If you are friends with me on Facebook or follow my poorly cared for Instagram, you may have gathered that I spent my summer in Rwanda. Some of you reading this may have traveled there yourself, or perhaps have seen Hotel Rwanda, or at least have some idea of where Rwanda is on a map. If none of the above applied to you, I suggest you take a minute or two and use that oh-so-magical Google search engine. That being said, in my opinion, the taste of Rwandan history and culture a brief search has to offer overlooks just about everything Rwanda really is now, especially the beauty of and the challenges many of its people struggle with.
While I had the opportunity to travel all over the impressively rich and diverse country, I had the privilege and opportunity to spend a significant amount of my time in Musanze, a district in the North struggling with malnutrition and the consequences of historical and ongoing marginalization.
As many of you also know, I founded and run So Others Are Protected (SOAP), a self-empowerment initiative focused on solving some of the simpler issues surround health and the spread of disease in under-resourced communities. From my time in country and through the relationships fostered and partnerships built, I am excited to announce the launch of a new initiative combating malnutrition and empowering marginalized and vulnerable women in the rural North of Rwanda. SOAP is, and has been, public health oriented, but has specifically focused on sanitation and the spread of disease. However, I am very excited to expand our reach and sustainable impact to new issues of public health.
The African continent is home to more than 31 million underweight children who disproportionately suffer from infection due to depressed immune function. Further, malnutrition accounts for more than one-third of post-natal deaths. In Rwanda, like many of its neighboring nations, malnutrition remains a serious challenge. Undernutrition can be attributed to about half of all pediatric deaths.
Following the 1994 genocide, Rwanda faced a massive loss of health professionals and a destruction of health infrastructure. However, over the past twenty-two years post-genocide, health outcomes in Rwanda have improved dramatically. Expanded access to health facilities, clinicians, and community health workers, as well as international funding channeled toward broader system strengthening efforts have led to precipitous declines in premature mortality among children under-five years. Rwanda is recognized now to be among the ten countries now on track to meet each of the health related United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
It is of paramount importance to our efforts to understand the complexities of the nutrition problem but also to recognize that strong partnerships and a variety of quite simple actions can contribute to improving nutrition and impact the underlying poverty crisis. This initiative focuses on combating the malnutrition crisis through the empowerment of women via craftsmanship training and economic counseling and support. Studies show that once women are given opportunity and economic means and independence, the first aspect of livelihood to be directly impacted is health and nutrition [of children]. The money raised in this campaign will be used to hire instructors, counselors, and help fund the women through their training and provide the necessary materials.
This initiative specifically targets vulnerable and historically marginalized women surviving on less than 1 USD per week in Shingiro and Nyange. Through female and socio-economic empowerment, craftsmanship training, and the promotion of community-based enterprises as an alternative for income generation, we project that these efforts will directly impact and improve the livlihoods and diets of women and children, increasing familial resources from 1 USD per week to 1 USD per day.
I also want to highlight that this is a sustainable, cost-effective and culturally sensitive and realistic effort that has been heavily influenced and is being directed by the strong women who will be benefitting directly.