Sunday, October 12, 2014

Mentor Mamas. . .

Annonciata, one of Gardens for Health’s (GHI) original staff mamas (including Claire and Naomi) helped design the beginnings of the health trainings in 2011. She is now an instrumental member of the GHI team in her role as training supervisor. She has recently spearheaded and launched an innovative pilot program to incorporate past graduates of GHI to be “mentor mamas” at the Nyacyonga Health Center. Two weeks ago the forty women who had been selected based on their motivation and involvement in GHI gathered for an introduction to their new role with GHI. Many had not seen their trainers, Claire (now field supervisor for Gasabo District), Naomi (now lead trainer) and Annonciata for two years, which precipitated tearful and happy reunions.

There were moving testimonies by many as to how much of a difference GHI had been in their lives, especially in the realms of mental health. “It has made such a difference for me and I hope it will for you too”, were the words of one mama. Another said, “It has helped me respect others, including my husband.” They wanted to ensure that mamas currently enrolled in the program could reap the same sustainable benefits for their families. Singing and dancing which always seems to raise spirits and create a sense of celebration was an integral part of the morning. Their responsibility as mentor mamas is to make five home visits during the 13 week training cycle to the mama they have been assigned. Hopefully this extra presence, above and beyond the home visit they get from the GHI field educator, will provide these mamas with a bonus opportunity to connect and form the beginnings of new friendships. We hope, too, that this will also promote perfect attendance at trainings, resulting in better overall health for their families, as well as giving the mentor mamas a sense of purpose and achievement while it extends their connection with GHI.

The week after the first gathering of the mentor mamas, there were two ‘matching days’ for 20 mamas at each session. As the mentor mamas and the current mamas arrived there was a palpable sense of excitement as they all anticipated meeting their counterpart. As the matching pairs were called they came to the front and greeted each other enthusiastically to the delight of all in attendance. The traditional 3 time (right side, left side, right side) Rwandan kiss and embrace was ubiquitous, accompanied by hoots and hollers.

We’ll be eagerly monitoring and evaluating the impact of this program as time progresses, work out any kinks and hopefully introduce it at all the other seventeen health centers that Gardens for Health is partnering with in the Gasabo and Musanze Districts of Rwanda.


  Naomi, Helen, Annonciata and Claire

Mentor Mamas and a healthy baby
listening to Annonciata’s welcome

One mentor mama gives a tearful testimonial 

Naomi reunites with a mentor mama
who was her trainee two years ago

Mentor Mamas 2014 “Innovations Pilot Group”

'Matching' glee and excitement

 The beginning of a strong friendship

 More 'matching' excitement

 An inquisitive and adorable
daughter of a mentor mama

 Another beguiling face

Mentor mamas waiting
for matching to begin

Monday, October 6, 2014

Manzi Cedric. . .

This is an updated blog on Cedric’s progress that was originally posted in March 2012. It will be used on the GHI website to help roll out a challenge matching fundraising campaign in October 2014.

Many GHI supporters recognize Cedric as a ubiquitous and adorable face on GHI’s printed material, but is everyone familiar with his story?

Despite only being 3 years and 8 months old, Manzi Cedric has an extraordinary life story to date. Over the three years that I have been a volunteer at GHI, I have had the privilege to witness his extraordinary growth and development. He was first introduced at Gikomero Health Center, one of the GHI partners here, in March 2011 when he was 2 months old with severe malnutrition, weighing in at 2.1 kg (4.3lbs.). His history revealed that his mentally challenged mother had given birth to him in a latrine and later abandoned him. The details of the first two months of his life are vague, but apparently a neighbor took care of him and then brought him to the health center. This is when GHI became aware of Cedric’s plight. Since then Cedric has become an integral member of the Gardens for Health family.

