"It was a huge commitment to walk 10 hours a week so that I could attend sessions. My effort was not in vain." - Minani Jean Bosco, Community Support Group Member
Minani Jean Bosco lives in Kagoma colline. He visited the SharonMcKenna Community Health Center in December 2015 to obtain treatment for his son, Nintunze Theophile. The child had severe stomach pain, which made him unable to attend school for a full year, and spent a week and a half at the clinic before going home healthy. While Nintunze was a patient, Jean Bosco stayed to take care of him and was often visited by people interested in learning about his living situation and son’s illness. He was puzzled to encounter strangers caring for and comforting him in a country where a sense of empathy had so drastically eroded. He learned afterward that these strangers are VHW counselors, who get to know patients so that the clinic can serve them better.
Jean Bosco’s home in Kagoma is in a remote area between high mountains and rivers which serve as a border between Vyanda and Makamba provinces. He was not familiar with VHW programs, but had heard about people who send patients to the clinic and who have the ability to call an ambulance when necessary – our Community Health Workers (CHWs).
While staying at the clinic, he saw people sitting in circle on the grass. He thought they were CHWs, and confirmed this with a counselor who told Jean Bosco that they are in Twiyugurure sessions – community support groups. The 3-month program (designed by Anne Peretz, chair of VHW’s board of directors) focuses on helping parents to build strong households by developing life skills, promoting family discussions and preventing child abuse.
“Attending the sessions on family welfare and social cohesion is very important for me,” says Jean Bosco, “but Kagome is very far away from Kigutu. I kept thinking about it and decided that more knowledge about family welfare is more important than the long distance, so I decided to endure the walk every week for three months.”
When his child was discharged, Jean Bosco went home with the joy of seeing his child healthy, and with a deeper connection to the clinic. In addition to treating our patients with compassion, we promote family welfare and social cohesion. Jean Bosco shared his experience with his wife, but she didn’t understand. “She thought I would never be able to meet the challenge of traveling such a long distance every week,” he said.
“I started sessions in December. It required me to leave my home at 3 am. It was a huge commitment to walk 10 hours – 5 hours coming to Kigutu and 5 hours going back home – every week so that I could attend sessions. My effort was not in vain.
“Before, there were fights in my family due to misunderstandings with my wife. I thought I had to maintain a high profile as a man, to oversee everything regardless of my spouse’s opinion, much less my children’s opinions. The family I expected to have when I got married was ruined because of my stubbornness and selfishness. Now, I’m receptive to my wife’s opinion and can share my own. I’m ready to be challenged on my decisions and ideas.
“I also learned to deal with my neighbors’ issues smoothly. In my region, the main source of conflict is when animals graze on other people’s land. I helped my neighbors deal with these issues and inspired them with the idea of valuing their neighbor’s property in order to avoid conflict.”
Since 2014, 94 men and women have graduated from the Twiyugurure community support group program.