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Photos from our trip!

If you’d like to see more photos, check out our smugmug gallery! 

Thank you!

We had such a wonderful experience living and working with Gardens for Health, and wanted to say thank you to everyone who helped make our time in Rwanda possible!

Today marks the start of our last week at Gardens for Health. We can’t believe that we take off on Sunday — still so much to do! The past few two weeks have kept us quite busy. We’ve been drafting blog posts, collecting media, and developing a fundraising packet for GHI volunteers and fellows. During lunch today, we met with GHI’s managing director to discuss our future partnership. Our discussions will continue throughout the week, but we are so excited for what we will accomplish in the upcoming years!

A few things of note since our last blog: 1. GlobeMed at GW interns visited us this past Wednesday. They are doing very cool things with RVCP! 2. Gina, Kat and I visited Uganda to trek with Gorillas and eat some delicious chapatti with egg rolled up inside, yum! 3. We grilled skewers and baked cookies last week, a real treat.

This Thursday, we’ll have a big community dinner as a send-off for Solange (who is going to the US for two months), Aaron (the GHC Fellow who has reached the end of his year), and us!

Back to work!

So happy

Muhabura volcano, 4127 m.

Hiking gear. So prepared.

Friends on the top (…or really close).

Soldier friends, who called Gina “baby” the whole way up and down.

So happy to be done.

Success.

Welcome to our home! Our office is located just thirty minutes outside of Kigali on a farm of 1.56 hectares. Our farm serves four main purposes: to increase our self-sufficiency and sustainability through food production and seed-saving, to start seedlings which we distribute to the families we serve, to experiment with new agricultural techniques to better support our families’ gardens, and to demonstrate to our partner organizations the methodology we employ.

If you walk out the office’s back door, you’ll pass a kitchen on your left and arrive at our outdoor kitchen where each day, we cook lunch using food from our farm. We provide lunch to all hands working in the office and on the farm and to staffers’ children. Communal lunch grown and cooked on our farm allows us to be more self-sufficient, to reduce our operational costs, and to lead by example in producing nutritious, balanced meals for our staff to recreate in their own homes. Many of our farm workers only eat one solid meal each day, so we make sure lunch is nutritious and filling!

Further to your left are our demonstration and experimentation gardens. The first garden you will pass is an example of the home garden model we implement with families. This plot is approximately 70 square yards, the average size of our families’ own gardens. The vegetables we grow in home gardens are highly nutritious and are often sold for income generation. Other plants we grow act as organic pesticides and fertilizers. Some plants you might find in our gardens are maize, soya, green beans, cabbage, onions, carrots, and beets.

Behind our home garden are our experimental gardens, which are currently home to crops planted without compost. Most of our families in their first growing season do not have access to good compost, so it is important for us to measure approximately the yield of non-composted plants. These gardens abut our demonstration kitchen gardens—raised, circular mounds that maximize planting space on a given circumference—and our fruit tree nurseries, where we grow tree seedlings to distribute in our home garden package.

If you walk a bit down the farm’s main path, you will arrive at our nursery. Here we grow seedlings to distribute to families and to transplant for food production around the farm. Many of our families have poor soil quality and difficulty accessing water outside of the rainy season, so we provide seedlings to increase yield and to minimize the need for seed replacements.

Farther down the path are our cassava and banana fields. We intercrop beans with cassava and soya with bananas to increase soil health and total yield. (Beans and soya fix nitrogen, which cassava and bananas require for growth.) The continuous planting practices in Rwanda (a function of land scarcity) exhaust the soil, which has no time to lie fallow, so it is crucial that farming practices here address soil health.

At the end of the path are our bean-soya-maize fields, which demonstrate proper crop rotation. Beans and soya follow a season of maize to replace the soil’s nitrogen, and vegetables follow beans and soya to introduce biodiversity into the fields. Crop rotation helps soil retain nutrients, attracts a diversity of microorganisms, and prevents pest infestation.

