HRH and Umuganda

And now you can flip your calendars to the end of August.

As we approached September, we also approached the beginning of a new academic year for the students and faculty of the College of Medicine and Health Sciences (CMHS) in Rwanda.  This is the busiest time of year for the Human Resources for Health (HRH) Program, as the whole team prepared for the arrival of the new US Institution faculty who would be pivotal players in the HRH mission.

The outward preparations began with a Pre-Orientation meeting to ready the CMHS faculty for the challenges and opportunities ahead of them when the USI faculty arrived and we kicked off year three of the HRH Program.  It was really eye-opening to be something of a spectator to the open discussions in this forum.  Faculty were able to have any lingering concerns addressed and plans were made for how to move forward for the coming year, and the years to follow.  To top off the afternoon, we were visited by the Honorable Minister of Health herself, who delivered some motivation and stressed the importance of the success of this program.

Days later, the HRH Program team hosted the incoming USI faculty for a four-day Orientation training.  This orientation covered everything from US-Rwanda cultural differences to CMHS and hospital organizational structure to scientific research regulations.  Speakers included Rwandan and American doctors, nurses, and health managers.  We heard from returning US faculty, Peace Corps volunteers, and even got a visit from a leader in global public health, Paul Farmer.

The third day of Orientation ended with a trip to the Rwanda Genocide Memorial Centre.  For this trip I joined the other women of the HRH Program Team in donning a traditional dress called a mushanana.  The color gray was chosen as it represents remembrance.  During the couple hours we spent there, I couldn’t help but think that 20 years is hardly any time at all.  One section of the museum drives this point home with an exhibit detailing instances of genocide around the world in the last century.  For those of us fortunate enough to have not experienced horrors of this magnitude, it illustrates that genocide is not something confined to long-ago history in faraway places.

On Saturday, the final day of Orientation, I finally got my chance to participate in umuganda.  The USI faculty, the HRH Program team, and other staff from the Ministry of Health traveled together to Mwendo Health Center.  Desmond and I drove separately on an important mission to transport the post-work refreshments.  We bumped and rattled our way down the dirt (mud) road to Mwendo to the chorus of “Muzungus! Muzungus!” from children who played outside the houses that lined the road.  On our arrival, we set to work clearing brush, weeds, and garbage from a field that the health center employees will use to grow produce for preparing patients’ meals.  After trying my hand with a hoe a couple times, I decided I was better suited to carefully salvage the small potato plants that were mixed in with the weeds.  We wrapped up the umuganda with some presentations, songs, dance, and Fantas with health center staff and some local residents.   I was glad to finally get my hands dirty, and I hope that there are couple more umugandas with my name on them before I leave Rwanda.



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