Murisanga Kigali!!!

Time really does fly when you’re having fun or in this case when you are settling into a new society. I have been in Kigali for about 3 weeks now and I am absolutely happy with the way things are going. Thanks to the help of my contacts, things got off to a great start when I arrive at the beginning of October. I had expected to be running around searching for a room to rent and other accommodations since there aren’t hostels here like there were in Peru. However with the help of Dr. Kagaba, the director of Health Development Initiative (HDI), I am living in Kicukiro, one of the 3 Districts in Kiagali City. I have also been able to secure a special visa pass which will allow me to focus on my project until it’s time to move. Since I have so much to share, here is a brief outline of what I am going to discuss in this post;

  • Getting to know Rwanda (Kigali)
  • Working alongside HDI
  • Updates and new insights on my project

Getting to know Rwanda (Kigali)

Rwanda is known as “The land of a thousand hills” and Kigali is true testament to this name. Straddling several ridges, hills and valleys, Kigali is definitely one of the cleanest and safest cities I’ve ever been to. The level of development and ease of living in this city is definitely a testament to the new image Rwanda is putting forward to the global community. As we all know, Kigali hasn’t always been like this but living here, you definitely feel a sense of peacefulness and redefined order that is shaping the course of this country. The friendliness and welcoming attitude of the people is also a plus and there is no wonder there are so many expats that now call Kigali home. Although I am not an expat, I am definitely feeling the draw that Kigali has on many foreigners.

I live near the center of Kicukiro, which is pretty much close to everything. The main way to get around is on buses or moto-taxis but many people prefer the later over buses since there is no waiting time. The moto-taxis are generally very safe since both the passenger and the driver have to wear helmets (thank goodness). The prices however requires a little of negotiating since the prices tends to be inflated when they realize you are a foreigner- learning a few phrases in Kinyarwanda and having a fixed “surprised face” definitely helps lower the price. For instance, getting a moto-taxi to the MTN Center shouldn’t be more than 700 RWF but sometimes that drivers will tell you it’s about 1000 RWF- I’ve so far managed to get it for 600 RWF since I use the phrase “Nangahe (How much)” and “Gabanya! (Lower the price)”. Also, it’s hard to give directions if you don’t speak French or Kinyarwanda so it helps to know some of the popular landmarks near your destination.

FOOOOODDD!!! There is a local market neatly laid out with tons of fresh fruits and produce at very affordable prices, I think for about 5000 RWF ($6), you can get enough produce for to make a lot of food prices – bargaining is always the best way to go.  Supermarkets and shopping centers are also near the center but if you can’t specific things, you can easily get a taxi to several other spots scattered around the city. There are several local dishes that are dishes and I am slowing making my way to trying all of them. So far I am becoming a huge fan of the bar foods like the fish and beef brochettes- some bars even have house specialties but it’s good to have the local patrons help you out with that. There are also several restaurants and cafes which are a few minutes taxi ride from Kicukiro- there’s a Mexican restaurant (Meze Fresh) that would definitely give chipotle a run for its money. Thanks to the help of a fellow Wheaton graduate, I’ve got the tips on several spots around Kigali that are worth checking out for new delicacies.  The food options are definitely endless but living in Peru has made me more excited about trying new recipes and cooking for myself.

Working alongside HDI

I am really happy to be working with HDI because it really fits the profile of a “grassroots health initiative” like I had in mind when I started out this project. My first few days working with them was definitely slow but it gave me time to get to know the staff and gain more insights into how the organization functions. Conducting an organizational analysis also helped me gain a good representation on the workplace culture as well as serve as a platform for me to establish a place as a newcomer. In general, the organization functions both as a health center and an advocacy organization for several key populations within Rwanda. They have several key projects they focus on in relation to community health, development and human rights advocacy. Since I started working alongside them, I have been introduced to a lot of key their public health strategies that sheds light on my theory about the interconnectedness between Ubuntu and public health. For instance, one of their key health outreach strategies is to train some of the local youth to serve as peer educators in spreading awareness about diseases and infections prevalent in their communities.

On a more in depth level, which is looking at what motivates those partaking in these health initiatives, I am gaining a lot of data and experiences from knowing these people in ways that also confirm what I had theorized. For instance, one of my recent assignments was help a woman who is working with HDI to start her own NGO dedicated to advocacy in the rights and health of sex workers and single mothers. While we were on a brochure for her organization, I really got to know her as an individual and get to the depths of why she was pioneering such an initiative. I can’t share her entire story but safe to say I was really impressed and moved by the way her past life as a single mother and a former sex worker has motivated her to make a difference in the lives of others. I am working alongside and meeting many more people like her every day and I must say it’s really making me excited with the choices I have made in hoping to promote health and development from a grassroots level in the near future.

Updates and new insights on my project

Although I expect finding for my project in Rwanda to be different from what I found in Peru, there are already some commonalities I am beginning to observe. Simply put, I am seeing that public health from the grassroots level is never just about “Health”. Due to the local nature and state of living in several communities, I believe many organizations that were initially just about health have had to take on new ventures and initiatives all in work of improving health and wellbeing. As of right now, I will categorize the approach of the grassroots health initiatives I have been in contact with as Preparation, Prevention and Promotion (PPP). Since this is not a research paper (AINTNOBODYGOTTIMEFORTHAT), I am only going to highlight what I am realizing in relation to “Preparation”.

I believe Preparation is the part that comes at the later part of establishing a grassroots health initiative but eventually becomes one of the essential parts once established. I believe the preparation aspect deals with taking measures to address the local situations that tend to cause health issues or situations become manifested as health issues if unaddressed. In Peru for instance, I noticed that some health initiatives have established trade initiatives with the purpose of helping with societal issues of poverty and providing vocational skills for women. While there might be several reasons for this, I believe that the connection between poverty and health issues are undoubtable, thus while trade initiative acts as an income generation tool, I believe it also serves the purpose of dealing with the many ways poverty can become manifested as a health issue.

In the case of Rwanda, HDI is currently working on several ways to reduce the social stigma and discrimination surrounding people that identify as members of the LGBTI community. In its human rights centered approach, HDI is hoping to help quell their social ostracism as to encourage people who identify as LGBTI to get regular health checks such as HIV/AIDS testing. This is because many people who are either gay or lesbian in Rwanda are known to shun such health check-ups for fear of discrimination. Thus the health preparation aspect of their approach will help reduce the rate of STI/D’s as well as promote social acceptance. The list of such “indirect” approaches to solving health initiatives from a grassroots levels goes on and I have a feeling that I am going to be seeing more of these approaches in Rwanda and the other countries on my list.

Looking forward to further insights and experiences that will not only give me answers but will provide me with more questions to look forward to.  Definitely seeing changes in myself and the world around me. Until next time, Umunsi Mwiza!!

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