Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Joseph's Update

Joseph, my student with the bone infection, recently had minor surgery to remove a fragment of bone from his femur, allowing the antibiotics to better penetrate into the infected area. The actual surgery was performed with a hammer...while Joseph was awake. Joseph was given the bloody, infected bone fragment to keep as a souvenir.

Joseph with a fresh bandage

Joseph being attended to by a fellow student, Xavio, who is acting as his nurse. Joseph's friends take turns caring for him during his hospital stay since an actual nurse only stops in about three times per day to give Joseph antibiotic injections and occasionally change his bandages. At night, Xavio sleeps on the floor by Joseph's bed.

Monday, September 27, 2010

House of Horrors Hospital

For about three months, I've been trying to find adequate treatment for a student's severe case of osteomyelitis. In fact, my last posting was about my student, Joseph.

It has so far been a frustrating endeavor trying to find proper treatment for Joseph. Doctors often don't have the materials or expertise to treat difficult illnesses and even with an appointment, patients often wait hours to be seen by a medical professional.

After all of this time, Joseph's femur is still riddled with infection, pus is still leaking from a bone-deep wound in his leg, and the future of Joseph's life and leg is still uncertain. In x-rays of Joseph's femur, one can see a small bone spur or bone fragment. Today, doctors used a hammer to remove this fragment from Joseph's leg while he remained fully conscious.

Death and disease are common and accepted facts of life in Rwanda. I once witnessed a man dying under the wheels of another bus while on my way to visit the capital city. There was no flurry of activity, no people fluttering about trying to offer assistance or even expressing grief over the loss of a human life. Instead, a small crowd gathered around and watched, expressionless, as the stricken man's death convulsions ebbed into motionlessness. My bus driver stopped our vehicle briefly to converse with the driver of the bus that had hit the victim. I imagine that he was thinking of the other bus driver when he slowly shook his head and chuckled as we drove on. It was as if he was thinking, "Man, you really effed up!" For me, the experience of witnessing that death sheds light on the doctors' attitudes toward Joseph's illness.

In my mind, the doctors seem too ready to acquiesce defeat in this medical matter. They seem resigned to letting the infection run its course, even if that means that my student loses his leg. Tonight, Joseph is lying in a crowded hospital ward with a fellow student acting as attendant since there are no nurses to care for Joseph. In his backpack is the bone fragment that the doctor needed a hammer to remove. It is still covered in blood and bacteria and wrapped in a paper towel.

I'm sitting at my computer trying to figure out how to help a young man who has impressed me with his intelligence, sweetness, and humor, even during difficult times. I'm preparing for the worst, but hoping for the best. As my students like to say, "This is Africa."

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Meet Joseph

This is Joseph Uwimana. He is one of my brightest 11th grade biology students and is always first in his class when he is well enough to study. Those of you who are friends with me on facebook already know that Joseph is suffering from osteomyelitis, a severe bone infection.

Joseph's left femur has been nearly eaten away by a chronic infection that has gone untreated for far too long. His femur appears hollow on X-ray images. Standard treatment for this type of infection is surgical removal of the dead bone tissue. However, there is not enough healthy tissue remaining to allow for surgery. If the infection is not successfully treated, Joseph may lose his leg, or worse. Thanks to a few anonymous donors, I was able to buy some hardcore antibiotics to begin treating the infection. However, it's going to be a long and expensive road to recovery.

Joseph is now on a regimen of heavy antibiotics. We are hoping that once the infection is ameliorated, he will begin to regrow enough bone tissue to permit surgery to remove the rest of the infected tissue. We are optimistic of a full recovery!

Monday, September 6, 2010

A Short Rwandan History by Gentil Kalisa

In response to a comment on my students' blog for more info on Rwandan history, Gentil Kalisa wrote the essay found below.

