Sunday, November 8, 2015

6th Annual GHI Thanksgiving

Friday, October 30th was GHI’s 6th annual Thanksgiving which exemplified the “Turi Kumwe” spirit with all hands on deck to help pull off lunch for about 800 people. It was a stellar team of dishwashers (pre and post event), Irish potato scrubbers, sweet potato peelers, salad preparers, maize huskers, flag stringers and decorators, chair stackers, lunch servers…the list goes on. 

For many involved this was their first GHI Thanksgiving and it was a delight to watch everyone in awe of the spectacle of the mamas (chosen by lottery once again) arriving from Gasabo and Musanze Districts. Despite torrential downpours which cleared in time for lunch and dancing, festive spirits abounded, as everyone expressed their gratitude for the rain and the harvest, as well as their appreciation for the presence of Gardens for Health improving the quality of many lives. It’s always an honour for me to be part of this tradition. Pictures express a thousand words!


Potato scrubbers 

Maize huskers 

 Mamas cooking in the kitchen

 Rasta team dendo

 Team salad

Behind the scenes 

 Greeters all set

 Jessie, Archie and Daphne greeting mamas

  Magnificent Musanaze Mamas

Ominous clouds heading our way 

 The deluge begins

Festive spirits despite the rain 

 The rain continues

 The queue after the rain 


  Plenty of food for all

  Fervent Dancing

Anne Wanlund, GHI's new country
director after 1st Tday and Mama
Helen after 5th Tday at GHI.
May there be many more! 

  Team condom (take home party favours)

 Team dirty dishes

 Sublime clouds at the end of a remarkable day

Turi Kumwe Home Visits

Two weeks ago I had the honor accompanying Annonciata (GHI training supervisor) and Danielle (Princeton-in-Africa Communications Fellow) on two home visits in rather remote areas beyond Bumbago. The phrase, “Turi Kumwe” meaning “we are together/we are united ”, is part of the Gardens for Health lexicon and is manifested by a special fund (as well as in other ways) which is supported by staff, fellows and volunteers. Each month people donate a voluntary amount to the Turi Kumwe fund that is targeted to assist staff, families in the GHI program or other community members in need. Through reports from field educators, Annonciata had identified two families in the program who might need extra assistance with extra vulnerabilities.

The first family we went to visit, the mother was not present, since she was off working in the field. Her husband and two children were at home in their very simple abode with a large President Paul Kagame poster adorning the wall. Due to the fact that his wife had been absent at recent health trainings was a red flag for Annonciata to investigate. During the visit, we encouraged the father to attend the trainings in lieu of his wife in the event of her absence to ensure the dissemination of the weekly training messages and materials. Since she had missed the Family Planning training, the information was reinforced to him. Vasectomies are free in Rwanda, but unfortunately this is a very hard sell to men. How wonderful it would be to have more public health messages about this topic broadcast to dispel misconceptions. (There has been public health progress with an enormous HIV education billboard, Kinyarwanda one side and English the other, at the airport since my last visit a year ago to Rwanda.) Why he wasn’t the one out working is another topic.

A complex and heart wrenching story was revealed at our next visit to Davine, age 20, who is enrolled in the program with a 2 year old sister named Kevina. Observing Annonciata’s communication skills as she elicited information from Davine in a highly compassionate, sensitive and professional manner was inspiring. Davine also has her own child who is just a few months younger than Kevina. Their mother died in Kevina’s infancy when Davina was pregnant resulting in Davina having to drop out during her first year of high school. To support the family she and her older brother (they all have different fathers) had to sell their livestock. Kevina’s father refuses to provide support and her brother has a hard time finding work near home. Needless to say, caring for two small toddlers is very daunting for this young woman. For starters, the Turi Kumwe fund will be able to obtain Mutuelle d’ Sante (health insurance for 3000RWF/~$4 USD) per person/year for Davina and the children, as well as get supplemental milk and other provisions. Davina was very grateful for Annonciata’s concern and willingness to activate some extra help.

Being in the presence of people with such resilience is always very humbling and certainly makes one pause with gratitude. It is also reassuring that Annonciata will be able to follow up.


