Muraho! Greetings From Rwanda
I'm happy to be writing to you from Butare, Rwanda where I have been living for the past month with my fellow GlobeMedder Alex Moran, and we will happily continue to reside in Butare until mid-July. During these eight weeks, we are working closely with the Rwandan Village Concept Project (RVCP), our partner of five years, to work first and foremost on the Maternal Health Education Program (MHEP) and to continue to build and strengthen our partnership with RVCP.
Achieving both of these goals fully occupies our eight precious weeks in Rwanda. In our work with MHEP, we help to coordinate and plan education sessions for 45 women who are involved in this year's cooperative. Every Sunday, we accompany a group of volunteers from RVCP who teach the sessions to the women at the Rukira clinic, where these women receive healthcare. The topics of these sessions vary by week, ranging from critical issues such as malnutrition, hygiene, important prenatal practices, and HIV/AIDS. This clinic and these sessions have been the focus of our fundraising efforts for the last five years and we will continue to support efforts to strengthen and expand the capacity of the clinic.
At the end of ten sessions, each of the women will receive either a pig or goat on the condition that they have attended a sufficient number of the sessions. The women of each year of MHEP sessions then form a cooperative and share a few large plots of land, provided by RVCP, and they work together to cultivate the land and harvest crops that provide a secondary source of food for their families and can be sold to contribute to the costs of renting and cultivating the land. These farming costs and the upkeep of the clinic are what we fundraise for throughout the year.
In addition to working with RVCP to hold the education sessions, we are also planning on visiting each of the women from the 2011 MHEP cooperative so that we can get their opinions retrospectively about the program, what could be improved, and how it has affected their lives after one year. By doing so, we hope to be able to better assess the needs of the cooperatives so that we can continue to maintain their sustainability.
Our biggest task this summer is to develop a long term method of monitoring and evaluating the results of MHEP. So far, we have distributed an entry survey to the 2012 MHEP cooperative to determine what they know about the topics that the education sessions cover, their perspectives on gender balance within their families, and their perspectives on their health and the health of their children. We will be distributing exit surveys at the end of the ten sessions so as to determine what the women have learned from the sessions and how their perspectives have changed, if at all. For long term data collection, we have created a survey to give to the clinicians at the Rukira clinic. Our vision is that each woman who comes to the clinic will receive this survey at reception, regardless of whether she has participated in MHEP in the past. This way, we can collect data on how MHEP has affected the lives of women in the cooperatives and compare it to data on the health and welfare of women who have not participated in the program.
In terms of strengthening our partnership with RVCP, Alex and I will be visiting each of the initiatives that RVCP has, even though we do not work directly with those programs. They include initiatives that serve to educate local schools and communities about malaria prevention, nutrition, hygiene, and HIV/AIDS awareness. (LINKS) We also have and will continue to enjoy living in the company of our partner organization, getting to know its members more intimately, and getting the chance to see their homes and university (The National University of Rwanda). Something we've been constantly reminded of is how similar RVCP members are to ourselves, as they too are university students working their way through school while also investing their time and spirit into global health projects.
As we continue to participate in RVCP operations, visit old friends, and learn more about our partner organization and Rwandan culture, I can genuinely and truly say that I am thrilled with the rewarding experience we have had so far and I cannot wait to bring back everything I have learned to our GlobeMed chapter at the George Washington University.