Posts Tagged ‘rwanda’

Photo: Noble and Greenough School.
A group of 25 students and faculty from Shooting Touch and the Noble and Greenough School went to Rwanda for a trip to help spread Shooting Touch’s mission of health advocacy for women and children and empowerment through sport.

You may remember my young friend Shagufa Habibi, who escaped an abusive child marriage in Afghanistan through the power of sport. It all started with her taking up golf. In May, she will graduate from Brandeis with a master’s degree.

Today’s article also addresses the power of sport. In this case, basketball.

Tara Sullivan reports at the Boston Globe, “Vin Bui met the initial offer of financial assistance and basketball support with a requisite dose of skepticism, narrowing his eyes just enough to make any self-respecting Dorchester native proud. But since the AAU team he was building for his niece, Christina Pham, and her fellow players was still in its infancy, he figured it couldn’t hurt to listen to a pitch. [So] he took a call from a local organization called Shooting Touch.

“He had no idea it would change his world. …

‘I figured it was a basketball pyramid scheme, too good to be true. Money, enrichment, and education. Come on. But I took the chance and called them up. They ended up being everything they said and more.’ …

“Had Bui heard of Shooting Touch before, he would not have been surprised. The program, which grew from its roots in Rwanda to expand into Boston, defines itself as ‘an international sport-for-development organization whose mission is to use the mobilizing power of basketball to bridge health and opportunity gaps for youth and women facing racial, gender, and economic inequalities.’ …

“From sponsoring an AAU team in the city to sending players on an international relief trip abroad, what you get is an ongoing lesson in how small acts of empowerment for those who have it least but appreciate it most can truly make the world a better place.

“[Seven] years after joining forces with Shooting Touch, Bui, Pham, and Pham’s fellow basketball player Tahira Muhammed are 6,000 miles across the world, completing a circle that Shooting Touch founder Lindsey Kittredge could barely imagine more than a decade ago, when she and her husband started the grassroots program.

“As part of a group of 25 students and faculty from Shooting Touch and the Noble and Greenough School (where both young women go to school and play on the championship-winning basketball team), their current trip to Rwanda connects two chambers of the same charitable heart, with Rwandan Shooting Touch participants and their Boston counterparts meeting for the first time.

“ ‘It is pretty emotional,’ Kittredge said recently. … ‘It’s proving the point and seeing the future potential of this sport and what it can build, how you can reach anybody in any demographic, any environment, any geographic presence or background, and you can make an impact for positive health.’

“To help understand it best, think of Shooting Touch as being built on two primary pillars — basketball and women’s health. See it as living proof of how each pillar can keep the other up, and realize how it can do it in a country once ravaged by genocide with long-standing human rights issues rooted in misogyny and gender-based violence just as faithfully as it does in Boston neighborhoods such as Dorchester and Roxbury. …

“In Rwanda, women’s health clinics run concurrently with basketball skills events, serving women from the youngest to oldest ages, offering vaccinations, malaria and HIV screenings, examinations, and information free for all. The level of empowerment that goes with that is almost impossible to calculate, just as the network of experience, people, and contacts young women in Boston can make through the program. When kids are empowered, when they see opportunities they might have never known existed, they head into an adult world much better prepared for success.”

More at the Globe, here.

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Photo: Boaz Rottem/Alamy.
“For hundreds of years, Rwandans with enough milk would share their supply with those in need,” says the BBC.

You learn something every day. From an article in the New York Times and another at the BBC, I just learned that drinking milk is so popular in Rwanda that milk is the main thing served at the country’s favorite bars.

Abdi Latif Dahir reports at the Times, “As the sun scorched the hilly Rwandan capital on a recent afternoon, a motorcycle taxi driver, two women in matching head scarves and a teenager wearing headphones all separately sauntered into a small roadside kiosk to drink the only thing on tap: milk.

“ ‘I love milk,’ said Jean Bosco Nshimyemukiza, the motorcycle taxi driver, as he sipped from a large glass of fresh milk that left a residual white line on his upper lip. ‘Milk makes you calm,’ he said, smiling. ‘It reduces stress. It heals you.’ …

“Men and women, young and old, sit on benches and plastic chairs throughout the day, glass mugs before them, gulping liters upon liters of fresh milk or fermented, yogurt-like milk, locally known as ‘ikivuguto.’

“Some patrons drink it hot, others like it cold. Some — respecting an old custom of finishing your cup at once — chug it down quickly, while others sip it slowly while eating snacks like cakes, chapatis and bananas. …

“ ‘I come here when I want to relax, but also when I want to think about my future,’ said Mr. Nshimyemukiza, who added that he drinks at least three liters of milk daily.

‘When you drink milk, you always have your head straight and your ideas right.’

