By Bronwyn Murray-Bozeman
Corrado Cancedda shouts at the little television screen set high in the corner of the room. The lanky Italian doctor is watching his team--the team that beat France in the 2006 World Cup--lose to a team of relative obscurity two years after that championship game. He turns around and apologizes to the audience, grinning. A couple of other foreigners are watching the game, but most of the little bar--home of the only television set in the village--is crammed with good-natured Rwandan kids, laughing at Dr. Cancedda’s outburst and cheering for both teams. Some of these kids are Dr. Cancedda’s patients, some are just the kids who play soccer in the stadium every Tuesday, but all of them know the tall doctor who has become part of the village.
Rwinkwavu, Rwanda is not the first PIH site Dr. Cancedda has passionately immersed himself in. He worked with PIH’s partners in the mountains of Lesotho in southern Africa for the final year of his infectious disease fellowship, and now he brings that experience to his current work, as well as what involved him with PIH in the first place--a burning desire to help and the realization that disease isn’t just bad luck, but also the result of structural violence and poverty. Now, as the Chief of Medical Education for PIH in Rwanda, he brings those lessons to Rwandan doctors and nurses as well as American medical students and residents working with facilities operated by PIH’s sister organization Inshuti Mu Buzima, in partnership with the Rwandan Ministry of Health.
Dr. Cancedda firmly believes that “nothing replaces experience.” He recommends at least two to three years of solid fieldwork so that trainees can bring the lessons they learn in Rwanda to a larger arena. He trains his students in both medicine and in social action so that they can provide clinical care and psychosocial support. “Understanding issues,” he says, “is the foundation for solid work. If you don’t address psychosocial factors, you can’t have much of an impact. You can’t just cure the disease, but you have to address what leads to the disease in the first place.” This idea, one of the core ideals that PIH is governed by, is strikingly evident in a place like Rwanda, where Dr. Cancedda regularly sees patients afflicted with diseases of poverty, like malnutrition or malaria.
In an environment where “no one tells you that you’re crazy no matter how big an idea you come up with” (or how loudly you yell at a TV during a soccer game), Dr. Cancedda finds a way to pursue his passions through the medical skills he has been given, and is currently working on creating an academic partnership between American universities and the PIH sites in Rwanda and Haiti. Likewise, he pushes his trainees to think bigger and bigger, as well as to channel that passion and creativity. “We are very lucky,” he reminds them, “because we have the opportunity to advocate for our patients and to promote social justice and to make a difference. We need to take this opportunity.”
Though he splits his time between Rwanda and Boston, he described the unique union of qualities that makes Rwanda such an inspiring place to live and to work: the kindness of people and the slower pace of life, the beauty of the countryside around Rwinkwavu, red dirt hills awash with color and hazy sunsets in the dry season. Dr. Cancedda is also careful to explain why it is so excellent to work in Rwanda, with Rwandans--the stunning potential for good coupled with the constant drive to be better. For him, it’s a combination that incites a passion that rivals a World Cup win.