Monday, January 2, 2017

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."

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