Next year, Gentil and another 12th grade student of mine will be applying to the University of Tennessee-Chatanooga Honors program. The admissions faculty encouraged my supervisor to have Gentil apply after reading his essay, I Do Remember Him, which can be found on an earlier blog post. International students who are accepted to the UTC UHON program are given full tuition, room, and board for 4 years--truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for these two students!!! However, federal law requires that international students have bank accounts with a sizable amount of cash on hand in case of emergency. African Learning Foundation is working on setting up trusts to enable these students to meet the federal requirement, while requiring ALF's permission to actually withdraw the funds.

Anyway, enough of the details. Here is the essay.

I’m Glad I Am!

Each country, each nation, and every people have their own history. You can have many nationalities, but it is impossible to have two natal countries. I am Rwandan but I have discovered that there is a part of my country’s history that no one is able to describe, that is impossible to be portrayed by Rwandans, and even those who know it don’t want to talk about it. I have been hearing and reading histories from other countries, but I have found that the history of my country is neither a good one, nor a simple one. I can easily understand those who don’t want to talk about it, because even I don’t like to speak of the events that occurred in April of 1994. This is because even now no one understands how the Rwandan genocide took place.

Sometimes I feel obliged to lie about my nationality, especially to white people, because they want me to explain to them what I don’t like to talk about. “Were you in Rwanda in April 1994?” This question is the one most asked by strangers, and if your answer is “Yes,” there will be a good set of endless questions.

Before the coming of colonizers, the issue of being Umutwa, Umuhutu or Umututsi, was not a problem. Someone was qualified rich or poor according to how many cows he owned. I could be called Umututsi because I had many cows, Umuhutu because I owned few cows and Umutwa because I had no cow. When colonizers came, they associated themselves with Tutsi because they were well-considered in Rwandan society. While living with Tutsi, colonizers transmitted their new innovations and creations so the clan of Tutsi became stronger and stronger.

When colonizers arrived in Rwanda, they found it very different from what they thought it would be. They wanted to dominate over Rwandans, but this was not possible as long as my people were well organized. The colonizers had no choice but to “Divide and Rule.” The ideology they devised was to show Rwandans that there were many points to consider regarding our innate differences, such as the length of our noses and how short or tall we are. Those strangers lied to my people and the cord that bound us together was broken. That was the beginning of hostilities through every Rwandan’s heart. That was when their dark ways began. Tutsi were killed by Hutu in 1969, 1973 and finally during the genocide of 1994, which took around one million of Tutsi in only one hundred days.

Even though a large number of my people were killed, something makes me proud in this story: The 1994 Rwandan genocide was committed against Rwandans, by Rwandans, but it was also stopped by Rwandans. A group of Rwandan refugees in neighboring countries organized themselves and decided to stop the killing. In 1990, the RDF Inkotanyi, with their leader Major General Fred Gisa Rwigema, started the long way with peaceful negotiations. A peaceful solution was not possible so they felt obliged to start a war that they were not sure to finish. After a short time, Gisa passed away and Paul Kagame, another Rwandan refugee from a United States university, became the leader of RDF Inkotanyi. The war of liberation was fought mainly by young people known in Swahili as Kadogos. The war lasted about four years. When the RDF started the war, there were Tutsi killed in some regions of the country, but the largest number of Tutsi were killed in April, May and June of 1994, after the death of the President of the Republic, Major General Juvenal Habyarimana, who died in an airplane crash on April 7th.

According to many reports by Romeo Dalaire, a chief in command of French soldiers from the UN, there were few to stop the genocide. Even Paris could have helped the Tutsi with no huge effort because they were good friends with Kigali. The friendship was maintained, which is why French soldiers became teachers of Interahamwe, a group of Hutu militants with only one mission “Exterminate all Tutsi.” French soldiers trained the Interahamwe how to cut off Tutsi heads, or snacks, as they used to say. Even now, each year around April there are endless debates between Paris and Kigali, regarding the part that the French played in perpetuating the genocide.

This story might be shorter than the history of your country, but it is much harder to understand. You may even have your own true comments about this genocide, but all I will always be sure of is that the true story lies inside Rwandans hearts, minds, and hands, but not on their lips. After all, the past made me who I am now and only what I am doing now can make me different in the future. A few years ago, I was ashamed to be called Rwandan, but now my nationality is a source of pride. This is due to the long distance we have traveled in the past sixteen years. No matter how tall or short I am, despite the shape of my nose, I feel free like the wind. I feel satisfied and proud of the achievements of my country, hoping for a better tomorrow. I feel proud of what I am.

