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.
– Eli Wasserman ’20