“While milk bars have popped up everywhere over the last decade, the drink they sell has long been intrinsic to the country’s culture and history, as well as its modern identity and economy.

“Over the centuries, cows were a source of wealth and status — the most valuable gift to confer on a friend or a new family. Even royalty craved easy access to milk. During the Kingdom of Rwanda, which lasted for hundreds of years until the last king was deposed in 1961, cows’ milk was kept in wooden bottles with conical woven lids right behind the king’s thatched palace.

“Cows were considered so valuable they ended up in children’s names — Munganyinka (valuable as a cow) or Inyamibwa (beautiful cow) — as well as in traditional dances, where women raised their hands to emulate the giant-horned Ankole cows.

“In 1994, Rwanda was the scene of a genocide. … As the country recovered from the genocide, Rwanda’s government looked to cows again as a way to grow the economy and fight malnutrition.

“In 2006, President Paul Kagame introduced the ‘Girinka’ program, which aims to give every poor family one cow. The program has so far distributed over 380,000 cows nationwide, according to the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources — with contributions coming from private companies, aid agencies and foreign leaders including Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India. …

“As milk production increased in this landlocked nation, so did the number of people who moved to urban areas for education and employment. And so were born the milk bars, which allowed farmers to sell their surplus milk and let customers drink copious amounts of it to be reminded of home. Most milk bars are in Kigali, the country’s most-populous city, with 1.2 million people.

“Steven Muvunyi grew up with nine siblings in the Rubavu district in the country’s west. After moving to Kigali to attend university, he said he missed being in the countryside, milking cows and drinking milk without limits.

“I come to the milk bars and I am overcome with nostalgia from my childhood,” he said one evening in late September, as he drank from a big mug of hot, fresh milk in downtown Kigali.

“As he sat at the bar, Mr. Muvunyi, 29, who works in Rwanda’s budding technology sector, showed photos of his 2-year-old son looking at him while he drank a glass of milk at his parents’ farm. He worried, he said, that children growing up in cities would not be as connected to the country’s dairy culture, given the easy access now to pasteurized milk at supermarkets. ‘I want to teach my children early the value of milk and cows,’ he said. …

“No matter the circumstances, Rwandans say the milk bar is here to stay. During the pandemic last year, Ngabo Alexis Karegeya started sharing images and videos on Twitter about the Rwandan attachment to cows and milk — drawing national attention. Mr. Karegeya graduated from university this year with a degree in business administration, but still fondly remembers his days tending cows as a boy. He tweeted a photo of himself in his graduation gown with the caption ‘certified cow-boy y’all.’

“ ‘Rwandans love cows and they love milk,’ said Mr. Karegeya, who owns five cows in the lush hills of his family’s home in western Rwanda and drinks three liters a day.

“ ‘The milk bar brings us together,’ he said. ‘And we will keep coming to the milk bar to drink more milk.’ ”

More at the Times, here, and at the BBC, here.

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Photo: Boston University
In 2009, Carl Hobert and his Boston University class visited Harlem Renaissance High School to talk conflict resolution with the school’s teens. Recently, he says, he has been researching delivery systems for work in Rwanda.

These are unusual times. For example, when we started getting our groceries brought to the house, we had a surprising conversation with our first delivery man (at a safe six-foot distance, of course). He said he was on leave from Boston University (BU) and was researching delivery systems for his work in Rwanda. He gave us his card (also at a safe distance) and offered to pick up items if the market’s online ordering was overloaded.

I was interested about Rwanda because I know someone else who does work there, and I went online to read about him.

From a BU post about a Global Literacy Institute: “Carl Hobert is a clinical instructor at the Boston University Wheelock College of Education & Human Development. He holds a BA cum laude in French and Political Science from Middlebury College, and an MA in Spanish from Middlebury College. He also holds a Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy from the Tufts University Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. His book, Raising Global IQ: Preparing Our Students for a Shrinking Planet (Beacon Press), came out in 2013.” More here.

There was also this from 2009: “Lively apprentices of what Hobert, a visiting scholar and School of Education lecturer, calls preventive diplomacy, [students] are combining a rigorous, nuanced understanding of current events with the guiding principles of conflict resolution. Like countless dogged young optimists, these students, most majoring in international relations or education, believe a peaceful future is within reach.

“Hobert is the founder and executive director of the nonprofit Axis of Hope Center for International Conflict Management and Prevention, and under its umbrella, the students’ focus to get to that future is not governments but children and teens. …

“Hobert’s homework assignments focus students outward, locally to globally. They need to know in scholarly detail what is happening right now in every conflict zone from Somalia to Honduras by close daily readings of the Boston Globe, the New York Times, the International Herald Tribune, and Foreign Affairs. ..

