Kigali - Day 3
You don’t need an alarm clock here, for sure. Shortly past five o’ clock, the birds start to sing, their chirrups ceasing again before the break of dawn. But at 5.58 exactly, the noisiest birds start off again. Fred-Marc and me judged one of the voices to be an excellent ring tone: very insistent! Perhaps I will manage to record this bird’s voice using my iPhone. May the ornithologists among you tell me then which bird it is that each morning wakes me in such a relentless manner.
Coffee, papaya, apple bananas, malaria prophylaxis, and off we go to the tarred road, by foot, with moto taxis already waiting to pick us up there. They take us uphill. Our destination: a hospital named We act for hope, a spin-off from the NGO We act. The taxi driver really takes his time in demonstrating me that his vehicle indeed has brakes. But he makes up for it by providing me with a rather new helmet: I can see through its shield, really!
We act for hope is the domain of Dr. Mardge Cohen from Chicago. The hospital exclusively cares for HIV-infected persons, treating them and providing prevention. We see little children vivid and full of energy, as well as old men – well, “old” in relative terms. An acutely ill woman looks quite old to me for a 35 age old. She is going blind, it seems; two other women are supporting her. The group enters through a back door hidden between some shops. “We built this entrance, because many people had refused from using the main one,” Chantal Benekigeri, director of the hospital, says. People with HIV infection or AIDS are being stigmatized, Deirdre explains. Parents are finding it hard to tell their children that they were infected by HIV during their birth. And when they finally cannot longer avoid telling the truth, it always ends up being a nightmare for the young ones. Dr. Cohen says: “This is a twofold catastrophe, because the earlier you start treatment, the better. Starting it with young children means they can get healed completely from the disease, so they will be able to lead a normal life when grown up.”
We meet several men who had taken part in the hospital’s treatment scheme for HIV-infected children. They have been completely healed and now work as assistants in Dr. Cohen’s psychological group support programme. The programme, being based on a WHO study on gender-specific violence, has a quite effective approach: The participants learn to know and identify their own beliefs; “cultural myths”, Mardge calls them. The patients identify their own feelings, to find out what these do to them, and how they themselves tend to act on them. In playful experiments, they take a closer look at their thoughts and feelings and rehearse new behavioural patterns over and over, until they eventually sink in.
A simple example: The men in the group are being asked whether it is alright for a man to beat up his wife occasionally. Nearly all men walk over to the “yes” side.
Being asked the same question, nearly all women opt for “yes”, too.
Now everyone starts to discuss, to argue, to gather information. There is a lot of crying, laughing and ranting, with no one giving in until each and every group member has changed to the “no” side – and is convinced in doing so.
For the women, this means an uncompromising change: from suppression to self-consciousness, from dependency to autonomy. Proof of this approach being highly successful is the hospital itself: Its executive team consists of more women than men, all of them being Rwandans.
Considering the individual as a whole in his or her own right, the programme involves Deirdre Summerbell’s yoga scheme as a pivotal part: Embodiment is key to integrating newly acquired behaviours firmly into your life.
Meanwhile, We act for hope has managed to get financial support by the Rwandan government, the National Institute of Health being the main sponsor. Treatments and medications are free there for everyone.
Project Air depends on donations: www.project-air.org/donate.html
PROJECT AIR RWANDA – WIRE TRANSFER INFORMATION:
Bank Name: COGEBANQUE SWIFT-BIC Code: CGBKRWRW Bank Address: CENTENARY HOUSE, B.P. 5230 KIGALI Country: RWANDA Account Number: 130-0156966 USD Account Name: PROJECT AIR