Sunday, November 9, 2014

GHI Thanksgiving 2014:
Gratitude, Goodness, Generosity
. . but no goats. . .

Last Friday the Gardens for Health team hosted the 5th annual Thanksgiving lunch extravaganza. Despite the threat of an afternoon deluge, the skies never opened and approximately 500 people were able to enjoy an amazing feast, sketches from field educators and dance performances from the mamas who are currently enrolled in GHI’s program.

One task of mine for this stint at GHI was planning and coordinating this year’s Thanksgiving.  From a logistics perspective, the combination of implementing ‘lessons learned’ from previous years and incredible team-work resulted in an almost stress-free production. Due to the huge expansion this past year from 8 to 18 health center partnerships, we realized early on in the planning stages that including all mamas in the program was not feasible. A lottery system was devised for each health center that made it fair and equitable. The mamas chosen were all given a wooden clothespin with their name and health center written on it, as their ‘entry ticket’. This would ensure they were given priority in the meal queue, as well as a friendly way to know their names. This system also kept the numbers of guests down from last year’s approximation of two thousand!

Besides featuring dendo (turkey) on the menu, one major change from years past was the decision to switch from inhene (goat) to inka (cow) as the primary meat dish. Despite some logistical challenges with the cow’s final hour, afterwards at the staff debrief meeting there was a landslide vote in favor of inka over inhene for future events.

When the rented matatus (small buses) arrived in convoy with the Musanze district mamas (for many their first time to Kigali), their excitement was palpable. Carrying colorful ceremonial baskets on their heads with offerings from their harvest as they were greeted is a wonderful image to remember. After the incredible lunch, prepared by the indefatigable GHI staff and community mamas over hot fires, an hour of fervent dancing and the gifting of harvested offerings began. It’s an extraordinary and moving spectacle to witness these women who, in some realms have so little, yet have the capacity to give immense doses of gratitude and goodness.

After a steadfast team tackled dishes, a crew stacked chairs and others helped with general cleanup, another dance party ensued, wrapping up a very full, wonderful and emotional day.


Clothes pins entry tickets

 Hanging flags

Ready to tackle a massive
shopping expedition 

 Clean dishes prepared

.Focused potato scrubbers 

 Part of the potato crew


 Ivy League butcher

 Steadfast kitchen mamas

 Mamas arriving

 Happy mama

 The lunch queue

GHI Team (partial)

Adorable observers 

 The first dancers offering their
harvest baskets to Julie

 Jessie & Julie
GHI's amazing leaders


Sunday, November 2, 2014

Eight arms, four eyes, three laps, one huge heart
and a special 'sixth sense' of motherhood. . .

Mamas who attend GHI’s weekly trainings at their local health centers often have to walk, with their small children in tow, for up to two hours. Upon arrival at the training it is encouraged that the children get left with two ECD (early childhood development) mamas in a separate area. This gives the mamas being trained an opportunity to have a bit of a break for two hours and to focus on the important learning without the distractions of their restless toddlers. It is also a chance for these children to be stimulated in new ways, enhancing learning skills and development through play, songs and fun activities. All children receive an ample portion of Sosoma, a fortified porridge, which is prepared and served by the ECD mamas. These women are loving, gentle individuals with great patience, despite being overwhelmed with the task of caring for a large group of toddlers and babies with few resources in a very limited space. Watching them in action is quite extraordinary, as they keep all these children happy and fed, exemplifying the attributes of the “sixth sense” of motherhood.

This past week Annonciata, GHI’s training supervisor extraordinaire, and I gathered the ECD mamas from Gasabo (8 mamas total) and Musanze (28 mamas total) Districts to give each group a three-hour training. We were also fortunate having Kelly Weese, a volunteer with Bright School/Teach Rwanda, collaborate and help teach. Despite the ECD mamas’ full days and some with long distances to travel, we had 100% attendance. Other than knowing their work partner, no mamas knew each other previously. All were definitely eager to learn and get to know their cohort (some arrived two hours early!). It was wonderful to witness their instant camaraderie as they settled into conversations and broke out into spontaneous heartfelt song and dance throughout the morning.

Giving these mamas an opportunity to share the positive aspects of their jobs, as well as their concerns and challenges, was a good way to begin the training. Empowering them with new knowledge, skills and ideas was also a primary goal of the morning. Rudimentary stages and realms of child development were taught and the importance and value of play as children’s work was emphasized. Child safety and prevention of accidents was another topic. Ideas for simple and economical activities, such as ‘painting’ with water, making rattles with plastic water bottles and pebbles (the lid taped), making cloth books out of fabric scraps, sock puppets and playing with scarves were all well received suggestions. During the training I asked, “Wouldn’t it be good if you all had eight arms, as well as eyes at the back of your heads for these few hours on the job?” Hoots of laughter and clapping was their response.

We hope that this is a great start to create a solid ECD program for GHI’s families. Purchasing and assembling a large array of appropriate sustainable toys (e.g. blocks, board books, balls, finger puppets) to be stored in a crate at all 18 health centers is a dream we hope to realize soon with a successful grant proposal. Giving these motivated ECD mamas tools and support to provide a nurturing, fun and safe environment for these children is a vital piece of GHI’s program waiting to be implemented.


  Kinigi Kids

 Muhoza 'big guys' 

Jacqueline at Muhoza, needing
eight arms and three laps! 

Dancing mamas

Angelique and Jacqueline

Dorothea and Kesia

Jacqueline and Vestine

Soline and Christine

 Musanze ECD Mamas 

Gasabo ECD Mamas with
Kelly, Helen and Annonciata

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Morning Routines. . .

There’s a sweet red finch sitting on the window bars that taps conscientiously on my small window at dawn every morning. It’s a good way to start the day. After my morning ablutions, a hot water bucket bath, I set off for my walk to the office before the sun truly rises. This thirty-minute walk (with a long downhill and a long uphill) has become a favourite part of my daily routine. People in this community seem to remember my commute from the past three years calling out one of the four usual greetings; “maramutse”/”good morning”/”bonjour”, “amahoro”(peace) as they go about their own early morning routine.

They greet me as they sweep their front steps, open up their shops, head to work or school and wait for the bus. It’s good to have become enough a part of the local morning “scene” with the early morning risers that I actually feel a bit less obtrusive with my presence and “muzungu-ness”. Local moto drivers, knowing that I prefer the walk and will refuse their offer to ride with them, just wave and grin as they pass me by.

How I would love to capture a multitude of images on camera, but I fear being invasive and obnoxious. Some of the images include: men playing checkers using blue and red bottle cap pieces, enjoying the morning light on their backs; an elderly man dressed in his finest suit and leather hat walking slowly with Bible in hand; children primped and pressed ready for school; women carrying gargantuan loads on their heads, heading to the local market (Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays). A young woman with broad bare feet having an animated cell phone conversation striding along purposely carrying a lone jug on her head and with a hoe propped on her shoulder was an especially memorable image.

The other day I walked by a lovely scene of two women, with one intently doing the other’s hair in fine, taut braids close to the scalp. I was somehow struck by this vision of purity/vulnerability and sweet innocence of the moment that I stopped and turned around to chat with them, getting up my courage to record it beyond my mind’s eye. They were amused and rather bewildered, but definitely pleased by my request to take a photo. I just wanted to capture the sense of belonging, serenity and comfort they exuded at the beginning of their day.