“As students cultivate a global awareness, they engage in case studies that zoom in on conflicts, designed to illuminate the cornerstones of Hobert’s preventive diplomacy: the power of listening, mutual respect, negotiation, and compromise. …

“Most recently at the Harlem Renaissance High School in New York City, Hobert’s protégés [guided] school groups through the case study workshops refined in their BU class.” More.

And there was a MetroWest newspaper article from 2016: “A local resident says he is preparing to move to Rwanda where he hopes to attract high school students from around the world to an independent school in the African country.

“Carl Hobert, a Boston University professor who lives in Wayland, strives to raise students’ global awareness. He said he tries to teach them about conflict resolution through case studies that emphasize the importance of understanding different perspectives.

“Ultimately, students are ‘learning how to get along,’ said Hobert, who has been tapped to be assistant headmaster as well as director of the upper school at Rwanda’s Green Hills Academy.

“Hobert brings Rwandan experience, including taking youngsters to visit a Rwandan orphanage and bringing his conflict resolution expertise to the country. … The school currently includes Rwandan children and children whose families have moved there to take part in new investment in infrastructure and buildings, Hobert said. …

“His work at Green Hills Academy will include creating a high school boarding program for students from around the world, teaching international conflict resolution and overseeing the creation of a service learning program, according to a press release. …

“Hobert said students will come to a country that was once torn apart by genocide. They’ll see peace and stability and learn ‘that it can be done.’ ” More.

Oh, my, so many noble efforts on hold these days while we deal with the way things are!

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Photo: Martina Bacigalupo for The New York Times
An American pediatric specialist during a radiology teaching session with pediatric residents in Kigali, Rwanda. In the past 15 years, Rwanda has worked to build a near-universal health care system.

We like to think that American medical care is top drawer, but in some developing countries, access, at least, is much better. Would you believe Rwanda, where Paul Farmer’s Partners in Health and others have offered help to local leaders?

Eduardo Porter has the story at the NY Times, “Rwanda’s economy adds up to some $700 per person, less than one-eightieth of the average economic output of an American. A little more than two decades ago it was shaken by genocidal interethnic conflict that killed hundreds of thousands. Still today, a newborn Rwandan can expect to live to 64, 15 years less than an American baby.

“But over the past 15 years or so, Rwanda has built a near-universal health care system that covers more than 90 percent of the population, financed by tax revenue, foreign aid and voluntary premiums scaled by income.

“It is not perfect. A comparative study of health reform in developing countries found that fewer than 60 percent of births there were attended by skilled health workers. Still, access to health care has improved substantially even as the financial burden it imposes on ordinary Rwandans has declined. On average, Rwandans see a doctor almost twice a year, compared with once every four years in 1999.

“Rwandan lives may be short, but they are 18 years longer than they were at the turn of the century — double the average increase of their peers in sub-Saharan Africa. …

“In some dimensions of health care, [Rwanda] gives the United States a run for its money.

“Its infant mortality rate, for one, dropped by almost three-quarters since 2000, to 31 per 1,000 births in 2015, vastly outpacing the decline in its region. In the United States, by contrast, infant mortality declined by about one-fifth over the period, to 5.6 per 1,000 births. …

“Critically, Rwanda may impress upon you an idea that has captured the imagination of policy makers in even the poorest corners of the world: Access to health care might be thought of as a human right.”

Read how poor countries, such as Ghana, Peru, Vietnam, and Thailand, are acting on that belief, here. At the rate they’re going with access, it is reasonable to suppose that more citizens will choose a medical profession and that quality improvements will follow.

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Here’s another good one from WBUR’s “Only a Game.”

Bill Littlefield interviewed author Tim Lewis, who has written a book called Land of Second Chances: The Impossible Rise of Rwanda’s Cycling Team.

Littlefield starts out by discussing Rwanda’s history before moving on to the subject of bikes.

Bill: “Tell us about the country’s wooden bikes.”

Tim Lewis: “If you go to Rwanda today, you still see the wooden bikes. You don’t see them on the main road anymore because they’ve been banned by the president because he feels … it isn’t the message that he wants a modern, progressive country like Rwanda to convey. But on any roads off the main roads you see people using these wooden bikes. They’re hacked out of eucalyptus trees.

“People there love using them. … They’re like the mule of Rwanda. People use them to carry bananas or goats on the back or live chickens. … Part of the reason they’ve been banned from the main roads is that they’re so horribly dangerous. They have two speeds. One of them is not moving at all or kind of very slowly going up these hills. And the other of which is going downhill, and they’re so out of control that anyone in their path gets knocked over.”

Bill: “In the chapter titled ‘The Dot Connector,’ you mention Project Rwanda, the brainchild of Tom Ritchey. What was Mr. Ritchey’s goal?”

