Thadee Uwimana, RN, BScN, MPH(s)
Partners In Health, Rwanda www.pih.org
Global Health Corps Fellow www.ghc.org
Mountain Sentinels Fellow 2020-2021
“I did not choose social justice; it chose me.” The minute I saw people starving, threatened, and crying was the moment my heart shed tears. It was love that brought me into their shelters, where I started doing whatever I could to save, bring back to life, and walk in their shoes.
My passion to work with the Banda Community started when I was a nurse serving to implement primary health services for an organization called Kageno Rwanda that strives to alleviate community hardship in the setting of Banda. I identified an underserved group of teenage mothers who were despaired after a history of sexual violence, not limited to rape and sexual assaults, stigma, and rejection. These teenage mothers consequently suffered family responsibilities prematurely. I had an opportunity to bring them together under the RAISE HOPE Cooperative, an organization that seeks to help them prosper and thrive.
Through my project as a Mountain Sentinels Fellow, I enjoyed having fun and making an impact on a small group. I experienced the true meaning of the words poverty and hunger, as I observed and understood the daily life struggles of food shortage and living without or with limited resources. Although I accomplished a lot with limited funding, during this project I faced limitations of finance because the necessities of the community were greater than the outside support provided.
From the first day working with the RAISE HOPE group, we provided temporary support in the community that culminated in helping meet basic necessities, such as food, sanitation materials, and other resources that, once expired, put the group at risk of collapse. Additionally, due to COVID-19, daily economic activities have come to a halt, cutting off important sources of additional income for community members. Consequently, some community members don’t regularly attend because they are seeking alternative economic opportunities for basic survival, often risking getting back into previous bad behaviors. Despite these challenging times, this project has taught me to appreciate the value of small emergencies when I see someone who needs help. I did also appreciate how the project established a strong voice towards social inclusion, health equity, and women’s empowerment. Fortunately, the funding from the Mountain Sentinels Fellowship has been able to ease the burden of basic needs through my project, but there is still a need for sustainable sources of income generation to lessen the present continuous challenges in the Banda Community: hunger, poverty, malnutrition, poor hygiene, and sanitation. I am eagerly looking for more funding to start a vocational training center to empower fifty-nine teenage mothers as a solution for resilience opportunities for single mothers and their children.
As some parts of the world are experiencing a second wave of COVID-19, Rwanda also belongs among those countries dealing with an abrupt surge in new cases. During Rwanda’s COVID-19 spike in August of 2020, only 15 districts in Rwanda were affected, mainly in the central part of the country. At the end of the last month of 2020, 29 of the 30 districts in Rwanda were registering positive COVID-19 cases. The issue of this wave is evolving, and consequences are paramount. Positive cases resulting in death are also increasing compared to previous times. One-half of all COVID-related deaths in Rwanda since the beginning of the pandemic has occurred in the past month of December. New cases are being diagnosed and treated at peripheral community levels, which is altering an already challenging situation, particularly for communities where people are fearful and feeling despair. The Rwandan government added tough new measures to help respond to the emerging pandemic wave. Due to these measures, rural communities have continued to suffer as many restrictions affect daily lives. Despite the hard times brought on by the second wave of COVID-19 and the resultant “COVID-shock,” single mothers in the Banda Community continue to struggle and fight. This community has been negatively impacted and was a disadvantaged group even before the pandemic occurred.
Through the Mountain Sentinels Fellowship, single mothers have been able to reunify and bring back energy, livelihood, and hope to continue fighting and living. They can thrive and ensure prosperous lives as the pandemic persists. Throughout the fellowship, I am working with forty-seven single-mothers from the Banda Community who are united through the RAISE HOPE Cooperative. Through the cooperative, single mothers can get income generation skills as well as personal protective equipment such as masks, hygiene materials, and food items to ensure that they have the required minimal basic support to respond to the pandemic wave, making sure they are safe, strong, and capable. Below, I mention the Mountain Sentinels Fellowship activities that I have conducted since the fund was disbursed.
RAISE HOPE Cooperative team members during training sessions about pandemic prevention and adhering to announced Ministry of Health measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Poverty is the uppermost barrier to single mothers not to experience or reach their full potential. Due to a shortage in financial resources that they often face, I taught them how to use local reusable masks from KITENGE which is cost-effective and easily made with local sewing or manual tie at home.
Since March 2020, the pandemic was officially proclaimed by the Rwandan Health Ministry. The pandemic has added hardship on top of the existing problems of food shortage, malnutrition, unemployment, and more. In order to improve nutrition and provide access to basic food for vulnerable, hungry, and despaired people, I have started growing kitchen gardens. These are home vegetable plantations that offer easy cropping, harvesting, and consumption, responding to the fight of malnutrition among children’s single mothers as well as for income raising opportunities for the families that have them.
Providing access to food, hygiene, and sanitation:
The COVID-19 pandemic has become a worse time for the poor and marginalized people of Banda Mountain. Starting from the early phase of the pandemic, food scarcity and a lack of basic health necessities, such as hygiene and sanitation materials, were the second pandemic this group of single mothers has been facing since and throughout the outbreak of COVID-19. These issues put the local population at risk, as well as the environment around the Nyungwe National Park. The loss of jobs, handcraft market, and social business market for local innovators impacted the community by forcing them to rely on the protected Nyungwe National Park for their livelihoods, participating in activities such as collecting firewood to sell to the community for combustion and buying meat from poachers to sell to the community. The limited availability of food caused malnutrition among children to worsen and put the healthy ones at risk of getting sick. Some community members lost their autonomy in exchange for a source of income to feed themselves and their family, participating in prostitution which put them in danger of sexually transmitted disease, repetitive unplanned pregnancies, and more.
Luckily, there is still hope and interventions that can be taken early to prevent worsening conditions. Through the Mountain Sentinels Fellowship, I have been able to cut off the bridge through the distribution of foodstuff, hygiene materials, promoting family by providing condoms to prevent unwanted pregnancies, and creating alternative ways of income generation that do not involve the protected forest and, overall, mitigate the issue of community hardship around the natural protected area.
Appreciation goes to:
-Mountain Sentinel Team for providing stipend fees to support the Single mothers’ group at Banda
-Dr. Anna Fagre my mentor for the mountain sentinel fellowship
-Mountain fellows 2021-2022 for the cohort for teamwork and collaboration
Mountain Sentinels Fellow