The last stop on our tour is our bungalow, where we hold all staff meetings and eat communal lunches. Here, we like to explain that we are an entirely organic operation – using no commercial fertilizers – a practice that allows us to more closely mimic the growing circumstances of our families. In place of fertilizers, we rely on natural resources and agroforestry to ensure soil health and maintain high yields. We intentionally plant local weeds that fix nitrogen as further methods of increasing soil and plant health. We also carefully craft our own compost, which boosts soil health enormously.

Thank you so much for joining us on a tour of our farm! Visit again soon to learn about our composting toilet and water catchment research!

Claire is one of GHI’s Menyanibi Mamas (health workers). Usually, she wakes up at 5am to cook, clean and get her kids to school, but this week she’s been getting up at 3am. Each day since Monday, she and two other GHI health workers, Anunciata and Solange,  have traveled two hours each way to Bugasera to train 58 Community Health Workers (CHW).

At 9:45am, Claire, Anunciata and Solange start the training at Bugasera with song and dance. Three of the oldest CHWs, who are all women, come to the front of the room to lead the group in call and response. Women begin clapping and stomping, and pretty soon Anunciata is drumming on the desk, filling the outdoor classroom with rhythm.

Claire stomps along, flashing her bright smile and waving her arms methodically. When the song begins to die down, Claire changes the beat, leading the group in a new chorus.

After almost ten minutes of grooving, the women return to their seats and Claire begins her favorite part of the job. Armed with just a few laminated posters, Claire engages the CHWs in a discussion of family planning for over an hour. She walks around the room, circling the rows of benches, raising her arms and voice to emphasize particularly important topics.

When the training breaks for lunch, Claire follows Anunciata and Solange to the car and practically collapses on the seat. She denies any food, claiming her stomach is bothering her, and sits quietly with her eyes shut until it is time to return to the classroom.

Claire  begins the afternoon lesson, smiling and singing, with as much gusto as the morning session. At the end of the day, all of the CHWs thank Claire, Anunciata and Solange before filing out.

Not until we are safely back in the car does Claire allow her muscles to relax and her eyes to shut. She says that this week has tired her more than others, that she must get up early to clean and cook for her children and bring them to school, that she has to do all of this by herself because her husband has been in bed sick for four months. But, she adds, she must also work. Having a job brings in salary, but having this job gives her purpose.

Claire explains that since she is HIV positive, like her husband and middle daughter, Bobette, she is determined to be a strong, positive role model for all of the community mothers. She wants to help others avoid her fate. “I want to be a rock star for all of the women. I want to change them,” she says.

…we are each other’s business; we are each other’s magnitude and bond. – Gwendolyn Brooks

This quotation summarizes many of GHI’s beliefs – that not only should we invest in each other’s well being, but that we must because, in the end, we determine each other’s success. Each individual’s well being depends on every other person’s health and happiness.

Since we have only been here a week, I am hesitant to pretend to understand exactly what Gardens for Health holds as its very core beliefs, but just from the time Kat, Gina and I have spent here, it is apparent that family, community and togetherness are key to GHI’s operations.
Every day, GHI feeds all of its staff members—farm hands and their children and office staff—during a communal lunch. For many of GHI’s farm workers, lunch represents the only solid meal they will eat during the day, so GHI strives to provide sufficient quantity and nutrition in one meal. These communal lunches represent much more than an investment for GHI in its workers – they represent the care and dignity with which GHI treats all of its employees, as if they were family.

It seems that everyone who passes through GHI’s doors becomes permanently a part of GHI’s family. This philosophy and manner of operating are not part of GHI’s programmatic planning nor can GHI directly profit from creating such a wonderful extended family. The warmth that

all GHI staffers show each other, however, is highly motivating and instills in GHI a lasting sense of togetherness.

Last week, with Brad and Johan’s departure, the whole community came together to throw them a farewell party. We shared food and laughter and only after did I realize how exciting it is to feel connected to such a strong community, one in which every person is working towards the same goal, in which good will and appreciation are abundant. To be so quickly accepted into this place made our transition seamless – and we could not be more thankful.

Experimenting with water collection and water bottles.

Meditation platform in the middle of the farm.