Without GHI’s intervention and commitment to take care of him at this crucial time, Cedric would have died. The progression of Cedric’s revitalization is a testament to the diligence of the GHI staff providing good nutrition and overall care. Overwhelming compassion and love have also been key factors in bringing Cedric back from the brink of death. Naomi
Musabyimana, a lead trainer for GHI, committed to being his primary caregiver despite having two young daughters. She has incorporated him into her household since he was just several months old. He comes to work each day with her and everyone at the office helps keep an eye on him. He has received continuous verbal and physical stimulation with a steady flow of loving hugs and kisses too. Cedric’s first steps were within a large circle of enthusiastic GHI team members cheering him on.

At 14 months old Cedric was evaluated at King Faisal Hospital in Kigali to address concerns about physical and cognitive delays as a result of his neonatal malnutrition. The physician was reassuring that Cedric was ‘on his own curve’ and should make giant strides in his development by 2 years old. This has been an accurate prediction, as Cedric is now strong, running around on the farm with other children as “part of the gang”.

Every time I return to GHI, I am thrilled to see his progress. He’s animated, engaged, understands and speaks both Kinyarwanda as well as some English. It’s such a pleasure to be one of his mamas while I am here, his consistent beguiling nature and cheerful soul are perhaps his way of expressing the gratitude for the life which has been given back to him thanks to GHI. I feel honored to be a small part of Cedric’s story.    Helen       

Cedric at 2 months when he first
came to GHI, March 2011

Cedric at 4 months June 2011

Cedric and Aline, 14 months March 2012

Naomi and her family. Ange, Aline
and Cedric May 2013

Cedric and Helen 3 years 7 months
September 2014

Helen Weld RN, MPH has been a volunteer at GHI since October 2011. She is currently with GHI for her 7th stint. For other stories about her time at GHI see her personal blog:

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Zen of Munich Airport. . .

The days leading up to my departure for my 7th trip to Rwanda have been sublime September days; full of fun visits and excursions with family and friends. It’s been the usual pre-departure whirlwind with a giant ‘to do’ list. ‘COMPUTER’ (translating as: sort through files/photos, delete, re-file, reorganize, make new folders, backupbackupbackup etc., etc.) and ‘WRITE BLOG’ were the two items NOT scratched. Now I have my chance and I am ‘seizing the day’!

I write from Munich Airport where I will be spending 24 hours, sort of like Tom Hanks in The Terminal. After arriving in Munich (0200 EST), I dutifully went immediately to the gate for my next flight to Istanbul. Stretched out on empty chairs and dozed. As the people started arriving, I moved to a seat RIGHT IN FRONT of the counter and dozed again with my head on my pack. Woke up to an EMPTY gate area, the doors locked and the plane still there. ARGH. A bit of a nightmare initially, but alas with finagling I will arrive in Kigali on the same flight, just 24 hours later. Feel so stupid. Need to wear a ‘WAKE UP!’ sign around my neck like Paddington Bear and set an alarm or two.

Looking ahead, I am excited to witness all the amazing changes, work with the new staff and live in the community in Ndera since my departure from Gardens for Health (GHI) last November. GHI is now partnering with 10 additional health centers in the northern district of Musanze (total 18) and the growing team is comprised of 114 dynamic individuals. GHI’s work and model is being recognized in larger realms including being selected as a semi-finalist for the 2014 Buckminster Fuller Institute’s Challenge. This award recognizes organizations with ‘innovative solutions to humanity’s most pressing problems’. At a gala event in Boston last week GHI received the Walden Woods Environmental Challenge Award which also honored Robert Redford.

Thanks to everyone who has helped Gardens for Health directly with donations, gifts-in-kind AND those who provide ongoing general support and interest. You have helped make a huge impact as we work with 2,180 families in the coming year and further establish international partnerships.

As I pour through correspondence, photos and documents I am filled with gratitude for all the goodness, extraordinary people, beautiful places and amazing opportunities in my life. Also very grateful that I have found a snug place to rest for the night and that I will arrive in Rwanda tomorrow night recharged!


Gardens for Health Community Dinner

Munich Airport

Helen's Munich 'nest'