This has been a month of opportunity for me…
If you ask anyone learning a new language, a huge part of your success relies on your ability to practice. In Rwanda, almost everyone speaks Kinyarwanda but in Kigali, the city we live in, many people are also able to speak English and expect that anyone with white skin will only speak English or French. Often, when I try to struggle through practicing with them they slightly offendedly ask me to speak English. Ouch.
Additionally, because I have a baby and 4 year old, much of my interaction with Rwandans have been limited:
- Conversations with workers
- Going to the market, where there is chaos and I become protective
- Driving (don’t even get me started on driving here)
- Church, a 4-hour service with no Sunday school or children’s program so I am often the defacto Sunday school teacher because after about an hour in a half (when the worship songs end) all the kids in the service follow me outside to play games, color and read.
Unfortunately, many of these encounters have been frustrating up to now, and didn’t provide much room to practice, making it difficult for me to connect with Rwandans and grow in my compassion and love for them, or in my ability to speak Kinyarwanda.
When we first arrived in Rwanda, I followed the expectation not to jump right into ministry in an effort to spend dedicated time learning language. These last eight months have been great and I feel extremely blessed that I have had an opportunity to learn more language than most expats here. However, I was really struggling with finding ways to practice language. I decided to try volunteering at a clinic in a very poor part of Kigali both to maintain my nursing skills and license and also to practice language speaking. What an unbelievable blessing for me this has been!
Nyabasindu Clinic: Prenatal
Nyabasindu Town within Kigali
The clinic meets twice a week in a large tent with benches, which serves as a church plant on Sundays is twice a week.
On Tuesdays, anywhere between 30-60 pregnant mommas arrive for prenatal checks and teaching. I have the privilege of working with an amazing missionary midwife and several Rwandan midwives and volunteers. The women come for a prenatal check, something that they otherwise would not receive or would receive on a very limited basis.
Pregnant mommas waiting to be seen. The “intenge” fabric hanging creates two exam rooms.
One of the first moms we saw that day was 37 weeks pregnant, had a 2 year old at home, and was living with her mom; the father of the baby had left her after she got pregnant. She didn’t have a job, and when asked what she was eating, she couldn’t remember if she had last eaten the morning before or the day before that. To top it off, she was without the government-sponsored health insurance. While insurance isn’t very expensive, about $5 a year, the poorest can’t afford it. Without it a pregnant woman would either be turned away or end up owing the clinic or hospital $25-$250, based on stories I’ve heard; that’s obviously more than she would ever be able to pay back. This particular momma seemed so hopeless. The clinic was able to provide the funds needed for her to get health insurance before her delivery.
Our following mommas included patients with HIV and painful scaring effects of medication on her body, first time mommas who were eager to hold their little ones in their arms and a momma that had a huge abdominal tumor that displaced her uterus.
On Thursday, I have the blessing of participating in a postpartum clinic where I get to weigh babies, do an initial assessment on them. These momma’s receive teaching on anything from the importance of breastfeeding (It is common for moms to give their babies cow milk mixed with water), safety from outdoor cooking fires, and family planning among other things. During this clinic I am exposed to so much culture. Several of the mommas still take their babies to Abafundu (traditional healers) for things like fevers and rashes, but also concern that someone has cursed their baby. One little girl had a large glob of tar knotted on the center of her forehead because her mom had taken her to the Umufundu (traditional healer) because she was concerned about the soft spot on her baby’s head, a normal and necessary part of baby physiology. The mother had spent 7,000 Rwandan Francs on the traditional healer, more than the cost of a year of health insurance.
We had another very sick child come that had eight areas of scaring on her abdomen and back where an Umufundu had cut three lines and rubbed “medicine” into the cuts. The baby was 4 weeks old when it happened. Traditional healers are also known to dig out teeth from babies who have swollen gums. With cases such as these we are able to do major teaching with parents about what is normal, when to get medical help and why taking a child to the Umufundu can be dangerous. Almost all of these women consider themselves Christians but you can see how ingrained the culture of superstitions and traditional religion is.
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I feel extremely honored and blessed to be able to participate in this ministry here. It has been such a blessing to sit with desperate moms and meet a very physical need for them as well as their emotional and spiritual needs. While many of these cases are hard and painful, I feel blessed to be able to work alongside this team doing the ministry and be present with and use my gifts for these women. These encounters have helped me to have much more compassion for and connection with Rwandans.
Additionally, it is dramatically improving my language, since most of those women cannot speak English. Because I have started to go regularly I have begun to build relationships with them and remember their names and situations. I can tell them I have been praying for them and they feel comfortable correcting my Kinyarwanda.
I had to laugh during the last prenatal clinic because I kept adding an extra couple letters to blood pressure (umuvutuko w’amaraso). Soon every woman in the tent knew I struggled with that phrase and would get a huge grin on their face right before I was going to say it to see if they would have an opportunity to correct me. It became a fun joke that brought joy to the long hot day. While I have a long way to go with language, I have also received many complements from the translators at the clinic. This little encouragement has brought me new confidence and drive to learn and improve. Apparently, they are impressed with my knowledge and pronunciation, even if our language tutor does still continually correct me.
Please pray for me this week. Nick is traveling out of the country for a Theological Educators Conference Saturday night through Saturday night (Oct 15-22). Pray that Nick makes great connections with his peers and that he comes home with good ways to improve the ministry here. Pray for our girls to stay healthy; many of their friends and our visitors have been sick.
We are overjoyed to note that we have successfully moved Rayna to her own room, and she has slept trough the night for two nights now. Pray that that continues, especially while Nick is on his trip.
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