Monday, January 2, 2017


Produced and edited by: Austin Greene

Tea as far as the eyes can see. Literally

Saying goodbye is difficult. Saying murabeho was harder because I don't know if I'll ever get to say it
again. I'm back in the United States now, and what a journey I had.

I don't have a long list of places that I can recommend people to travel to. My entry and exit visas from Rwanda are the only stamps in my passport, but I can't recommend a trip to Rwanda enough. For anyone wanting to visit Africa, this is the perfect entry point.

I've mentioned before that one of the more pleasant surprises for me was how safe and clean the entire country was. This isn't limited to the capital city, Kigali, either. Even the towns further out were much cleaner than I would have ever imagined. When I went to Rusizi, you could see across the river into the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the difference was telling.

When I told people that I was going to be in Africa for three months, many of them told me that I was going to die. I'm pretty sure I'm still alive, I made it back to America just fine. People had plenty of opportunities to kill me and take all my money, but that's just not the reality of Rwanda. They are great and wonderful people with some of the biggest hearts I've seen.

Malaria wasn't an issue either, at least for me. I didn't take the medications, and wasn't even bitten by mosquitoes all that much. I get more bites in Ohio as a matter of fact. However, two of my friends, both Rwandans, contracted malaria while I was there. They were both back on their feet within two days though, as the medication to treat it is readily available.

The only issue for safety would probably be the buses and the moto taxis. It was normal for me to see up to 25 people crammed into a small bus no larger than a van. I couldn't imagine getting into an accident in one of those. The moto taxis were another story. I saw at least two accidents in Kigali involving the motorcycles, but they didn't look too severe. That never deterred me from taking them whenever I needed to go somewhere. Cheap is cheap and I'm going to die some day anyhow.

Locals gather for a ceremony after umuganda.
One thing that I didn't get to write about was umuganda. On the last Saturday of every month, all Rwandans over the age of 18 are required to participate in community service. The service is decided by each sector, and usually involves cleaning streets, building houses and helping farmers. The amount of work that could be completed with little effort was astounding because of how many people were involved.

The food will always hold a special place in my heart, or should I say on my tongue? Going to the restaurant and getting a plate of food for about 50 cents was a blessing. It was pretty much just rice, beans, fried bananas, cassava and beef every day, but I grew accustomed to it. I'll miss going to the bar and ordering brochettes with my beer. Did I mention that beer was only about 50 cents as well?

That's right, everything there is cheap if you know what you're doing. If not, well... let's just say I hope you have a nice job. The tourist traps are expensive. The cheapest trail to walk in Nyungwe National Forest costs about $40. All national parks in the United States are free to walk in as far as I know, and while I understand that Rwanda has to generate money to help fund biodiversity conservation, it's a major deterrent for younger travelers like myself.

For instance, the trek to see the mountain gorillas will run you $750 per person. At that price, you should go see them in the zoo. I get it, you get to see wild gorillas! However, you should know ahead of time that those gorillas are selected by the government to be habituated to people. They do this so the paying tourists are guaranteed to see a troop of gorillas. That's not exactly gorilla trekking in my opinion. Walking through the national parks without a guide is forbidden. Even with a guide, you're not allowed to stray from the marked trails that you've specifically paid for.

If that's your thing, more power to you. If you're a more intrepid soul then Rwanda might not be ideal, however it does have much more to offer than just the tourist traps. Earlier I wrote about renting motorcycles to travel on my own. I wrote about the genocide memorials. Walking around Kigali and just seeing the way that the Rwandan world operated was an adventure in itself.

I'd like to thank everyone involved with sending me, if they're reading this. I only wish I could have stayed longer, if just to avoid Ohio weather. Murabeho, Rwanda!

A Seed to Feed Your Need

Food is prepared for Growing Helath's beneficiaries
Produced and edited by: Austin Greene

Subsistence farming dominates the Rwandan economy. In fact, more than 85 percent of the population works in the fields. Rows of crops dominate the landscape. Farms are everywhere.

Even inside a hospital.

In early 2015, two American doctors, Medie Jesena and Emily Esmaili, were working in the pediatrics ward of the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire du Butare (CHUB) when they noticed that their patients were not responding to treatment.

According to Laurette Mushimiyamana, the program's coordinator and president, the children's treatments were ineffective because the kids were malnourished.

"Simply because children had no food, that medicine had no effect," she said. "After discovering that, both of them and their colleagues started gathering money to buy food."

When the patients' conditions began to improve, Jesena and Esmaili began putting together a program that would grow food on the hospital grounds. They named it Farming for Child Health (F4CH), and it initially provided food for 30 children. However, the doctors soon realized that the problem was not isolated to the pediatrics ward.

"The patients from surgery were facing the same problem," Mushimiyamana said. "They were having anemia because they had no food. Surgery became our second priority and we added 30 more patients."

Meanwhile, new mothers suffering the effects of hunger were unable to produce breast milk. Tragically, many babies passed away from undernourishment. F4CH stepped in, adding 30 more patients from maternity and internal medicine to bring the total number of patients served to 90.

At this point, the program wasn't solely farming for children's health, but for the health of any person who could not afford food. F4CH was renamed Kuzamura Ubuzima, or Growing Health in English.

Ange Imanishimwe, the training and M&E manager, said that another important goal for the program is to teach the beneficiaries to select better food when they leave the program.

"What we are doing is to integrate food security, nutrition and human health," he said. "Those patients also come in our plots and learn the basic cultivation practices and we can train them. When they are good, they can go home and do the same practices."

Samuel Byiringiro speaking to patients at CHUB
Along with teaching patients about the need for a complete diet, Growing Health also provides opportunities for local medical students to volunteer. One such student, Samuel Byringiro, talks to the beneficiaries before the meals to help them understand why proper nutrition is necessary. Along with other miscellaneous jobs, he also handles most of Growing Health's IT work.

"Growing Health is really helping me grow my career," he said. "Because the skills when I'm teaching them, I will keep mastering it and I will keep doing it everywhere that I practice as a nurse."

With almost two full years under its belt, the program has so far succeeded in its goals of helping Rwandans in need. Both Mushimiyamana and Imanishimwe hope that Growing Health can be a model for similar programs in other parts of the country.

"We have the plans to scale up," Imanishimwe said. "We are also partnering with the government of Rwanda through Huye District so that this program could be implemented in other district hospitals. We are all responsible for this world, so we have to help each other."