Monday, May 30, 2016

Day 6: Gardens for Health


Today, we had the privilege to visit Gardens for Health, an NGO based in Rwanda, wth an office in Cambridge.  Gardens for Health is particularly special to our group because one of our two wonderful leaders, Zoe, interned at the Cambridge office this past semester doing mainly communications work. The offices and farm at GHI were so beautiful, and I learned so much about the ways in which NGOs best function and provide help to international communities with cultural competency.

When we arrived at GHI, Taylor, a woman who is working in Rwanda with GHI for six months, gave us an overview of the organization.  She explained that the mission is to combat childhood malnutrition by empowering caretakers, particularly mothers, with the skills to provide proper nutrition for their families.  Participants in their program are recruited from 14 health centers around the country, with priority given to the most malnourished children.  Workshops that the caregivers participate in include, but are not limited to, an overview of malnutrition, communicating effectively with one's partner, how to plant the crops that GHI distributes to the program participants, and how to cook the recipes GHI suggests.

We were lucky to receive an incredible lunch of sweet potatoes, avocados, beans, kale, and other steamed greens, all grown on the farm.  It was certainly the best meal I've eaten in Rwanda.

After lunch, one of the program directors answered questions we had about the recruitment process, trainings that the caretakers attend, and the program structure as a whole.  She emphasized the fact that all of the field workers who do the home visits to families hail from that particular region of Rwanda.  She explained that things are much easily communicated and problems are more easily solved when the field worker and participant have that level of common ground.  I think that the intention placed behind that working relationship is one of the most important aspects of this incredible organization and a manifestation of cultural competency in an international NGO.


Today the group spent most of our time just outside of Kigali in the town of Ndera. After navigating Ndera’s dusty roads and narrowly avoiding collisions with the morning dump trucks, we finally arrived at the NGO, Gardens for Health, International. GHI is an international group that operates throughout Rwanda with a focus on preventing malnutrition of young children. The group combats this phenomenon by granting seeds/trees/livestock to families in need, educating women about nutrition and sustainable farming practices, and cultivating strong communities of women that can support each other. GHI introduced us to some of their methods around the farm as well as discussed the roles of NGO’s in Rwanda’s present and future. NGO’s in developing countries can often be problematic, but it was fascinating to see a seemingly thriving organization operate. Upon our return to the village we were welcomed with yet another dinner of rice and beans, a reminder that we were lucky to have been fed avocado, kale, and cooked greens for lunch. Over dinner I was extensively questioned about organic chemistry from an S5 ASYV student (HS junior equivalent). The students here are beyond brilliant; many are trilingual and all already have a sense of purpose and direction for their lives. The chemistry student at dinner (in addition to bringing up memories of a terrible class) reminded me that students anywhere with the right education can have bright futures.

Today was another breathtakingly beautiful day in Rwanda! I had expected that by Day 6, I would have grown accustomed to the rolling mountains covered by patchwork quilts of crops, the frequent outcroppings of bright flowers, and the warm smoky breeze, but I definitely find these hallmarks of the country equally as exciting as I did on the first day!
As is my custom, I was the last to saunter out of my room to board the bus, but today apparently I was so much the last that I had been left behind! Not terribly concerned, I jogged after the vehicle, knowing that within a couple lines of our role call song “Call Me Maybe” (a pop sensation circa my high school glory years), the group would notice that the voice assigned to the word “number” (namely Julia Fasse) was missing. Or perhaps they caught a glimpse of me 100 feet behind, left in the literal dust, trotting with chicken arms bent backwards to secure the sloshing contents of my food-filled backpack. Either way, I was allowed on the bus and all was well.

Another exciting experience of the day was the chance to observe my Rwandan sisters slay in a casual debate on the topic “Rwanda’s government should stop accepting foreign aid”. The members of the debate club presented their arguments with such poise and eloquence that I was super intimidated when “the visitors” were called to step forward. We each tried our best with our limited information and hopefully sounded at least half intelligent!     

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