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While part of our team is still enjoying a well-deserved break at a safari camp in Kenya, several of the Global Health Initiatives team members traveled home from Rwanda over the last few days. The trip home was uneventful, if long, as our total travel time was close to 35 hours. During that time we had an opportunity to reflect on the work that was accomplished and can say, without reservation, that it was one of the most successful trips to Rwanda in the seven years that Global Health Initiatives has worked in country.
The success of our efforts can be defined in many ways. We begin with the personal. During our last day together sitting on a beautiful beach at Lake Kivu we talked about the impact that the trip had on each of us. Every team member was touched by a patient, a staff member or a story. One team member described his delight when an 80 year old patient smiled as he entered the room—reminding him of the importance of the elderly in our lives and of his grandmother. Another recounted the joy he experienced when one of the local gazebo workers invited him into his home in a small village near the hospital. Everyone was touched in some way, providing an opportunity to experience personal growth and a deep appreciation for our privileged lives.
But—we also touched the people we served. Eighteen surgeries were performed while at Mugonero Hospital. A new baby born with club feet while we were at Mugonero was able to receive Ponseti casting from one of the staff trained during our course in Rilima. It was deeply moving to see this tiny baby and his Mother as the cast was applied. It was equally moving to observe the interaction of the newly trained staff member and the family as he educated them about the treatment. One of the surgical patients was so grateful for her treatment that she offered a team member a goat. A young boy who has been treated by the team over the past few years said that he was inspired to become a doctor to treat bone problems. Even the construction of the gazebo had a positive impact. A government evaluation team visiting Mugonero will suggest that a gazebo be built at all Rwandan hospitals to provide a pleasant waiting area for families and patients. They viewed the gazebo as an example of a best practice!
What made this trip different? We left the staff better trained and able to perform medical interventions that will help relieve the suffering of their patients. Twenty five medical professionals were trained in the Ponseti casting method in Rilma. The primary surgeon at Mugonero was trained to repair fractures using a novel technique called SIGN (Surgical Implant Generation Network). This technique, pioneered by Lewis Zirkle, M.D., provides a system of training and hardware to support fracture repair in developing countries. These training programs are in line with the goals of Global Health Initiatives to build capacity and sustainability in the countries we serve. Over the next months, we will be looking closely to measure the impact of these training efforts and identifying new opportunities to train and mentor local medical staff.
While we made great strides during this trip at many levels, we are still moved by the little things. On the day we left, our night watchman requested a new pair of shoes. His smile says it all. We DID make a difference!
Paula is a veteran volunteer to Rwanda, Microbiologist, and has worked at the nearby orphanage in Rwanda. She is at Rilima helping teach treatment of clubfoot deformities and assisting in the OR at Mugonero.