Pay it Forward: A Priceless Experience in Rwanda

Northwestern Medicine
News April 30, 2013
Northwestern Medicine staff working with Rwandan childrenMary Alice Ackerman, RN, and Gina Ferguson, RN, are both heart transplant coordinators at Northwestern’s Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute. Mary Alice and Gina wrote this blog entry about their incredible experiences and interactions from their recent trip to Rwanda.

Rwanda is referred to as the land of a thousands hills. After spending two weeks traveling in this country, we will always remember it as the land of a thousand beautiful and welcoming hills. This was one of the most magical places that we have had the opportunity to visit.

This trip was initially booked as a vacation to visit my mom, Jane Arnold (Mary Alice’s mom). Jane is currently living in Rwanda and working for the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI), where she has been partnering with the Rwamagana School of Nursing and Midwifery. The vision behind CHAI is that each year 100 American faculty members spend one year in Rwanda working with medical personnel to transfer training capacity. The program aims to educate over 2,000 medical specialists, utilizing e-learning strategies to upgrade the skills of more than 5,000 nurses. Jane had told us so much about her experiences since arriving in Rwanda in August 2012, so we knew that we could not show up empty handed. “Paying it forward” became our drive behind turning this vacation into a random act of kindness. 

We put our efforts into raising funds, collecting donations and working through Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s partners to obtain much needed medical supplies. NMH community outreach put us in touch with Hospital Sisters Mission Outreach. This organization responds to those in need through a medical equipment and supply recovery and distribution program.  

Due to the funds we raised, we were able to purchase educational supplies for the Rwamagana School of Nursing and Midwifery. The medical supplies obtained through Hospital Sisters Mission outreach were donated to the Rwamagana School of Nursing and Midwifery, as well as Kibogora Hospital. We raised nearly $10,000 in funds and donated supplies. We were able to purchase four kindle fires and load each of them with 17 medical textbooks. The colored pictures of anatomy seen on the kindles, as well as the updated text books, will give the students a hands-on approach to reading and learning. We presented the school with a state-of-the-art projector that will be used in the classrooms for lectures and filled eight large suitcases with a variety of needed supplies to help stock the skills lab at the nursing school and Kibogora Hospital. 

The medical and educational supplies were welcomed with tears of joy, many hugs and overwhelming appreciation. Nearly 100 women's scarves and 200 beanie babies were donated to give to the women and children at Kibogora Hospital. Through the Kibogora Mission Hospital outreach, we purchased beans, rice and soap and had the opportunity to give out the supplies to the community in a small remote village in the mountains. The generosity of friends, family and the community turned this random act of kindness into a reality for the people of Rwanda.  

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