Muraho Everyone! Greetings from Rwanda. I’m Dr. Stephanie and this is my 8th trip to Rwanda, my 8th Hope Shines Summer Camp (the 6th as Camp Director), my 7th doing annual health checks, but my FIRST Annual Health Checks for the 36 newly enrolled Hope Shines Kids. I was unable to attend camp last year since our little boy Macklin was born just 2 months prior! It’s always such a learning experience when I do health checks and this year wasn’t any different.
We arrived early to a VERY clean center! We quickly got desks outside in the front for a make-shift “waiting room,” the classroom was arranged with 4 stations initially (fluoride treatments, intake questions, vision screening, and height and weight), once you got into the hall the supply closet was set up with 2 chairs for vitals, the “kitchen or food storage” room housed the shirts, socks and underwear and then our country managers office was the “exam room.” Once you got through all the stations the steps out back had all of our shoes arranged in size/gender for the kids to pick out right before they left the center (or waited for their friends or just played more). The center also has a library but this has been deemed “Mack’s Room” all of camp and he was taking a much needed nap all morning so that room was out of commission which was OK since we made the rest of the center work for our medical day needs.
Since the kids have been in designated groups all week we kept them in their groups for the Health Checks as well. So each group one-by-one came through the stations starting with fluoride treatments and ending out the back door with shoes. We quickly learned that there would be a lot of kids just waiting so after the first group we decided to just do fluoride as a whole group to get that over with and then go on with the remainder of the stations. It all went fairly smooth and didn’t take too long for the kids to filter through the stations, I didn’t even have to wait too long for my first kid to be examined and then the morning really started. All-in-all it took about 3 hours to get through all the kids, and as always I was the limiting step in the entire equation. But I always want to at least listen to all their heart and lungs and answer any questions they have as well as do a little bit of education with each of them one-on-one.
So what did we find this year? Well a number of the children need glasses. Some are lucky and have assigned seats in the front of their classrooms however some do not and will need to ask for a switch at the start of this upcoming term while we arrange for them to get their vision checked and eye glasses. ONE little girl (Raissa) actually needs reading glasses! One of our volunteers, Michael, has reading glasses so I was able to do a little “test” while we were at the center. MOST of the children DO NOT drink clean/boiled water at home, whether it is because they don’t like the taste or because their families are just “too busy” to get water boiled every day, A LOT have had diarrheal infections in the past year. Thankfully we have a Lifestraw Water Filter at the center so 3 days a week the kids do get clean water but not when they are at home. MOST of the children have mosquito nets but I have found (as in the past) some don’t like to sleep under them and a lot have them in their homes however they are not put up because the mamas either do not have the time or cannot reach up to the ceiling to get them up! Some only have one per family and it is usually reserved for the youngest child/baby in the family.
A lot more malaria cases than I had expected however during the course of the week while talking with one of our long time translators, Bienta, we learned that President Kagame set forth an initiative that states if you have the government insurance (which all of our Hope Shines kids do) then if you go to a clinic and test positive for Malaria then you get the treatment for free. So ALL of the children that had malaria did not have ANY issues getting treated!
My last little girl who camp through was Josiane. Josiane has obvious deformities in her feet and ankles and also a fairly large scar on the top of her head I had been noticing all week. Josiane benefits a great deal from Hope Shines and we are working towards supporting her even more. You see Josiane was abandoned by her parents so an Aunt took her in (because the orphanages all closed here in Rwanda in 2015). This Aunt takes care of 7 children in the house and apparently does not really “like” Josiane. So often she does not eat and the other kids in the house pick on her and are mean to her as well. The scar on her scalp is from a mattress catching on fire from a candle when she was younger so it is a burn and her hair never grew back. Her left foot/ankle is actually a severely collapsed arch and flat foot that probably should have been braced as a toddler when she was learning to walk but never got proper treatment. Despite this ankle looking worse than her right it does not hurt her at all. Her right ankle is from a moto accident. Josiane pointed to the outside of her ankle and stated it “got hurt” in the accident and she went to a clinic but all they did was put a bandage on the outside of her ankle. I asked multiple times to see if she got any sort of wrap or cast but all she said was she got a bandage on that outside bone. I don’t know for sure but I would guess she fractured her ankle, it never got set or immobilized properly, and has healed like it appears today. She states this does cause her pain. She has been wearing Crocs all week and explains she does not wear any shoes only open back slip on shoes or flip flops. So I walked out back with her when we were finished and asked that she try on a pair of high top shoes. She took off her Crocs and we noticed they were so worn there was actually a hole on the bottom of her left shoe! I explained the high tops may be uncomfortable at first but in the longterm they will help with supporting her ankles more and since she is growing I am hopeful that it may help some with her left foot/ankle. As far as the rest of Josiane’s situation Hope Shines is working on getting her a little bit of food in the mornings before she heads off to school on the days we do not have the After-School program (where they get food). This little girl started out the week pretty tired and not really making a lot of eye contact, but I was able to see a smile by the end of the week and her group really engaging her and including her in the activities. Not to mention our AWESOME volunteers going out of their way to give her a hug whenever they saw her!!!
Josiane IS the reason for Hope Shines! We are here to support and wrap our arms around these kids who ALL come from homes where there are not enough means to support the entire family. We are working to build the youth of Rwanda in hopes that one day these kids who come from nothing can be something and somebody in Rwanda! I am so proud to be involved with such an amazing and selfless organization! And as always I can’t wait until I get back here! But for now Murabeho Rwanda and Ndagukunda!!!
Medical Consultant/Camp Director