Monday, April 7, 2008

National Day of Mourning for the Genocide

Blog April 7, 2008

National Day of Mourning

Fourteen years ago today, unspeakable horrors flooded the lives of common people in Rwanda. Violence erupted on a scale unknown to many who live comfortably in the rich nations of the world. A complete breqkdown of humanity led to a hell that raged for months, In the end, the streets were empty, except for the corpses, and the dogs that fed on them.

This morning, the streets are empty again: eerily empty in a way we have not seen since we arrived here more than a month ago. The usual rage of trafic is muted. For once, there are more moto-drivers than people. The din of construction is gone. The few dogs that remain are silent, and hungry.

The timid, cautious looks of the few people we meet on our morning wallk suggest that the quiet is not peaceful. It is roiling with memories that cannot be spoken out-loud. The memories drown out the words that might have surfaced. And so, it is mainly the birds who speak today in caws and chirrups and whistles.

In this land of many hills, the nuances of altitude and elevation are everywhere. The next hilltop seems a straight shot away. Yet, there may be swamps in the valley that seperate this hilltop from the next. To cross the swamps is difficult and dangerous, and so we take the long way around. We stay above the fray, travelling along one contour of elevation to reach our destination.

The hill crest is the surest route to follow. The best roads hug the crest, keeping one safely above the murky surface below. Today, the surface is quiet. People take the surest routes. Thankfully, these routes have been paved and the sidewalks have been laid. And thankfully, the sidewalks are far, far enough, away from the swamps to keep the common people safe.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Building a Hospital

Blog April 4, 2008 Building a Hospital by Hand

Imagine building a hospital by hand. It would be an enormous task. But if you got all your friends together, plus everyone in your town to help and you and worked for years and years, you might be able to put a dent in the project. Now imagine the hospital is in rural Rwanda, that you have no resources but hand tools and human muscle, and that you are buying building materials as the funds trickle-in. That's the situation in Momeya.

One of the most amazing things to us was that the villagers are building the hospital themselves. They have been organized by a valiant, some might say Quixotic, former refugee-turned Lutheran pastor named John Rutsindintwarane. In 2004, the villagers knew nothing about construction or building funds. They knew nothing about public relations or political lobbying. Many couldn't tell a shovel from a level, or a trowel from an agenda. But they learned. All religions and factions learned to work together on this ecumenical-interfaith project.

They learned how to conduct public opinion surveys, run meetings, make presentations and most importantly, to hold public officials accountable. They learned to assess their oun resources, dissect problems into issues and define actions they could take to deal with the issues. Oh, and by the way, they learned how to wield pickaxe and chisel, and broke-up over 500 tons of stone by hand in order to prepare the foundation.

Our small contribution to the project provided fifteen sacks of Portland Cement, which Pastor John will haul to the site next week. It's a small contribution, but it makes us an ally in the project. The projet may take years to complete. But as the people of Mumeya recruit more alllies, they draw one step closer to the day when the doors to their new hospital will open.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Island

The Island in Lake Rweru

We went there to view a performance by a volunteer theater troupe about healthy life choices and disease prevention. It turned out that we were as much part of the entertainment as the performers, because we are “Muzungu” (white people).

Lake Rweru is a broad, shallow body of water that seperates Rwanda and Burundi. It lies at the end of two-hour ride down a rutted dirt road, amid a plain planted with corn and bananas. Somewhere in the lake is a island that does not appear on any of the maps we could find. It is home to a village of about 600 people, most of whom can neither read nor write, nor as we were told, had ever seen a white person.

We think we were told the truth, because when one of the mothers pointed us out to her daughter and said “Muzungu”, one of our co-workers asked her, “How do you know they are Muzungu? Have you ever seen Muzungu before?” She looked puzzled, and said, “No”. Others who were born and raised in the village confirmed that we were the first anyone had seen.

Many of the children ran away from us and were afraid to shake our hands at first. But after the show, they were less afraid and crowded around us for a good look.

As we headed back to the leaky wooden boat that would ferry us and the theater troupe across the water, we thought of the pregnant women who deliver their babies at home, We were surprised to learn of their belief that it is both dangerous and bad luck for a woman in labor to cross the lake, and so they sometimes die for lack of maternity care.

When we saw that they had no motorized craft in which to cross, but instead relied on dugout canoes, paddled by hand, we realized the wisdom of their belief. Maybe it would be better for a woman to take her chances at home, we thought. But then, what do we know? After all: we're just Muzungu.

New Shoes

Blue Shoes

How much would you pay for a few pairs of shoes? Say, about four-score pairs that will shod the feet of an entire village of marginalized people? What if you could buy all those shoes for $110? Or, for about the same price as a fancy dinner for two including wine and tip at a toney restaurant downtown, you can give shoes to a small village. Yet for these villagers, shoes were an unaffordable luxury.

Without shoes, one is forbidden by law from attending school or market. So,of course the shoes will protect peoples' feet from sharp sticks and stones, but they will also allow children to attend school, and, they will permit parents to sell their hand made goods in the market.

When we delivered them, we were greeted with singing, bare foot dancing and exultation. Everyone assembled in the village meeting place and the elders determined how the shoes would be distributed. The children and oldest villagers were given theirs first, before the teenage boys swooped in and grabbed the rest.

As we left, we were escorted back up the road by more songs and dance, But this time, almost all the dancers wore blue shoes.

More thanks from the nurses

In order to transfer a sick patient or laboring mother with a breech presentation to the hospital, one had to call the District hospital 15 or 20 miles away. The only ambulance in the District then had to find its way to the center and back to the hospital, a four-hour trip on good days. On bad days, the transfer can take more than eight hours, if it can happen at all.

For this reason, we were eager to deliver doppler ultrasound fetal heartbeat monitors to the clinics. The devices are helpful for confirming fetal position. If the position is breech (butt first) or transverse (sideways), the mothers are transferred to the main hospital, which can perform a caesearean section if needed. The nurses were eager to have the technology because it allows them to be more certain of when to call for the ambulance.

So we delivered the devices and taught the nurses how to use them. Battery-powered and cheap, we hope to evaluate what difference they can make in the management of women in labor. And we're hoping for another success for appropriate technology.

Thank you from the nurses

We have been out on a lot of dirt roads lately, as we have been visiting rural clinics and villages in a series of needs assessments and teaching visits. It has been an eye opening experience.

None of the clinics had running water or functioning blood pressure cuffs. All had solar power which needed repairs and upgrading and which did not work on cloudy days. One had no functional freezer to keep the vaccine suppplies cold, and of course, neither one had a doctor.
They were so thankful for the medical equipment and teaching we brought them- FROM YOU!
Here in this video are two nurses thanking you all for your contributions and Coffee Rwanda purchases that allowed us to buy this equipment for them. Some people have asked where they can contribute. We will keep you posted on the address to send contributions to Health Leadership International, where all your money will go toward these types of projects and where you can volunteer to help.


Far down a rutted and muddy dirt road we bumped until suddenly we heard a tearing sound as if we had struck a hyena and were dragging it behind the 4-by-4. It was the muffler and exhaust system that had torn free from their mounting brackets. No problem. All it took was a trusty piece of rope that I had fortunately tucked into my pocket before the trip and a few branches to pry and prod the hot metal back into place. Then, with a few Boy-Scout knots, and a handkerchief for good measure, all was snugged back into place. Just another day in the bush: another success for appropriate technology.