Gentil Kalisa
Ecole des Sciences de Musanze
Senior 6-PCM

New Shipping Address

Hello All,

I want to put the word out that book donations should now be shipped directly to the school's post office box in Ruhengeri, rather than the WorldTeach post office box in Kigali. Shipping times will take a few weeks longer (~9 weeks instead of 6 weeks). However, after the end of October (and the end of the teaching term), the WorldTeach post office box will be no more. I will update soon with a shout-out to all of the amazing individuals and organizations who have helped me enrich the lives of my students with medical care, books, and other supplies.

FYI, I will be living and working in Rwanda until the end of 2011 and will continue working with schools in Rwanda and the Ministry of Education through 2011 and beyond.

Meanwhile, the new shipping address is:

Emma Eck
c/o Ecole des Sciences de Musanze
P.O. Box 92
Ruhengeri , Rwanda



Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Rwandan Teachers' Meeting

Last week my school held a 9-hour teachers' meeting and methodology workshop. You may ask, "What does a 9-hour teachers' meeting and methodology workshop entail?" Well, I'll tell you:



Tea Break,


Inappropriate Comments: "Emma, you have grown FAT!"

An Earnest Question: "How so? Fat in the face?...
....Or fat in the body?"

Lunch in the Refectory,




And Blessings!

Sunday, August 15, 2010


In four hours begins the first day of my last term teaching at Ecole des Sciences de Musanze. I'm so nervously excited that I can't sleep. I also feel very strongly that I'm not ready to let my little birdies fly (and by little birdies, I mean students in their late teens/early twenties). I find myself fretting over the futures of these young men and women whom I didn't even know a mere 8 months ago.

Since I've arrived in Rwanda, I've learned a few lessons about patience, resourcefulness, hope, and helplessness. No matter how many classes I teach, no matter how many school materials I buy or collect, and no matter how many students I take to the hospital or buy medicine for, I still see the endless gulf between my happy vision for these students' futures and the probable reality of their lives. For my standout students, I've devoted extra effort toward ensuring that they're equipped for the next level of their educations. My new non-profit, African Learning Foundation (ALF), is one of the results of those efforts.

One of the goals of the African Learning Foundation is to maintain a scholarship fund for my brightest students as well as promising students from other schools. An essay written by one of my star PCM (Physics, Chemistry, Math) students was recently referenced in a a newspaper article about my school. Since he originally agreed to allow the distribution of this very personal essay because I told him it could help him obtain a scholarship to a US university, I would like to post it here and give my readers the chance to donate toward a scholarship for this student. I know that, if given the opportunity for a quality education, this bright, dynamic, and thoughtful young man will go far and be a true asset to his country.

ALF is a new non-profit and will not attain 501(c)3 status for at least 6 months; therefore donations are not tax-deductible. Donations through my sponsoring organization, WorldTeach, are tax-deductible and can be applied toward this fund until the end of the Rwandan school-year in October. For more information about ALF and how you can contribute to our scholarship fund or library project, please contact me at or through my personal email at

Gentil's essay is written below:


The year 1994 occurs in many history books because it is the year in which Rwandan genocide took place. Those books can help strangers to know what Rwanda have been passing through April of that strange year. For Rwandans, it is not the case only because that history is engraved on the principal capacity of their memories.

During that sad period, old, adult, children and even babies have been facing things over their imaginations—husband killing wife, grandfather killing grandsons and granddaughters, dogs hunting people as rabbits. It was not a habit to see corpses, especially children, but in April it became an obligation. Rwandans are no longer afraid of corpses because even now they still burying their people’s bodies from toilets to memorial sites found almost everywhere around the country. For strangers, the Rwandan genocide is over, but for Rwandans, it’s not yet over because their wounds are not yet healed.