Tim: “Tom Ritchey is a real pioneer of bicycle design, in particular, mountain bikes. In 2005 Tom Ritchey visited Rwanda. And one of the things that really affected Tom was how much people in Rwanda loved riding bicycles. And so Tom thought, ‘Can I design a bike that would be affordable for Rwandans to buy?’ and that could really change people’s lives there — in terms of coffee farmers being able to pick coffee in the morning and get them to a washing station to get it processed, which can make a big difference … At the same time an idea popped into his head which is, ‘You know, these guys look like amazing athletes. What about starting a bicycle team?’ ”

Eventually, Rwanda did get a team. It’s a great story. Read more and listen to the broadcast here.

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Dr. Paul Farmer, the subject of a great Tracy Kidder book called Mountains Beyond Mountains, has spent many years delivering medical care — and working to alleviate poverty — in remote areas of Haiti. His nonprofit organization, Partners in Health, takes the word “partners” seriously. The teams do not tell the locals what is good for them but makes a point of learning from them and helping them get what they need.

In recent years, Farmer has been in demand in other countries, too. One focus area has been Rwanda. I liked a recent Boston Globe article on the approach to building a Partners in Health hospital there.

“The designers quickly realized that the challenge was not simply to draw up plans, as they had first thought, but rather to understand the spread of airborne disease and design a building that would combat — and in some cases sidestep — the unhealthy conditions common to so many hospitals.

“Learning from health care workers that hospital hallways were known sites of contagion, poorly ventilated, and clogged with patients and visitors, MASS Design decided that the best solution would be to get rid of the hallways. Taking advantage of Rwanda’s temperate climate, they placed the circulation outdoors, designing open verandas running the lengths of the buildings. …

“When it came to building, MASS Design looked at the Partners in Health model of involving local poor communities in health care, and realized that they could apply the same ideas to the construction process. The hospital was built entirely using local labor, providing food and health care for the workers. Unskilled workers received training that would help them get more work; and skilled laborers, notably the Rwandan masons who built the hospital’s exterior from carefully fitted together local volcanic stone, refined their craft and found themselves in demand all over the country. The construction process also beefed up local infrastructure — new roads and a hydroelectric dam — creating more jobs and literally paving the way for future projects.”

To paraphrase what Farmer often says, the biggest challenge to health is poverty. Read more.

Update on the designers from the June 19, 2012, Boston Globe.

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Manchester (NH) is an official refugee resettlement city. The State Department determines how many refugees the United States will take in each year and works through agencies to ease the transition. A colleague of mine lives in Manchester and was upset to learn about growing hostility to refugee placements.

Kathryn Marchocki writes in The Union Leader, “Mayor Ted Gatsas wants a moratorium on new refugee arrivals in Manchester after learning the city will receive a projected 600 refugees over two years, even though it now is the second-largest refugee resettlement community in New England.”

An alternative paper, The Hippo, goes into more depth. Here it quotes refugee supporters.

“ ‘For us, it’s a double-edged sword,’ said New Hampshire Catholic Charities’ Chesley. ‘The conditions they’re leaving are abhorrent. … But when the refugees come to New Hampshire, we witness the difficulty, the challenge. We also witness the evolution of a refugee’s life. The first few months here, they’re struggling. But there are so many wonderful examples of success.’

“There are many who realize just how much these refugees are bringing to the city. … [Rwandan refugee] Ntabaganyimana is one example of refugees’ giving back. He serves on a variety of community boards and organizations.

“The focus is always on challenges facing refugees or how refugees are impacting services. Ntabaganyimana would like a little more emphasis on the benefits of refugees and their successes. Sure, he says, there is an upfront investment in the refugees. But once they’re settled and acclimated, they’re contributing to the fabric of a community just like everyone else.”

Chesley points out that people have been migrating around the world forever. ” ‘That’s not new to New Hampshire. It’s not new to Manchester. The faces just look different and the colors are darker than the French Canadians or the Irish or the Polish, but the issues are still pretty much the same.’

“Refugees are working, and they are paying taxes. Ntabaganyimana guesses the refugees who are working are probably outweighing any impact that comes from refugees who aren’t able to find work quickly.”

The Hippo article also mentions a student from Suzanne’s alma mater, who has made a documentary on the issue. “Brendan Gillett is a student at Pomona College in California. He spent a great deal of time immersed in the refugee community while he filmed his documentary, Our Community. Gillett …  suggested implementing a program that would spread responsibility and include not just resettlement organizations but also the general public. He suggested establishing a family sponsorship program in which a native New Hampshire family could work with and provide help (rides to appointments, the grocery store, etc.) to a newly arrived family.”

Read more here.

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