The office’s main room, where we spend much of our time.

View from the front porch.

Another view of the front porch.

 

On Friday, all of GHI’s staff, a few staff kids, two dogs and a puppy, gathered in the bungalow behind the office for a meeting. Staffers trickled in slowly, some dragging chairs and others carrying notebooks. By 10:45am, we had all squished into seats, at times with two or three people to a chair, and were circled around wooden table. Sitting with a thick moleskin planner stuffed with notes in front of her and a four year old local on her lap, Julie began the meeting. She welcomed the group, “karibu,” and then asked that each of GHI’s main operations run through program updates. Moses, a Global Health Corps Fellow from Rwanda and GHI’s agricultural expert, explained that he and his staff were in the throes of preparing families for the dry season. He said that all families with access to land were ready to grow crops but that many families lack water access — the greatest growing challenge in the dry season. Moses plans to follow up with families after they have gotten the chance to plant their seedlings in order to reassess how GHI might improve its dry season farming techniques. Moses and his staff have also been developing an agricultural curriculum (to complement GHI’s health curriculum). They conducted five focus groups of community members to learn what the community considers a priority agriculturally. From what the focus groups shared, the curriculum will likely include ways to increase yield (compost, irrigation), soil management, general food production, income generation and pesticide/disease recognition.

Solange, GHI’s health program manager, then took over, sharing that attendance at the Ngyrgi health center has been very consistent, with 40 mamas showing up for each lesson. She explained that the health trainings she herself had been running that week at Akila with high-school age students were very successful and that the students asked that she return as soon as possible! She expressed excitement about applying GHI’s health curriculum, initially designed to educate community mothers, to other groups. She ended by explaining that in the upcoming week (this week), she, Anunciata and Claire will train 60 Community Health Workers to be able to teach GHI’s health curriculum in their own communities.

Simon Pierre, the mastermind behind GHI’s demonstration farm, spoke next. He explained that he has been mulching a lot in preparation for the dry season. He also described a meeting he had with the district in which GHI was able to draft a contract for its partnership with the district in tree delivery. He mentioned that the vice mayor would like to collaborate more with GHI. Simon Pierre was quite excited, and so was Julie — because GHI might be able to get some of its inputs for families from local governments that are interested in reforestation using agroforestry and fruit trees.

Caitlin, GHI’s managing director of programs, just returned from a vacation in Istanbul, followed. GHI has received great interest from individuals who are excited to join GHI’s board and who will give GHI advice about legal contracts, resources and future expansion, she explained. She added that GHI is also developing a local advisory board and has recruited a business man from the community. GHI considers it a necessity to have a local board as the organization seeks to involve  itself in governance. Caitlin’s last comments regarded GHI’s recent fundraising successes and her determination to continue that success.

Johan, a Harvard fellow who has worked with GHI for almost two years (with a semester of school thrown in the middle), gave a final report on his irrigation research. The plastic bags which he had recently used to collect water were tearing, so he plans to fund raise when he is in the US so that GHI can purchase plastic water collection tanks. Those tanks, he explained, will be distributed in a rent-to-own model, allowing families to have more consistent access to water, which would increase their crop yields and generate income directly whenever a family was able to sell excess water.

The meeting ended on a sad note as Julie explained that Brad and Johan, two staff members who have been with GHI almost since its founding, were leaving on Sunday. She spoke with genuine appreciation for both Brad and Johan as co-workers, friends and family. Brad spoke after, mentioning the wonderful growth that GHI has undergone during his time here. It was clear that for all of the work that Brad and Johan did to advance GHI — beginning the home garden program, training GHI’s health workers and creating the health curriculum — the loss of their presence as family at GHI was the most difficult concept to grasp.

Gardens for Health represents so much exciting innovation in the agricultural development field. Its staff members are absolutely committed to their work and attack any obstacle they face with creativity and passion. That GHI can be so productive while creating such a tightly knit community — a family really — is truly inspiring.

"Ni twebwe muti w'ibibazo byacu."

We are the ones we've been waiting for.

(These views are our own and do not reflect the views of GHI.)

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