Looking back at my experience at Gardens for Health, I have learned so much about a field I am incredibly passionate about. Although I have many lessons I can take away from this internship, one of the most important ones is that social justice work is intersectional. Gardens for Health primarily focuses on nutrition and agriculture education, but doing home visits with some of the staff this week made me really see the change that the GHI trainings are making in the homes of the people they are working with. New mothers who had recently completed GHI’s program expressed their gratitude for what they learned, and discussed how they have put it into practice. One of the things I took away from this visit is the impact othe GHI program has on husbands, too. Seeing their week-old babies are healthy, that food was prepared faster, and that it was more nutritious made them supporters of this type of education for women. Changing some of the stigma surrounding women’s education in rural community’s highlights how GHI’s mission expands beyond nutrition and agriculture.
I have loved doing home visits and going into the field, but my work with GHI has focused primarily around developing a data repository for the different monitoring and evaluation indicators GHI uses. Through this project, I am helping the organization work to make accessing data more efficient, and I am definitely proud of the work I have done. Another intern and I were also in charge of a weekly email updating subscribers about the most recent news in nutrition and agriculture that week. I loved being able to interact more directly with GHI’s supporters, and I am sure they will continue the “weekly digest emails” when we are gone. Additionally, I was involved in a number of amazing projects that were not part of my initial job description such as the Training of Trainers program, and helping with different visitors who came to the farm. With all these projects I feel I have gotten a holistic view of how GHI operates.
I really think I have made the most of my time here in Kigali and at GHI. I have established a great social network made up of GHI staff and other residents of Kigali. I have traveled all over the north of the country to visit some of the health centers GHI works in. And, I have made sure to work with every team at GHI to see how the organization as a whole operates. For someone trying to pursue a similar internship, I would advise they take full advantage of their time in the field, because opportunities will not just fall into your lap. Additionally, to always ask where you should go, what you should do, and most importantly, how you can help!
My time at Gardens for Health International has taught me so much about the global health development field. One of the lessons I have learned during my time with the organization is to take every opportunity to go into the field.
On days where I go into the field, I wake up at 4:30 AM to take a two-hour bus up to a district in the mountains named Musanze. After the bus ride there is another hour to hour and a half car ride depending on the health center. Then, we are put to work at the health center, only to do the same commute again later in the day. As a college student on summer break, I was definitely not prepared for this intense schedule. However, after a couple trips to Musanze, I realized why it is so important to go into the field. For the families Gardens for Health is working with, it means so much when visitors from the main office come, and I can see how much joy it brings them to learn about nutrition. Being able to see the impact GHI has on communities like the ones I visited make every long day worth it.
Additionally, being a part of a staff with significant cultural barriers has taught me so much about interacting with coworkers. When I first started at Gardens for Health I found it hard to get to know my colleagues as a majority of the time they were speaking Kinyarwanda. I soon became comfortable inserting myself into conversations and they gladly would respond to me in English, and often go out of their way to talk to me. Because of this, I have become so much more social at work, and I really feel like I have become a full-fledged member of the GHI team. These interactions taught me that you should never be afraid to talk to anyone you work with.
I also now have a deep appreciation for GHI’s unique work environment. One of my favorite things about working at Gardens for Health is that I have access to fresh produce. Every. Day. For usually no more than a dollar, I am able to buy fresh vegetables from the GHI farm like carrots, beats, spinach, chard, and other incredible Rwandan favorites. I am also able to take a walk to local markets if I get tired of staring at my computer, visit the goats and other livestock, and just walk around the farm on a nice day. I learned to appreciate this working environment so much more than I did at the beginning of this internship, and it makes me really think about how special this summer real is. I am so lucky to have had the opportunity to work with Gardens for Health and I will certainly be thinking about the beautiful GHI farm on the next Brandeis snow day.
The social justice mission of Gardens for Health International is to fight against chronic malnutrition in Rwanda with good nutrition and agriculture practices. The organization was founded in 2007, and by 2010 was in four different health centers in the district of Gasabo. In 2018, GHI operates in 19 different health centers across the country. Their health center program teaches 50 families in the community about what a balanced meal looks like, and what the best foods to grow are for good nutrition.
I mention these facts because they emphasize the impressive progress Gardens for Health has made since their founding. Through the innovation of a variety of new programs, GHI is able to interact with a number of new community actors. In the last couple of years, they have pioneered an antenatal care program where they teach pregnant mothers how to care for their unborn child. The program has been incredibly successful so far, and is being expanded to even more districts in the coming season. Additionally, GHI just had their first Training of Trainers Program (ToT) where they brought Rwandans from across the country to the farm to learn about the GHI program model in order to teach more communities about our version of health education. Although the first annual ToT was just completed, it was so successful, preparations are already being made for the ToT training this coming December.
Another amazing thing I have learned from the GHI programs is that, they are teaching all of their participants to pass on all of the knowledge they are receiving to members of the community who were unable to participate in GHI trainings. This is one of the ways the reach and impact of GHI reaches beyond the health centers the work in.
