Good health and goats


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Help Life Rwanda, a civil service non-governmental organization here in Rwanda that I volunteer with, will soon be implementing a great new program in one of Rwanda’s poorest areas. This area in the Western Province of the country has a very high population of children younger than 18 and the people there have, in general, fewer opportunities for development. Help Life Rwanda (HLR) focuses on the country’s most vulnerable people, so it makes perfect sense to focus energies there.

We’ll start the project focusing on ten of the most vulnerable families in two villages in the Nyabihu district. These would likely include child-headed households. After the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, the extraordinarily high number of orphans resulted in constructed families: children organized themselves into families and chose a mother and father from within this family group.

Imagine being elected mom when you’re a child yourself with no mother.

Other types of vulnerable families could include those headed by women or with members who have disabilities or illness.

The first phase of the project will educate and sensitize the families about sanitation and hygiene. HLR will provide small jerry cans for boiled water. Because the available water must be boiled and stored safely in order to drink it, a small container will encourage families to drink clean water and reduce water-borne illnesses. Each jerry can costs about $2.50 in US dollars.

HLR will also ensure that each of the families has a kitchen utensil draining stand. This is basically a table that allows pots, pans, plates, and utensils to air dry after being washed. Kitchens in these villages are outside and fairly rudimentary and towels are a luxury. Like small jerry cans, these stands can help reduce water-born illnesses. The stands will be built out of locally available materials by volunteer youth who will be coordinated and trained by HLR. The cost of these stands? Zip. Zero. Nada.

HLR will also provide treated mosquito nets for all the family’s beds. These are necessary to sleep under because malaria-laden mosquitoes feast at night. Rwanda is making great strides in reducing malaria, and nets are an inexpensive preventative measure to cut down on this debilitating and often deadly disease. Each net costs about $5.

Even with these measures, people still get sick, so HLR will also help pay for the household’s medical insurance for a year. Here, the national, collective health insurance covers basic illnesses, and it costs about $5.

You’re waiting to hear about the goats, right?

The second phase of this project provides a great reward for those families who improve their family’s sanitation and hygiene: HLR will provide a breeding goat that can make a substantial improvement in the family’s economic situation. The goat manure can improve the soil in the family’s garden plot, for example. The first kid produced by the goat will be donated to another vulnerable family in a type of pass-it-forward strategy. Subsequent kids, however, are the family’s to sell or to use at their discretion. Even one goat can provide the family with money, and for many of these families, it could be the only income. Each breeding goat costs about $25.

A coordinator in the village will visit the families and communicate with HLR leadership to ensure that implementation is effective. The project coordinator will receive a bicycle ($100) and a mobile phone ($25).

It’s incredible to me that around $50 can substantially improve the health of a really needy family.

If you’d like to help, please let me know. You can email me at the address on the Contact page.

Thanks in advance!





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I’m from an area of the world with a latitude of about 30° North. That means that I’m used to being about a third of the distance up from the equator to the North Pole. It also means that I’m used to days that in the summer, from sunrise to sunset, are 14 hours long.

Things are a bit different here in Kigali.

Rwanda sits about 2° South. And here, the day is just 15 minutes over 12 hours. Basically, the days and nights here are equal length.

It’s surprising how much this simple geographic reality affects life.

For example, when the electricity goes out in the evening, which is not all that unusual, studying becomes difficult if not impossible. One night last week, the secondary school student whom Julius supports (someone I’ll call E) was studying for a difficult math test he was going to take the next day–then the electricity went out, plunging the house into real darkness.

As we waited to see whether the outage was a momentary blip, the boy turned on the weak flashlight device on his mobile phone. I was writing, and I finished whatever thought was in process and closed my laptop because it doesn’t run long on battery power.

As the minutes lengthened, however, it became apparent that power might be out for awhile, so Joseph the house facilitator went out to buy some candles. He came back in with one already lit and tilted it so that a few drops of wax fell onto the corner of the living room table. Then he held the base of the candle in the wax until it hardened and could support the six-inch taper.

And here’s the hard reality: E leaned into his notebook, close to the candle, and kept on studying. I don’t know how he could see the numbers and letters in his book, but he somehow managed.

After a long while, Joseph came in with another candle and was in the process of standing it on the table close to me. I stopped him and insisted that it be placed closer to E so that he could see better. E took it from Joseph and stood it up close to his notebook. It seemed to help just a little, but was not any comparison to the bright two-foot fluorescent bulb that breaks our darkness on most nights.

Fortunately, these sometimes long nights haven’t held E back, and he makes very high grades in school.

I wonder how these outages affect business and industry in urban areas, and I’m especially curious about the rural areas of Rwanda (and the developing world) that have little or no power. What a challenge to development and education.

The equality of Rwandan days and nights also affects language. The morning greeting is mwaramutse, but this is used only in the very early morning hours. By ten a.m., the appropriate greeting changes to mwiriwe, loosely translated as good afternoon or even good day, since it is also used in the evening. It occurred to me recently that this linguistic shift out of morning that occurs fairly early in the day really isn’t early in the day here. It’s four hours after sunrise, but by then a third of the day is gone.

I’ve always taken days—the time the sun is up—for granted. And in the summer, yes, the day is longer. But now I question what I do with those two extra hours. And I wonder how does a night that lasts two hours longer affects how a country develops.

Rwandan TV, Part 1


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On this trip to Rwanda, I’ve been into the Never Again-Rwanda office just once per week. Since I have my own internet access, I don’t have to go in to check email, make blog posts, and catch up with family and friends abroad. It’s especially good because the office has moved across town and is a 45-minute bus ride or 15-minute moto ride away.

As a result, I’ve stayed at home quite a bit. Well, it’s actually Julius’s home, which he also shares with a young man whose education he sponsors. And there’s Joseph, the house facilitator. Julius’s family also drops in regularly, as does my Rwandan son.

TV plays an interesting role in the house. It’s likely that the TV is a status symbol (and Julius’s is bigger than mine at home—what’s that about boys and their toys? Might be universal…). But the TV has useful purpose as well.

It’s fairly unusual not to have it on if someone is home or visiting—and certainly if anyone is in the living room.

I like sitting out there most of the time and that’s where we take meals, so over the last couple weeks, whenever Joseph saw me sitting on the couch, even though I was working on my laptop or writing or reading, he turned on the TV. I had to resort to turning the volume down way low after he left, although Joseph kept “fixing” that when he came back in. Maybe he wanted to hear it all the way out to the kitchen, but it’s pretty far away.

(Did I mention Continue reading