Sharing knowhow and joining forces towards Health for All
Contribution to the Annual Report 2015 of the MMI Network

Two cultures united in Right to Health defense

Two cultures united in Right to Health defense

This is a story about a project which started in 1972 bringing Navarra (Spain) closer to a District Hospital in Nemba (Rwanda) and is still today creating emotional links between people on both countries, joined in a common effort to defend the Right To Health.

Medicus Mundi Navarra-Madrid-Aragón (MM NAM) is an association part of Medicus Mundi Spanish Associations Federation (FAMME), developing its activities at Navarra, Madrid and Aragón. It counts more than 1.600 members, about 140 yearly active volunteers and 20 permanent staff; in addition to local personnel who collaborates with our diverse projects at Bolivia, Peru, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Congo DR, Mali, Rwanda, Uganda and Senegal.

The creation of the bond with Rwanda

Medicus Mundi was born in Navarra back in 1972, to support the building and daily activities of Nemba District Hospital (Rwanda). This project, promoted by several catholic missioners living in the area, was also the first to be sponsored by the Navarra Government.

The opening of the hospital, in 1974, was achieved following a call for the population to donate heralded at the main local media. The process forged an extraordinary bond between the Spanish region and the Rwandese district where the hospital lies (Gakenke). Nowadays Nemba Hospital is owned by Ruhengeri diocese and included in the Rwandan Health System. However, the special bond has ever since been maintained and translated into economic and technical help evolving throughout the years.

Rejuvenating the commitment

2016 brought one step further. An initiative was started with the main objective of creating new links between Rwandese and Spanish people and hence advocate for our work: field trips to gain a first-hand impression. For twelve days, during February first fortnight, 8 Spanish people (5 men and 3 women, between 35 and 72 years) led by the MM NAM Rwanda project coordinator travelled to Rwanda.

During the trip, team members were able to expand their knowledge about the country troubled history in the last century, the social and health situation in Gakenke; and the Nemba Hospital and health centres organization. They amazed themselves noticing how hundreds of steep hills are cultivated to provide food, hills so steep farmers need to secure themselves with ropes to stop themselves from rolling down. They learnt how cattle, farming and handicraft cooperatives built by many women and some men are enabling families to escape poverty and fight malnourishment. And they noticed how Rwandese women role has evolved in the last fifty years, dramatically improving and facing challenges not too dissimilar from those found in Spain nowadays.

All this was put in context by thorough pre travel working sessions in Spain and accompanied by Rwanda’s tremendous potential as a tourist destination, showcasing peaceful lakes, dramatic volcanoes and thousands of hills, not to leave aside its hospitable people.

Understanding and assimilating all they felt, listened and saw has not been an easy task. Everyday brought a new surprise: Some 8 years old girls that joined the group for hours asking tirelessly for shoes. An empty food warehouse supposed to store provisions to fight against resource less children and adult malnourishment, but depleted after funds donated with this purpose had been fully used up. A dismaying Intensive Care Unit that made their hearts shrink from its appearance and when figuring how interned patients could feel. Spotless pigs kept in a simple yet neat pigpen in the hills, generating revenue and breaking the poverty vicious circle for the Community Health Agents that had built the cooperative. A singing women group who welcomed the travellers as they came near to see how their children were measured and weighted.

Many different stories, which have filled their backpacks of experiences, emotions, doubts, contradictions and enthusiasm to keep on fighting for health to be an affordable right for everyone.

After the trip

12 days is nothing to know a country. Although is also quite a lot. It changes you. It teaches you. It helps you see from another point of view. It moves you from the inside. It makes you think. It makes you notice the privileges we enjoy in the North of this unequally distributed planet. And it encourages you to get more involved in an organization such as Medicus Mundi, which even after 40 years keeps its engagement in the Nemba Hospital and works to get more resources to support the Rwandese population’s fight to improve their living condition.

Throughout these years our approach to cooperation with Rwanda has evolved quite a lot. Nemba Hospital is no longer the only focus of interest, which is now extended to the whole Gakenke District. Neither is to strengthen the public health system anymore the only objective, but also to identify the main factors that hamper health in the area to act over them, or to look for someone who could.

Union makes strong, and a lot of strength is still required to improve 350.000 Gakenke District inhabitants’ living conditions. Thanks to the trip there are 8 more people contributing to make it a reality. Media interviews, conferences, fundraising... these some of the already ongoing actions.

In view of good results, it is the intention of MM NAM to repeat similar trips in the next years. Because a lot of people are needed to accomplish our mission: generate structural changes and promote solidarity and a commitment culture that makes affordable health access right a reality. Feeling the need to change things, have a first-hand experience of existing inequalities, name and face injustice, these are the best motivations to unite the fight for Health Access Right.

Contribution by Medicus Mundi Navarra-Madrid-Aragón (member of FAMME) to the Annual Report 2015 of the MMI Network

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