Muraho, nitwa Maddy (Hello, my name is Maddy)

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:

Muraho hello

Murakoze thank you

Mwaramutse good morning

Amahoro peace

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.

Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Butare

Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Butare

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.

The daunting storage room at CHUB

The daunting storage room at CHUB

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. (!!!)

My evening commute

Friends along my evening commute

I’m already starting to get sad about leaving this beautiful, beautiful place that has taught me so much.

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About Maddy

I am a rising senior in Tulane's Department of Biomedical Engineering. This summer, I will be working in Rwanda with a program called Engineering World Health. My primary role will be repairing and installing medical equipment in a small village hospital, but I will also be working with local doctors and engineers to design new medical equipment with the constraints of a developing nation's health care system in mind.

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