A Short History of MMM in Rwanda
On 6 April 1994 the genocide in Rwanda began. By May of that year, MMM leadership was discussing how we could respond to the catastrophe. Soon Trócaire, the development agency of the Irish Church, asked if we could put together a medical team. This led to our involvement in relief work at Cyanika, which eventually had 20,000 displaced persons.
A member of the MMM team described the scene. ‘In Chynika the air was thick with smoke and the smell of eucalyptus wood being used for firewood. The people were living in squalor and desolation. They were seen but not heard. When we started organizing relief many people came asking, “Please give us something to do.” Our arrival brought them hope.’
We remained until June 1995, when the refugee camps were closing. Because the situation continued to be very fragile, missionary groups met to consider the possibility of longer-term commitments. Eventually two MMM communities were established.
In the university town of Huye (Butare), we were involved in health and rehabilitation for women in distress and children, many of whom were orphans, and in teaching in the University Medical School and Hospital. This work was handed over in 2009.
In October 1996, MMM went to Gikongoro Diocese at the invitation of Bishop Augustine Misago (RIP). We established our first house in rural Kirambi, where there were many people living with HIV, historically marginalized groups, poor small scale farmers, and orphans. After a time of insertion, in May 1997 we took over the running of Kirambi Health Centre. With the support of Trócaire a baseline survey was conducted, which showed that in the catchment area malnutrition in children under five years of age was 39%. In response, in November 1998 the Kirambi Community Health and Development Programme (KCHDP) was started and integrated with the health centre.
Through KCHDP)/Kirambi Health Centre many families have improved their lives with capacity development and support in health and nutrition and with economic empowerment through agriculture.
They learned good farming practices to increase food production, growing vegetables on artificial land, known as kitchen (sack) gardens. They shared their knowledge, so that today literally every family has a kitchen garden. They harvest vegetables close to home and the plots are economical in water consumption. KCHDP installed rain water harvesting technology into semi-underground tanks and introduced water recycling infrastructures. This means families can grow vegetables even in the dry season.
In all our projects we have collaborated with local government and committees elected by the community, ensuring that what we started will continue in a sustainable way.
Sharing in a gift of healing
MMM Kirambi has retained experienced and dedicated staff members. Among them are two Associate MMMs, committed to our healing mission. Social worker Xavier Bizimana has been with KCHDP for nineteen years. Aloysie Mukamana, KCHDP assistant coordinator, has been with us for fourteen years.
In 2012 KCHDP/Health Centre was one of four programmes chosen by MMM leadership as centres of excellence. The team spirit helped the programme to place fourth in Nyanza District in 2013; third in 2014; and second in 2016. By December 2016, malnutrition in children under five in the catchment area had been reduced to 1.4%.
Our dream is always for the people to be empowered to take responsibility for their own health. With the government now able to run the programme with the diocese and the local community, after much discernment, we decided that it was time to hand over.
On Sunday, 29 January 2017, Sr. Elizabeth Naggayi, MMM, addressed the congregation at Mass and thanked the people of Kirambi for the opportunity given to the MMMs to serve them over the last twenty years.
On 31 January 2017, we transferred the MMM ministry to the Diocese of Gikongoro. After Mass, the heavens opened. What a blessing for us at the handing-over time. For months, people had been praying for rain and the plants were drying up. It was a heavy rain that refreshed everyone and everything.
It has been a gift to be part of the story of the brave and resilient Rwandese people, witnessing the power of the Holy Spirit at work as they moved from hatred, fear and mistrust to reconciliation, collaboration and self-reliance.
As the Sisters said goodbye to the people and to the beautiful hills and mountains, a man on his bicycle, his hoe on his shoulder, rode beside the car. At the top of his voice he sang, ‘Urugendo rwiza inshuti z’Imana! (Safe journey, friends of God!)’ The MMMs responded, ‘Murakoze cyane! (Thank you so much!)'
We thank God for protecting and guiding us and our friends and supporters who enabled us to be present for over twenty years. The journey is far from complete but we leave Rwanda with grateful hearts.