Welcoming public health message at Kigali Airport

. Off to do home visits via moto 

 Reinforcing family planning teaching 

Peanut gallery 

Countryside panorama 

Along the road

Community children 

 Women and girls carrying the loads

 Walking to the bottom of the valley to Davina's house

 Annonciata in action 

 Davina telling her story to Danielle and Annonciata

 Davina (age 20)with her sister
Kevina (age 2) and son Brit (age 1+)
 .Kids following us back up the track

Working with Annonciata is an honour 

Heading home

Thursday, October 29, 2015

‘Carpe diem’. . . 

A long interlude between blog posts…

It’s been a time of emotional vicissitudes. Profound grief losing Maggie, one of my oldest and dearest friends, penetrated to my core, though I was very grateful she could choose the death with dignity route. Read:

Other contemporaries/friends have died too. Luckily this sadness has been balanced with experiencing fun family times sharing the joy of Annie and Vlad’s marriage, Will and Carli’s engagement, Ian’s continued exciting adventures and employment with Lindblad Expeditions/National Geographic and a long awaited kayak expedition with Robert in the Whitsunday Islands of Queensland.

During the past 6 months in Maine I have been vey fortunate to work with a very capable and inspired/inspiring team as a hospice nurse. It has been fulfilling to be serving in one of my local communities giving me new meaning and purpose in life. This opportunity altered my previous experience as a home health nurse and helped patients and their families subtly shift from ‘What is the matter?’ to more of a hospice end-of-life perspective of, ‘What matters?’  It has been intense, but an honor and privilege to work with patients and their families throughout the dying process. Working within the context of hospice constantly reminded by the need to have a 'carpe diem' approach to life, as one never knows how and when the dice will roll changing one’s life trajectory. No one gets out of life alive.

These words of F. L. Lucas’s, an English classical scholar, were written on an index card and posted on my father’s bulletin board, as well as on a small folded paper in his wallet that was discovered upon his death.

On Happiness
"Vitality of mind and body; the activity to employ and maintain them; the zest and curiosity that they can animate; freedom to travel widely in nature and art, in countries of the world and countries of the mind; human affections; and the gift of gaiety – these seem to me, then, the main causes of happiness. I am surprised to find how few and simple they are.”
F. L. Lucas The Greatest Problem and Other Essays (London 1960)
This passage helps me answer some of the ‘what matters?’ question for myself. Integrating the ‘carpe diem philosophy’ and On Happiness I have designed and am currently realizing a time of long yearned for reconnections, experiences and travel.

Thanks to Ian’s employee benefit perk from Lindblad in May I managed to squeeze in a dream-come-true trip to the Galapagos Islands. Absolutely fantastic!

I spent a blissful time with my first cousin (and surrogate brother) Philip Baldwin and Monica Guggisberg at their new residence and studio in Wales last week. See: hares green studio slideshow. Cosy times and conversations by the wood stove, working in their gardens, roaming for hours amongst the rolling verdant hills around their place and meeting some of their neigbours and friends filled a very special week holding lots of wonderful memories.

During a long layover in Istanbul en route to Rwanda, I took advantage of Turkish Airlines free “Touristanbul” and explored the Topkapi Palace and the nearby streets. Certainly better than hanging in the airport the whole time and a quick taste of a new country.

Arriving into Kigali was thrilling anticipating a return to Gardens for Health after almost a year. Surprise reunions with Gardens for Health colleagues and friends with the primary focus of assisting with the 6th annual Thanksgiving Celebrations has already been a full time of “human affections and the gift of gaiety”.

After Rwanda my itinerary will take me to an elephant sanctuary in Ayutthaya, Thailand and finally Luang Prahbang in Laos to rendezvous with Will and Carli for a few days before heading home to Robert, the lakes and life in Far North Queensland. I am lucky and I know it. Carpe diem!


Helen and Maggie

Proud and happy parents

 Vlad and Annie with Katherine Stiles

New family ties

 Carli and Will

Carli and Will with parents

Ian in Antarctica

Whitsunday paddling 

Whitehaven Beach 


 Monica, Helen and Philip in Wales

 View from Hares Green

 Istanbul Market spices

Topkapi tiles 

Welcome to Rwanda. . . 

Reunions with Naomi and Manu 

Annonciata and Helen 

Surprising Mediatrice

Carpe Deim!!