Jul 19
July 19, 2012

Letter from Rwanda


My father and I just spent two incredible days in Rwanda seeing work supported by the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI), the Clinton Hunter Development Initiative (CHDI), and catalyzed through the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) – always with the Rwandan government setting the priorities and working as a partner. We also spent time with President Paul Kagame, visiting and learning about his efforts to lift his country out of poverty – from model villages to giving every Rwandan family a cow (something that raised the incomes meaningfully for more than one million Rwandans in its first year alone). My father and I reminisced about his days as a young boy on a friend’s dairy farm and my summer spent as a cowgirl in Montana – and I think the Rwandans were surprised that we knew even a little bit about cattle.

Our visit began yesterday, July 18, at the Butaro Hospital in northern Rwanda – where we last were four years ago to help break ground. Butaro was the last of the regional hospitals to be built – and is distinctive in its provision of world-class cancer care, including for children. It was built and staffed (largely with Rwandans) with support from the Rwandan government, Partners in Health (PIH), the Jeff Gordon Children’s Fund, The Dana Farber Foundation and the Clinton Foundation – a dynamic partnership that is the result of a 2011 Clinton Global Initiative commitment. This is exactly the type of partnership we need more of in the world, and more evidence that CGI is helping match together good ideas and intentions with good resources and partners.

Seeing kids get the treatment they need (and playing with toy race cars) brought huge smiles to everyone’s faces. The hospital is beautiful – a place my father and I marveled we would be happy to be treated. We also had a lot of fun talking to Jeff Gordon on the way back to Kigali about Nascar – my dad and I are huge fans of Jeff’s and were so grateful he came all the way to Butaro to celebrate the hospital he helped build on his week off during Nascar’s season. We hope to make it to one of Jeff’s races soon – and to find other ways to work together in the future.

This morning we visited the Mount Meru Soyco site in Rwanda's Kayonza district that is supported by CHDI. When the Soyco processing plant is finished next July, it will purchase soybeans and sunflower seeds from 12,000 Rwandan farmers and process the seeds into usable cooking oils and soy feed for animals. It will be the first soy or sunflower processing plant in the country – and allow, for the first time ever, Rwandan farmers to earn prevailing market rates for their crop. For the average Rwandan farmer, that will translate into an additional $250-500 in profit, at current yields. When we can help get better fertilizer for the farmers (which we’re working on), that number could double or even quadruple! And, as the plant capacity grows further, an expected 30,000 farmers or more will have a ready, reliable buyer for their crops.

Another highlight of today was our final official event, announcing the Human Resources for Health Program (HRH), in which CHAI, PIH and 13 academic partners from the United States are working with the Rwandan government to help build the health education infrastructure and health workforce required for Rwanda to have a world-class health care system – for Rwanda and all of Africa. The program will address the critical shortage of health workers in Rwanda; currently, the country has only 633 doctors for its population of more than 10 million people. Together with the Rwandan Ministry of Health, CHAI drafted the proposal to USAID to fund the training of doctors, nurses, public health officials and health managers. For the first time ever, USAID agreed to fund a proposal as articulated by a developing country whose implementing partners – the academic institutions – are taking a very low overhead percentage. What that means is that more than 90 cents of every USAID dollar will be spent in Rwanda and not on US contractors – in most cases, only between 30-60 cents of a USAID dollar is spent in-country. When (not IF!) this works, it will not only transform Rwanda’s health care ecosystem but also the business of development assistance.

I can't wait to go back to Rwanda – to see the Soyco site fully operational, to meet the first flush of nursing and medical students trained in country by professors from Harvard, to meet more young people and understand their dreams for their country. Hopefully next time with both my parents and Marc!