Kicking Off the New Year with a Bang

This post was written by Lisanne Comeau.

Beginning in January 2015, Shooting Touch introduced “Health Awareness Month’ in an effort to promote various health issues that Rwandan people face on a daily basis. Focusing on one health topic each month allows Shooting Touch kids to retain as much information on the subject, which will be repeated several times throughout the month via different methods; such as educational videos, hands-on activities, guest speakers, and distributed materials. In order to measure how much information the kids retain from each topic, we will distribute pretests in the first week and the same test in the last week, with the goal of seeing a percentage increase from the pre to post tests.

Malaria awareness at the Joey Glynn court
Malaria awareness at the Joey Glynn court

For the month of January, malaria was the topic of choice considering it was a high season for the infectious disease in Rwanda. During the week of January 5th, with the help of Kigali medical students, Remy and I created a test with basic questions on malaria for the kids to take at the Kayonza, Nyamirama, Rukara, and Rwinkwavu courts. The pretest average scores (out of 100) were 66, 53, 64, and 67, which averaged out to a 62.5% total for all sites, with about 105 kids taking the test. Although the results were a decent average for pretesting, our goal was to get that above 80% by the end of the month.

Guest speaker at the Joey Glynn court
Guest speaker at the Joey Glynn court

In the next two weeks, we invited several different guest speakers to visit our sites and educate the youth on malaria statistics, symptoms, and prevention methods. At the Joey Glynn court, we had one guest speaker from the Nyamirama Health Center speak to 25 kids about malaria prevention and at the Rwinkwavu court, six medical students working as PIH interns came to the library and ran a fun lecture for about 40 kids. I also showed those kids two educational videos on malaria symptoms, prevention, and statistics around Africa.

Last week of malaria awareness in Rwink
Last week of malaria awareness in Rwink

In conclusion, once all sites were presented as much accurate and vital information on malaria as possible, we distributed the same tests from week one, in the last week of January. The post test results at Kayonza, Nyamirama, Rukara, and Rwinkwavu all increased to average scores of 92, 88, 95, 97 respectively, which totaled to a 93% average score for all Shooting Touch sites. That is a 48.8% retention increase from the pre-test results and 13% higher than our goal of 80%.

All in all, the first month of Health Awareness Month was a success. We recognized the areas we can improve in and what worked well enough to carry on to the following months. For example, the structure of the month, with pre-testing in the first week, post-testing in the last week, and activities, videos, and speakers in between worked out very well. We were able to work with local centers and volunteers to bring in guest speakers with knowledge on malaria. The post-testing results increased from the initial test, so our methods for educating about the subject were effective.

Malaria talk in Nyamirama
Malaria talk in Nyamirama

On the other hand, the areas we can improve in are preparation, different activities, and distributing materials. For the month of February, which will be Sanitation Awareness, we plan on having a guest speaker create the test since they have better knowledge than the Fellows. We can make a better effort at finding relevant materials and worksheets to hand out, as well as presenting more educational videos at every site. We will also come up with more hand-on and fun activities to play while educating and to incorporate during basketball practices.

In combination with our efforts in health awareness, my women’s exercise program in Rwinkwavu has grown in both participation and ability to perform a variety of exercises. Earlier in the month we performed pre-testing with a group of the women/girls to see where they stand in terms of overall fitness. I was shocked at the outcomes and how fit these women were; averaging a max of 26 push-ups, 67.8 second plank, 168.4 sec wall sit, and 19.8 laps around the basketball court in a 10 minute time frame. Those numbers are even a stretch for me, and I had considered myself fit before watching these women put me to shame. One of my young girls, Solange, held a wall sit for 6 minutes and 20 seconds!

Wall sit for 6 minutes and 20 seconds!
Wall sit for 6 minutes and 20 seconds!

After finding these results, we have increased the difficulty of the exercises moving from push-ups against the wall to modified push-ups on their knees, planks with arm reaches, and one-legged wall sits. Although they sometimes cheating when they think I’m not looking, these women never cease to amaze me with their persistence and attitude as they push through in their long skirts and dress shirts (I must get them some shorts!).

