Hello from Butare, Rwanda! My time working in Rwanda with Engineering World Health has reached it’s half-way point.
It is hard to put the things that I have learned into words because every day is full of things that I have never experienced—every moment I learn something new. I spent the first month of my time in Rwanda taking classes in Biomedical equipment repair, French, and the native Kinyarwanda language. Here’s a sampling of Kinyarwanda:
Murakoze thank you
Mwaramutse good morning
Komera stay strong
I know enough Kinyarwanda to greet people, talk about family, buy things, and find my way around—enough to survive here. I can tell my accent is getting better because occasionally Rwandans will start chattering away to me. At the same time, this shows me how much more I have to learn.
I worked alongside some Biomedical Equipment Technician (BMET) students at their school in Kigali, Rwanda. Their program is very focused on training technicians, where the Biomedical Engineering program at Tulane focuses more on equipment design and understanding of theory. The students that I worked with were very, very smart. I think it’s a shame that they do not have the design training that I have. They understand the problems that developing hospitals face better than I will and would be well suited to design solutions given the resources.
This month, I am working at the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Butare (CHUB), a large teaching hospital in Huye, Rwanda.
CHUB is a fairly advanced hospital for the developing world, but it is very different from any hospital that you would find in the United States. The pace of work is much slower, which is good and bad. I like the slow pace because I have time to talk to doctors and nurses about their work and their lives. Rwandans are very friendly; what Americans my consider intrusive questions are very common. People I’ve just met often ask me if I’m married and am I catholic. It definitely took some getting used to.
My partner, Carisse, and I have spent a lot of time updating an inventory to be used by Engineering World Health and the hospital itself. Today we took inventory of a storage closet. It was packed full of mostly working equipment that is not needed because CHUB recently received a donation from the CDC of a bunch of new equipment. Carisse and I are trying to figure out a way to redistribute this unneeded equipment to other hospitals in Rwanda that could benefit from it. On Friday we will meet with the hospital director to talk about our ideas. We will also ask him if there are any secondary projects around the hospital that he would like us to work on while we are here.
This internship has definitely improved my troubleshooting skills and my confidence in my technical abilities. One of my first days at CHUB, my partner and I worked with a local technician to trouble shoot an ophthalmoscope that was not working. We determined that the problem was in the power supply, and that someone had switched the live and neutral electrical leads. We whipped out our soldering iron and heat shrink tubing and quickly fixed the problem. Of course, not all repairs are as simple.
This experience has shaped me and surprised me in many ways. Rwanda is a pretty wonderful place to live, and it is developing very quickly. There are beautiful paved roads (much nicer than New Orleans’ roads!), getting access to phone and internet is probably easier and definitely cheaper than in the US, and cold bucket showers really aren’t so bad. Plus, monkeys hang out at the hospital. (!!!)
I’m already starting to get sad about leaving this beautiful, beautiful place that has taught me so much.