Africans encourage local support for Rwanda’s first children’s hospital
By Meg Ferrante
An interesting entourage of visitors showed up at the Boys & Girls Club in Madison last week – all the way from Africa.
Simon and Kedress Nziramakenga, in their native Rwandan dress, spoke to local children at Morgan County Elementary as well as the Boys and Girls Club about the challenges of life in Rwanda. About the 400,000 orphans. About the 80,000 children acting as head of their household. About the healing that has occurred since the genocide killed and maimed so many 13 years ago. About the hope the children are learning to feel again. And most importantly, about the first ever Rwandan pediatric hospital that the Nziramakengas and their church are building in the capital city of Kigali.
The girls at the Club ‘oohed’ and ‘ahhed’ over Kedress’ braids. The children asked intelligent questions like “Have you met Barack Obama?” and “What is the money like in Rwanda?”
And after the presentation, Simon played air hockey with one of the girls.
There is no coincidence that these visitors—who came to Madison to raise awareness for The Good Shepherd Hospital for Children—went to see the children first.
“The children are the name of the game. They’re the reason for all of this,” a close friend of the Nziramakengas, Jim Cox said that evening at a fundraiser hosted by local realtor Jeanne Dufort. Cox worked with the Nziramakengas for Campus Crusade for Christ in Nairobi for many years before the genocide. He and his wife, Linda, now give their energies and talent fulltime to the Good Shepherd Community Church’s ministries.
“I’m focused on the church,” Jim said. “I want to see that grow. But it takes all of us to do the hospital and that benefits the church and the country.”
Simon echoed Jim’s sentiment. The 14 churches, the primary school for orphans and the Bible college he has helped found are only the beginning of his plans. “The hospital is a part of the vision God gave us. We have to take care of the children. We love them. They are very dear to us and our church and we would do anything to help them live whole and balanced lives… part of that is they need a place to go when they are sick.”
The 26,000 square foot facility, with inpatient beds, a lab and a radiology department, will provide children in the region with much needed clinical and emergency care, medical and community education, public health outreach, and even spiritual care.
The Nziramakengas and the Coxes have been joined by family, friends and other volunteer/professionals to create One Hundred Days, a non-profit organization dedicated to the construction of the hospital, the only one of its kind in the region and surrounding countries. One Hundred Days’ name comes from the length of the genocide but represents hope for the future of Rwanda.
The genocide is a brutal spot on Rwanda’s history. Simon and Kedress lost 70 family members between them. During a civil war when they were children, both fled as refugees to Kenya and it was hard for them to return to their home.
“Most of my relatives had been killed in the genocide,” Kedress said. “I lost two brothers. My sister was killed with her children. My aunt and uncle were bombed in a church. It wasn’t easy for me to go back. But I promised God I’d care for orphans because He took care of me [as an orphan].” In addition to the eight orphans she and Simon adopted, some 70 come to her small home regularly for Bible study.
After the violence, “it was tough to come back in talking about Jesus,” Jim said. “But now you can go back into Rwanda and in some places not have any clue there was a genocide. There’s such a strong emphasis on reconciliation. They have to live together. In the same place, with the same language.”
Linda said she and Jim have had Americans remark to them how far Rwandans have come in 10 years as compared to how far we’ve come in America in over a century.
“We fell in love with Rwanda on our first trip,” Linda said. “With the people, their spirit… they want to contribute to their recovery…with the 2020 program, they have a goal to be off the UN list of poor countries in the next 12 years… It was easy to say we’d help. How can you not give your heart to helping them?”
The enthusiasm was infectious, and soon, the whole family—and many friends praying for the project, including an architect, an investment banker and a non-profit fundraising specialist—got involved. The hospital plans have really gelled under daughter, Kelli, and son-in-law Scott Sasser’s leadership.
Kelli has taken the reins in coordinating the overall One Hundred Days effort. As Director of International Programs for the Department of Emergency Medicine at Emory University, Scott has a unique ability to understand the all-encompassing medical needs of the local population. They struggle with the diseases that many in the developing world do, especially HIV/AIDS. But in Rwanda, the children have the added physical and emotional challenges as a result of the genocide.
“This has to have a different feel than the average African hospital,” Scott said. “It has to be sunny, bright and beautiful.”
And it has to sustain itself. “We could buy expensive equipment but they’d have to maintain it,” he said. “We firmly believe in a core local staff… in local supplies and equipment so you don’t have to look to the outside to keep the facility running.” The plan is to work with the medical community there, train paramedics and medical support professionals and maintain a strong interaction with the other hospital in the area.
One Hundred Days has raised $200,000 toward the hospital so far, and most recently, the roof is going up on Phase I of the project. An estimated $1.8 million is needed for full construction and initial operating expenses.
The members feel strongly that it will be children who will help the children of Rwanda and as such, have a new goal. To have a million children give one dollar. Under the slogan, “Give one, find one, build one” they are hoping to take the idea viral on the web in order to get a million children to give a dollar, find someone else to give a dollar and in the process, build the hospital for the children of east central Africa.
From his perspective, Scott said that no matter the route to the funds, the completed hospital will become a reality in the near future. “They’re going to do it. Even if we quit today, they’ll get it done,” he said.
Kelli agreed. “It’s their idea. We’re just coming alongside.”
Simon spoke as if helping was as natural as breathing to him. “The country wanted not only spiritual help, but social, physical, community. They needed to be healed. To have reconciliation, restoration. We needed to help people become what they needed to be. How to meet those needs? Preach the Lord. Start the school. Help the orphans. Build the hospital.”
For more information about the Good Shepherd Community Hospital go to www.onehundreddays.org.