In addition to these major new changes to the GHI programs, there are many small steps the organization takes in order to maintain their mission effectively. One of the things I admire about the GHI office is its self-sufficiency. The office is on a big farm that serves three purposes. Firstly, the crops grown on the farm provide the seeds for the home garden package given to all the families who complete the health center program. Additionally, all the food in our daily farm lunches is produced on the farm. Lastly, the harvested crops that are left over are sold in local markets, and the proceeds are reinvested back into maintaining the farm. These practices play into why I believe Gardens for Health is such a credible organization. They practice their teachings in full force on a daily basis, encouraging everyone involved in GHI to live up to their mission.
GHI also composts, raises goats, and feeds other members of the local community at the farm lunches. By establishing new programs and implementing their sustainable farm practices at the office, fighting malnutrition is engrained in the core structure of the organization. For these reasons I am so proud to work for an organization like Gardens for Health International this summer.
Throughout my first two years at Brandeis, I have been able to take a number of classes where I have learned what a good NGO should look like. In global perspectives of health with Professor Noble, I studied different health intervention cases, analyzing the most successful and worst forms of aid. In introduction to anthropology and introduction to globalization, I learned about the importance of transparency and cultural relativism. Almost everything I have learned about social justice and the structure of an NGO is taken in stride by Gardens for Health International.
However, I believe there are two key lessons that the organization epitomizes. First, the importance of utilizing local leadership in order to remain as culturally sensitive as possible. Gardens for Health is made up of a 90% Rwandan staff. Although founded by an American woman, the organization hires purely Rwandan health leaders to teach their programs in the districts in which they operate. I believe that by using local staff to teach communities about sanitation and nutrition, their programs are more successful than a variety of other NGOs. This is because participants are more likely to trust a teacher if they can identify with them. This trust is one of the most important aspects of a successful intervention. One of the ways I was able to witness the success of GHI’s model was by attending the graduation of an Antenatal Care program at one of the health centers. Pregnant women, husbands, health center staff, and trainers all attended for an incredibly special ceremony and celebration. Seeing the mothers to be and the bond that the trainers had created with them was such an amazing thing to witness.
Additionally, transparency within an organization is incredibly important, and Gardens for Health, from what I have seen so far, is incredibly willing to ask their staff for advice on how to remedy some of the most pressing problems within the organization. I was able to see this communication during an all-staff meeting last week. Staff were trucked in from all districts, and the founder, now current board chair, flew in from the U.S. At the meeting, we discussed the hard year GHI has had including budget cuts and layoffs, in addition to other challenges. However, each team was given a chance to share something positive they learned from this year and something they feel the organization as a whole needs to work on. Additionally, the board announced that the current country director had been promoted to executive director. Including all members of the organization in this announcement and asking for their thoughts over the past fiscal year speaks to the type of organization GHI is.
The work Gardens for Health International does falls perfectly in line with the definition of social justice. Through their trainings, they are increasing the equitability of Rwandans who would not otherwise have access to proper nutrition education. By looking at what I have learned about NGOs, social justice, and the mission of Gardens for Health, I am able to place the work I am doing in the broader fight against malnutrition and unequal access to health education.
My internship this summer is in Kigali, Rwanda with the local NGO Gardens for Health International (GHI). The organization is known throughout the region for its work in health centers, teaching families about nutrition, sanitation, and best agricultural practices. I have been eagerly waiting to start this internship since I received the job offer in March.
The mission of the organization is to eliminate chronic malnutrition in Rwanda. Even though more than 80 percent of Rwandans are involved in subsistence agriculture, 38 percent are chronically malnourished. This speaks to the lack of education in rural communities surrounding balanced meals, untreated water, and exclusive breastfeeding. Gardens for Health International has multiple programs to aid in this fight against chronic malnutrition. Their health center program is in 19 different districts throughout Rwanda and centers around teaching families what a nutritious meal is and how to grow it at home. At the end of the program, each family that graduates is given a kitchen garden kit that includes seeds, livestock, and a variety of other tools to get them started. Additionally, GHI runs an Antenatal Care Program (ANC) in which they teach pregnant women in their first and second trimester about what to eat and how to care for a child in their first two years of life.
During my time here, I will be assisting in a number of projects. As a part of the monitoring and evaluations team, I will be gathering health statistics from past GHI surveys and compiling them into a data repository. Additionally, I have multiple projects with the communications team including weekly digest emails, case study interviews with families, and a presentation on how to increase social media traction. Lastly, I will be doing graphic design for a variety of projects and documents. By aiding in the creation of a data repository, I am helping GHI move towards their goal of having a data dashboard in which all their most important information can be accessed with ease. Through my work with communications, I am helping GHI remain active with their supporters and donors–a very important task for any NGO.
My hope for this summer is to gain valuable field experience in both public health and in what it is like to work in an office space with a variety of cultural barriers. GHI’s staff is 90 percent Rwandan, which bodes well for them as a localized and trustworthy NGO. However, it makes it hard for me to talk to a lot of the people I am interacting with on a daily basis as my Kinyarwanda is…minimal. I find that most of my interactions happen during our farm lunches, as the organization provides an hour each day to enjoy a delicious home-cooked lunch made by the “kitchen mamas.” I am also able to bond with other staff during the 45-minute drive to the office from Kigali in the back of a pickup truck.
Ultimately, the experience of being in Rwanda itself has been incredible so far and I can’t wait for the rest of my time here to be just as exciting and transformative.