Not only is this class helping the female population become more active and healthy, this class has also allowed me to create a better relationship with the families in the village. Almost everyday I am being invited for dinner at one of their houses, or given mango and avocados to show their appreciation. Although I would never expect anything from any of these women, it’s always nice to see that I am having a positive impact amongst them.

I have attempted to expand this program to Nyamirama; however, it has been difficult to make that connection since I live in Rwink. On the first day, there were a few ladies watching from a distance and when I told them to come over they would shyly run away.

Women's program at Joey Glynn court
Women’s program at Joey Glynn court

A couple came over and started working out and by the end of the session I had a total of 7 girls and women working out. Over time as the women become more comfortable, I’m sure that number will grow.

As a group, we decided to stay in Rwanda for the Christmas holidays. Along with one other friend; Remy, Isa and I took a winding 3-hour bus ride out to Kibuye. I had heard that it was beautiful, and I was amazed at the scenery and peacefulness of the area. The combination of the Rwandan hills with the lake surrounding the outskirts was breathtaking.

The family
The family
Mornings in Kibuye
Mornings in Kibuye

Our days consisted mostly of swimming, kayaking, and lying out by the lake. I would wake up early to have coffee followed by a leisure swim across the lake. This is where I really appreciated the stillness of the area surrounding me, hearing only the birds chirping in the trees. It was so relaxing and a much needed rest after successfully completing our first tournament a week prior.

Swimming in Kibuye
Swimming in Kibuye

I felt like I could have stayed there forever! However, after 4 short days we headed back to Kigali to have Christmas dinner with our friend and his family. It was a traditional American (or in my case Canadian) dinner with potatoes, gravy, turkey, and pumpkin pie with custard for desert. While still missing my friends and family, this was the closest I had felt to home since I arrived in Rwanda.

Skype with the family back in Nova Scotia
Skype with the family back in Nova Scotia

For the remainder of the day we hung out, watched movies, and Skyped with family as they opened their gifts back at home. Christmas was always a big deal with my family so it was tough being away from them, and I can confidently say that it was the most I’ve missed them since I’ve been away. Luckily, I am surrounded with amazing people that I would consider my family out here so we all hung out and had our own celebrations.

I decided to go back to Rwinkwavu a few days later to hang out with the kids for New Years. I had been invited to one of my player’s homes for a New Years dinner. The kids were so excited to have me over, teaching me the dance to a Justin Bieber song, showing me their front flips into the bundle of sticks and leaves, and feeding me with endless offerings of maize before our big meal. At the end of the night I expressed how thankful I was to have been part of their family celebrations as they reciprocated the feeling.

Besides the Christmas and New Years celebrations, I have started running with the kids who constantly push me to the limit. Running up and down hills; sometimes going through clear paths, sometimes through trees and tall grass. While running ahead of me, in their flip-flops, they are constantly turning back and saying, “You’re tired again?” As if I’m not going to be tired going up a hill! If it were up to them we would run all day. They sometimes try and trick me and tell me it’s just ten more minutes… which is never the case. Our runs usually end up being an hour long instead of the 30 minutes that I had intended. But, I am thankful because on the days where I don’t feel like running they are outside my gate, shouting my name, reminding me that it is time to go.

Along with running, I played my first real game in Rwanda with Ubumwe. Initially I was excited to play with Isa, however, it was the most frustrating game I’ve ever played. The refs were just as awful as the uneven court we played on, never knowing what direction the ball would go in and who would end up with it. We won our first game, luckily without any technical fouls. Unfortunately, in our second game Isa went down with a knee injury. She’s already had 4 major surgeries so this was heartbreaking. We are keeping our fingers crossed that it is only a minor injury, however we won’t know until she gets an MRI.

On a more positive note, I’ve been practicing the piano, have exchanged teaching basketball for cooking lessons, and am going to start learning how to drive a moto. I’ve decided to take full advantage of my surroundings and am excited to get things going for February, where we will start our focus on sanitation with the kids.

Talk soon!

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