ADRA Rwanda Blog

By Imke Bertens

Rwanda, the land of a thousand hills, and the place I have been privileged to call my home base for the last three weeks. Through ADRA Canada I was granted the role of an Agent of Change in the EMBRACE project.

Prior to departure, I researched the struggles that the people of Rwanda face in relation to maternal, child, and newborn health; and the programs the EMBRACE project has put in place to address these gaps. First and foremost, it is essential to recognize the incredible progress Rwanda has made over the past decade. Due to projects like EMBRACE, the maternal mortality rates and child malnutrition is at an all time low. It was my goal to go to Rwanda to witness this progress and to supplement my theoretical research with personal statements from staff and health care consumers. In other words, I wanted to see the theory in action! It was my intention to see how the various arms of the EMBRACE project is improving access to and the quality of health care services, and the impact its had on reducing malnutrition among children under five.

For the past three weeks, we drove on both beautifully paved roads and windy mountainous paths to visit community health centres, hospitals, and the community groups. I will never forget the incredibly warm welcome we received at each project site, especially the community groups where we were met by traditional song and dance. Each week these community groups come together to discuss alternating topics such as WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) and family planning.

First and foremost hygiene is an issue that is currently being addressed by the EMBRACE project through the WASH groups. Mothers are being taught that they need to wash their hands before they start cooking and children are taught they must wash their hands before consuming food. Despite these advances, progress must still be made. For example, there were washing stations at the community health centres, however it was unfiltered cold water and at times there wasn’t any available soap. Furthermore, at the majority of clinics, the tools were only cleaned using bleach and delivery beds and rooms were simply cleaned with soap and water. It was difficult at times to comprehend these procedures and its effectiveness with the hygiene oriented mindset of a Western citizen. It was simply baffling to me that something that is so self-spoken for us, such as washing your hands after using the rest room or before you eat, is a foreign concept in other nations.

Family planning is also one of ADRA’s main focuses and is something, as a midwifery student, I was genuinely intrigued by. Family planning is not only an important method that allows women to gain control over their lives, but is also an essential tool in fighting maternal and child mortality, as well as malnutrition. I learned that it isn’t uncommon for a couple to have numerous kids that they simply cannot afford to feed with daily nutritious meals. It is therefore a main topic within the community groups. The importance of birth spacing is highlighted, as well as the different methods that can be used and where they are available. Seeing the conversations that were being held within the community groups was truly inspiring. We learned earlier in our trip that many women are still afraid of their husbands, so often they secretly seek out birth control. Therefore, seeing women get support from one another and answering one another’s questions in their community groups was wonderful to see! Things are moving in the right direction for married women looking for access to birth control, however there are still countless barriers for unmarried women. Premarital sex is still frowned upon and taboo, which is making access to birth control challenging. Although family planning is available at all community health centres, young women are afraid to go there in case someone recognizes them. Even though they know its accessible, they have told us none of them use these services. This showed me that despite the effort to design and make services available, community opinion leaders need to be educated and on board with the initiatives by ADRA and like organizations.

Hygiene and family planning are only a small slice in the large pie of projects ADRA has introduced in Rwanda. We have heard numerous success stories about how ADRA has truly changed people’s lives. From learning how to take care of a grandchild which in turn allowed her daughter to go back to school to the difference the donation of a cow has made to families.

I am looking forward to the remainder of our study tour and continuing to gather personal experiences that will grow my love for Rwanda even more!