Recently, a group of college students--all members of the HIV/AIDS awareness organization FACE AIDS--traveled to Rwanda to visit some of the people whose lives have been impacted by the group’s work. Run by students, FACE AIDS has raised $2 million (US) for Partners In Health’s work in Rwanda since 2006. During their trip, the students regularly blogged to share their thoughts and opinions about what they were experiencing. Below are excerpts from some of their entries. Read all the posts from their trip on their blog


Visits with an accompagnateur
By Annie Smartt, Stanford University
After over 24 hours of exhausting travel, we finally made it – no one missed a connection, everyone found each other in the airport. We all went out to dinner and we had our first introduction to the local staple, goat brochettes. Katie, our resident vegetarian, abstained, but the boys attacked the meal with gusto.

Because we were not fully adjusted to the time, we all woke up at around 5 am, bright eyed and ready for a full day of exploring. We all piled into our mini bus (which over the next 12 days would be our beloved home) and started our trek across the country. Our first stop was Rwinkwavu Hospital which is supported by Inshuti Mu Buzima (Partners In Health). Partners In Health takes seriously their doctrine that beautiful physical surroundings are an essential part of the recovery process.

We joined one of the accompagnateurs [community health workers] to meet with some of her patients living with HIV. I don’t think I will ever forget the second house we visited. It was so small that not all of the group could fit inside.

She described how desolate her life became after she received her HIV positive diagnosis and how quickly her health deteriorated. But once she started receiving care from Partners in Health, she started regaining hope. The accompanateur came day in and day out making sure that she stayed on her medication, was getting proper nutrition, and had some sort of emotional support as well.

And this woman was truly thriving because of this personalized care. And then she said something that really resonated with me. She thanked us for coming and sitting and listening to her story. She radiated warmth and love, and was so thankful to us muzungus (foreigners) who truthfully had absolutely no idea what she had endured and was continuing to go through.

 

Reflecting on Rwanda’s history
By Taylor Bendt, Oregon State University
Today we visited the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre, where we spent much of day. Each of the centre’s gardens represent different areas of Rwanda, and fountains telling the story of how Rwanda has pulled together since 1994. It gives off a very optimistic feel.

There is also a series of mass graves that contain the remains of 250,000 men and women murdered during the genocide.  

Inside, there where rooms filled with photos of loved ones unaccounted for: hundreds of photos lined the walls – there were also small stools on which to sit. One room in particular was moving for me, it contained just skulls. No video screens, no audio tours, just the sterile remnants of men and women’s heads – frames that once held faces, minds, eyes, voices. After you allow the idea that each of these skulls where once someone to sink in, the room becomes overwhelming, the space was suddenly both cavernous and claustrophobic.

The events of 1994 should never be remembered as a statistic.

 

A day in Butaro
By Rachel Seeman, Stanford University
We ate in the car as we drove for about three hours in the van heading towards Butaro. The drive was gorgeous but very bumpy. Once arriving in Butaro, we were all excited to see the new PIH hospital.

This hospital in Butaro took my breath away. It is in the most beautiful setting and so much thought and care has gone into every aspect of the hospital. From the placement of each brick to the placement of the beds in each room, this hospital will certainly serve as a safe haven and a healing ground for the people in this community. Walking through the hospital was so moving, it almost made be cry.

The hospital visit was certainly the pinnacle of the day, and left all of us with smiles on our faces and a renewed sense of hope for the health of this community. After an evening reflection, we returned to the guesthouse for dinner and headed off for a good night’s rest.

 

Reflecting on Community Health Workers
By Kevin Martin, University of Texas
Today we met Alain Ntwali, PIH’s district health implementation analyst and director of the CHW cooperatives for the Clinton Health Access Initiative. Both initiatives work to generate jobs and income in local communities overcome by burdens of poverty and disease.

Alain provided administrative insight into the Community Health Worker Program and the cooperative system. The cooperative system pools together the money received by the Community Health Workers and reinvests the funds into a small business. The business started in Butaro is a store that sells beans. Alain took us to the bean store and we met some of the individuals who run the business. We were impressed with the level of documentation, budgeting, and resource management of the cooperative.  This system cultivates skills of investment, savings, and financial responsibility, which are crucial for sustainable development.

 

Meeting the FACE AIDS associations
By Julie Veroff, FACE AIDS Executive Director 
Our first full day in Kirehe was packed with meetings with two of FACE AIDS’ partner associations: Girimpuhwe AIDS Orphans Cooperative and Rwandarera Association.

Since beginning our work in Rwanda in 2007, FACE AIDS has partnered with 5 associations. Through this partnership, we employ members of associations to craft beaded AIDS awareness pins, paying them a monthly salary and helping them to save a portion of their income. We provide business skills and financial management training, and help each partner group to develop a rotating savings and credit cooperative. Members use their savings to start or strengthen small businesses, and the income they earn helps them pay for health insurance, school fees, food, and other critical needs. You can read how this works in more detail at http://faceaids.org/whatwedo.html#sesupport

FACE AIDS began working with Girimpuhwe AIDS Orphans Cooperative in 2008. The group has 38 members, all of whom have lost one or both of their parents to AIDS. They’re young, ranging from 14 to 26 years old. 

The innovation of Girimpuhwe is that, because many members are in school, they have their families run the businesses they funded with their savings. That way, they can continue going to school, pay for their school fees and associated costs, and contribute to their family’s financial empowerment. Our group had the opportunity to visit several of the businesses run by Girimpuhwe members and their families. We saw Isaac’s hairdressing and barber shop. With the money he saved from FACE AIDS, Isaac opened the shop and hired two staff members who run the day-to-day operations while he’s in school. We saw Lydia’s tailoring shop, and several members’ food and fabric stalls in the market. For lunch, we ate at a restaurant run by a Girimpuhwe member and had the most packed plates of food we’d ever seen: rice, beans, bananas, goat, greens, pasta, and cabbage! Delicious and way more than we could possibly eat.

Since beginning work with FACE AIDS, members of Rwandaera have invested their savings in livestock and farming endeavors, including rotating goat projects and collective cassava farming. The association recently reached out to their neighbors to start a community micro-insurance project. Everyone pays 300 Rwf per month (about $0.50) and the group meets every month to see if anyone needs to access the fund. For individuals living in extreme poverty, shocks and crises are devastating. They don’t have a rainy day fund to fall back on. So when there is a funeral, crop failure, or livestock death, for example, the micro-insurance project can make a tremendous difference. A member of the group can explain why they need help that month, and the group can decide to give them a grant or have them pay back the funds at a very low interest rate. It’s a great development for Rwandarera, and for their neighbors!


Read more about the FACE AIDS trip to Rwanda.

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