Annonciata, one of the wonderful health educators at GHI, reported in at our weekly meeting about a family she was especially concerned about after doing a home visit with them last week. She requested that I accompany her for a follow up and assessment visit, as this family is extremely vulnerable.
On Wednesday under the noonday sun, the two of us rode on motos on a back road through the verdant hills for about 30 minutes before being dropped off for a 15 minute walk on paths through cultivated fields. As we came out of a small grove of banana trees the vista of terraced hillsides was stunning. Our presence was quickly identified as children working in distant fields began to wave and holler “Muzungu, muzungu” (“white person, white person”). When we approached the mud house, the father and six of the seven children greeted us enthusiastically.
As we entered the dark structure (there was just a tiny window), my eyes were instantly drawn to the Nutrition Wheel (“4 colors at every meal”) created by my colleague Brad and GHI staff, pinned to the middle of the mud wall. It practically brought me to tears to witness the pride which this family had, being able to display this important piece of paper. In some ways, in that instant, I felt the essence and value of all the work we do to help those in need. Despite this family being completely caught in the cycle of extreme poverty, here was a seed of hope.
The father, aged 48, is permanently disabled due to a quarry accident in 2004. He hobbles with crutches and his foot is extremely swollen and disfigured. He reaches above the door to retrieve an x-ray from 2005 squirreled away in a niche. Broken bones are obvious to even an untrained eye.
We sit on the only furniture in the house, a long bench along the mud wall. There’s also a small wooden ladder, a fire pit in the corner (no kitchen ware), a couple of old mismatched plastic sandals and a stack of neatly piled lumber on the opposite wall. Annonciata inquires about the lumber and the father states bluntly that they are saving it for his wife’s coffin.
The children peer in from the doorway, blocking most of the light, as their numbers have increased since our arrival. The father converses with Annonciata for a long while. He wants to have a vasectomy (unusual in Rwanda, even though the procedure is free) because he realizes that having more children would not be good for his wife. The 16 and 11 year old daughters who run the household, as well as cultivate in the neighbor’s fields, tend to the smallest children (who appear to have chronic malnutrition) with apparent ease as they hoist them on to their slim hips. These girls don’t have the opportunity for schooling because they are working very hard at home to care for their family. The oldest, an 18 year old boy, goes off to the village during the day and just comes home to eat and sleep, apparently not contributing to any household income or tasks.
Finally the mother appears from the behind the closed wooden bedroom door. She wears an old kitenge, a vibrant kelly green shimmery shirt and a head wrap. Her legs are thinner than my arms, her skin dry, and her affect flat. The baby, carried by the 11 year old daughter, reaches for her mama and she tries to push him away, but finally relents and offers him an elongated, pendulous and flat breast. Besides being malnourished, the mother has an ominous look of cancer. It’s amazing to think that she has the ability to walk for at least an hour to get to the nearest health center for trainings, but she does.
It’s overwhelming how many problems this family faces. They epitomize the cycle of poverty, at least the father’s willingness to have a vasectomy is a good beginning. Now that the family is enrolled at GHI, their lives will be boosted. Their situation will begin to turn around and their lives will improve, empowering them to help themselves.
“Ni twebe muti w’ibibazo byacu”...“We are the ones we have been waiting for.”- Rwandan saying and vision.
Moto ride over back roads
Home visit with Annonciata
Girl sitting on lumber for mother's coffin
Home visit interior
Family and Annonciata
Children showing us the best track towards home
Heading off for our walk home
Panorama of countryside on walk home