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.


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Papa Savings Group. . .

Encouraging papas to get involved with their family’s health and well-being is an ongoing objective of Gardens for Health. Recently the field supervisors in the northern Musanze District devised an idea for a papa savings group pilot program at the Kabere Health Center. This is another innovations project along with the Mentor Mama program featured in the last blog. In conjunction with the objective of understanding and practicing financial savings, there will be six health trainings offered to this papa group over time, including; nutrition, HIV/AIDS, family planning, listening /communication, mental health and gender based violence. Samuel, the field coordinator in Musanze, who has spearheaded this effort, is enthusiastic about the outcome despite meeting some initial challenges.

There was a misunderstanding at the first meeting when 23 papas expected Gardens for Health to give them a payment of 1500 RWF (about $2.20 USD) for attendance. The source of this information is unknown, but perhaps can be attributed to the semantics of ‘meeting’ vs. ‘training’ in Rwanda. ‘Trainings’ are often subsidized by NGOs in Rwanda, but are not part of GHI’s strategy, especially since mamas commit to attend trainings without being paid. Instead GHI invested 1000 RWF for the first two shares in the savings scheme, provided food and refreshment at the first meeting, as well as facilitating the savings group process. Some papas accept that GHI already has helped their families tremendously by providing their wives with the health and agriculture trainings, a home visit, the home garden seed packages, tree seedlings, the choice of 6 live rabbits or 4 live chickens, as well as 1000RWF upon graduation. Other papas were upset and angry, resulting in much fervent discussion.

At the second meeting, held at a house, the attendance was lower, partially because of illness and also a lack of committed participants. Samuel and Katembo, GHI’s Monitoring and Evaluations Manager, did baseline savings surveys to help assess the overall impact of the program (separate health surveys will be done later). Led by an elected president, members of the group discussed in detail specific guidelines and requirements for membership.

Despite the meeting being in Kinyarwanda this was an interesting process to observe. It seems that the participating papas are eager to make a difference for their wives and children. As an extra bonus for me, it was gratifying to see the GHI health and agricultural color training handouts displayed on the back wall in the house’s main room, exemplifying the family’s pride and accountability as members of the Gardens for Health community-at-large.


 Papas discuss controversial training payment
situation with Samuel, Musanze Field Coordinator

Residence where Papa
Savings group convened 

Samuel and Katembo, Monitoring and Evaluation
Manager, assist with accounting and paperwork

 GHI training materials are proudly displayed

Samuel doing savings survey

 First deposits for shares being made
and recorded. Samuel includes two
shares from GHI to each member.

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