional gathering that usually occurs eight days after a child is born. In Vincent’s case, the ceremony took place a little later because of his busy schedule as a sixth year medical student finishing his clinical rotations before graduation. At a baby naming ceremony, friends and family gather at the home of the growing family, sharing food, company, and gifts. Then, the newborn and his or her parents sit before the crowd while its members suggest names for the infant. The parents privately discuss the options presented and any other names they like before presenting their child and their child’s name to everyone at the ceremony.

Vincent and Joselyn held their baby naming ceremony at their home in Tumba, which Alex and I are proud to say that we are now able to find on our own. After meeting the friends and family assembled, including both Vincent’s and Joselyn’s parents, and helping to set up a few rows of chairs outside, we were able to drink in this unique event in Rwandan culture. As usual, Joselyn’s food was absolutely delicious (we still have no idea how she cooks her cassava so incredibly moist and chewy) and it was truly a treat to be included in such an intimate setting. The language barrier between us and the guests who spoke only Kinyarwanda proved to be more of an entertaining gimmick at the party rather than a hindrance. Vincent’s mother and father and Joselyn’s mother seemed to particularly enjoy our company as we gestured and mimed our way through the evening.

We are truly blessed to have found such incredible friends in Vincent and Joselyn and in those they have introduced us to. We could not have asked for a pair of more gracious hosts and we only wish we could somehow return the generosity that they have shown us over the last six weeks. We wish a warm and joyous congratulations to Vincent, Joselyn, and the rest of their friends and family as we celebrate the birth and naming of their son, Ndebwashuli Ntwari Arnaud.

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Cultivation

This morning, we went to visit the MHEP cooperative once again.  The potatoes have been planted, and have been growing very well since our last visit.  Today, the women were weeding and aerating the land.  Luckily with potatoes, in comparison to something like beans, constant attention is unnecessary.  So, the women are able to  meet regularly to water the potatoes and tend to the land without having to meet more than once a week. Much like the last visit, the cultivation process is well-organized and carried out in a methodical way.

After the work was finished, the director of RVCP initiatives spoke to the women about their current financial situation, specifically the cooperative lending system they’ve formed.  The women each donate a nominal amount of money each week, and can call upon the other women to receive a loan from the fund if something happens to their house or their family, for instance.  The women were discussing putting the money in a bank account, for transparency and accessibility, an idea which was well-received.

 

We plan to visit some of the women in their homes in the coming week, which should prove to be useful for assessing the current and future needs of MHEP.  Stay tuned for more updates about the home visits!

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Wire Transfer Success!!

Anyone who is in GlobeMed at GW can tell you about the trouble we’ve
had over the past year with wiring money from our account at GW to
RVCP. I am overjoyed to report that as of this week, we have
successfully transferred the necessary funds to RVCP for the
organization’s operations for this summer and for the Fall months. We
are incredibly grateful to our donors and supporters who have helped
us to be able to work with RVCP’s initiatives and Maternal Health
Education Program.

This week also marks the final period of final examinations for
students at the National University of Rwanda and already we have had
more opportunities to work with RVCP members now that they have
finished their academic year. I would like to personally thank those
RVCP members who were kind and thoughtful enough to continue to
volunteer with us at MHEP, Let Little Children Come to Me (LLCCM), and
at the Football Tournament for the HIV/AIDS awareness initiative
during the past week despite being in the midst of taking their final
exams. Alex and I find this so remarkable as we would have incredible
difficulty getting university students in the U.S. to volunteer their
time during such a stressful period. We look forward to what promises
to be the most productive part of our trip thus far as we can focus
solely on RVCP operations with its members during their summer
holidays

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