I am Rwandan because my parents are Rwandan, but during that dark year, I was not in Rwanda. In 1995, I left the Democratic Republic of Congo with my whole family. We walked about 500 kilometers on foot from Congo to Rwanda and our first break was taken at a small land in Gisenyi, Rwanda called Gasiza. At the time, the place was not quiet because many times we could hear gun shots from morning until the night. We stayed there about two years and we were not rich and not yet poor because my father had a good job at Kigali and he used to come at Gasiza each last weekend of each month. Suddenly, the year 1997 was the year in which the great God that I couldn’t believe blinked over me because that’s when the Rwandan genocide’s consequences came over me as rain full of storms.

An excited last weekend, a smooth night away from night winds inside a live and colorful house, sitting around a plate but looking straight in my father’s eyes, my hand on my new shoes. “Gentil! Finish up your food and if you perform well at school I will bring you clothes next time. Your mother will call me if you won at school so that I may bring it to you” were my dad’s last sayings. How can I forget that promise? How can I forget his smooth voice? Until now, I am waiting for new clothes from him because I know and believe that we will meet again one day.

Those were his last words because immediately I did what he wanted and went to bed. I was happy that night, but that was the day on which I was awaked when in the steel night. Around 4:30am, I was awaked by shootings of all kinds of guns. Me and my two little brothers were on the same bed and when we awoke, we went immediately in the father’s room and we met him halfway well dressed because he was ready to leave for Kigali. He said, “Don’t be afraid,” just because he believed that nothing will happen as usual. But it was not the case.

Looking through the window, there was many soldiers wearing their uniform who dad said were government soldiers. I couldn’t believe that because as I used to pass most of my time in their camp, I knew almost all of them and those were only new faces. We were used to that, so that my father told my mom that he is going out to check and ask those soldiers, but he holded my youngest brother in his hands.

He opened the door, and we were looking at him through the window when the soldier saw him. He pointed the gun at my father and told him to sit down. My mother obliged us to hide under the bed, me and my brothers in her room and my two sisters in another room. She continued to look at her husband in the hands of wolves. I didn’t see it, but suddenly she left the window saying, “He is dead! The soldier shooted at him!” Then she started crying.

I realized that what I noticed was true: those soldiers were not government soldiers but Interahamwe, who were soldiers fighting against FPR and most of them were accused of genocide. “They kills Tutsi,” said my sister, and I knew that if they kill my father, it’s because he is Tutsi. And if my father is a Tutsi, it means that even me, I am Tutsi. Our door was broken by means of a big stone and when the soldiers entered the house my mother was on her bed crying. “Another snake to kill here,” said a girl voice. “No!” claimed a man, “She have first to give us her husband’s uniform and gun.” I was under the bed and all I could see is their feet. My mother told them that my father was not a soldier, but they didn’t accept. One of the soldiers said to my mother to put her hands on a table and he nailed her hands on that table. Without saying any other word, my mom said, “My husband is not a soldier.”

“Hello. They are coming? Copied. Let’s move; their gods are coming,” said the girl again. Immediately everyone left, but one soldier told my mother to give him money so that he may bring her the young man in the hands of his father’s corpse. She gave him about 75.000 FRW ($150) and he brought the young man to his mom. With armor on the ground, helicopters in the sky, the Interahamwe escaped through forests and mountains.

My mother called me and I removed the nails from her hands. Government soldiers came and evacuated almost everyone but my mother refused to move so I did too. As soldiers were helping her with her hands, she told me to go and check what happened to my grandfather’s house. When entering the house, I saw my little uncle breathing his last breath. His father was already dead on the bed, his mother behind a cupboard with a knife in the head, and his sister with his brother without heads. That day my father, grandfather, grandmother, two uncles, and two aunties died.

By the help of two men we dug a hole in which we buried all of them. The great part of my family was buried at Gasiza and when I go back sometimes at Gasiza, it’s not because I like that place. I will never get tired of waiting for my father’s promise and I know that I will see him at the right time.

Gentil Kalisa
Senior Six, PCM