Location of Ivuriro Rya Mucubira relative to Kigali, the Capital
Ivuriro Rya Mucubira clinic is located in Nyanza District Sector, about a 1.5 hours drive from Kigali, Rwanda. My contact at the clinic (that I had received from Gloria Upchurch), was the clinic doctor who only spoke Kinyarwandan (their local language) and French. I speak enough French to get me the necessities, hence a major language barrier during initial contact. Nonetheless, through translation from Franswa, my great driver, I was able to establish that the clinic was having trouble using their computer network with their solar system especially during the rains. We set a meeting time for me to visit and offer as much help as I could. I have learnt that a great part of doing project work is visiting other projects. It helps with exchange of ideas and just encourages ones spirit. For this reason, the day before I set out to the clinic, I made a trip to the Nelson Mandela village, an education center in Gashora, Buygesera district of Rwanda, about a 40 min drive from Kigali. I met with three young volunteers with the German organization Green Helmets – http://www.gruenhelme.de/59.php. They have an extensive solar system and generate enough power to sell to the national grid. They are a post-secondary education center training students on technical skills. On this particular day, the students were working on small solar pathway lights to showcase at a technology expo that would be taking place in Kigali the following week. Following the tour and exchange of ideas, I invited Tobi, one of the volunteers to accompany me to the clinic.
It was quite the bumpy ride up the winding road that led to the clinic. The sun was going down fast and we were all getting a little nervous. The darkness was very deceiving and it was hard to tell whether there was human settlement or not. Occasionally the car lights would illuminate figures hurriedly walking to their destinations. We hit a small bump when the car got stuck in a muddy section of the road. I was amazed at how quickly a group of young boys suddenly showed up out of nowhere to help push the car. Franswa’s little Sedan car took quite the beating. Interestingly the doctor had assured him that the road was very passable and we didn’t have to worry; a clear case of difference in perceptions. Nonetheless, up and down the valleys we exchanged jokes on encountering mountain gorillas to lighten the mood and an hour and a half later we finally arrived at the clinic. The place was very well lit, thanks to a solar project sponsored by Family Health International – http://www.fhi.org/en/index.htm. There wasn’t much activity going on so we got right into alienating the problem.
Tobi, a volunteer with Green Helmet, bravely scaling the ladder.
Tobi and I are both engineers hence trained to be systematic in our approach. We set out to inspect the storage room, the connections and the panels. I personally drew the line at climbing the somewhat three steady steps of the ladder, in the dark, to inspect the roof. Tobi, bless his heart, was a man on a mission. This off course led to my making fun of his safety training for the rest of trip. Nonetheless, once we got to the computer room, the surface problems were evident. They had a bunch of equipment with wires tangled everywhere and had burnt out a number of them from plugging in 220V equipment into a 110V source.
One of the burnt out sockets
After some hunting for new wires and parts, we took apart the whole system, reconfigured the wiring and thanks to masking tape, sealed off any sockets that could be potential cause for such simple mistakes made by a lack of basic understanding of electricity. It was all about dummy proofing! The hard part was trying to explain to them why rain was not the cause of their troubles (as far as we could tell anyway). It was clear that there was a big gap in either the transfer of knowledge from when the project was installed, case in point, since the installation of the solar panels, they had cleaned them once using a brush and soap. Tobi and I exchanged looks of disbelief. They were really lacking in technical human capacity evident in things like the exposed wiring which is a major fire hazard. Such minor tweaks are needed throughout the place, Tobi and I felt somewhat helpless that we couldn’t do more. Together with the doctor, we exchanged ideas on how these issues could be addressed.
All in all, the doctor told us that the solar light had made such a tremendous difference in their operations. They felt more confident in their work. In addition, they were grateful to efforts from other organizations like the Imbuto Foundation –http://www.imbutofoundation.org/, that provided mosquito nets around the village and greatly reduced the incidents of malaria. They were extremely grateful to Tobi and I for all our help although I left feeling like I had gained more than I had left at Ivuriro Rya Mucubira.
From LtoR Tobi, Pierre and I in front of the clinic