Julia Lipkis MAIPD ’18 worked with a nonprofit organization called Solid’Africa in the capital of Rwanda this summer. She shares her experiences and insights in the essay below.
I arrived in Kigali late at night, dazed from an interminable plane ride. Therefore, my first real impression of Rwanda was created the following morning, when I found myself seated at a pleasantly shaded table on the front terrace of my lodgings for the summer. Florence, the owner of the hotel, set out a tray heaped with eggs, toasted bread, and a colorful array of fruit. As I ate, she asked me about the type of work I would be doing in Kigali. Florence hadn’t heard of Solid’Africa, but was eager to tell me about the Rwandan organizations and initiatives she knew about. There were more than 10 just in Kigali, and I found myself scribbling down names in my notebook. “You must meet with them while you are here,” she told me as we sipped cups of strong black tea. I would take part in many such conversations over the course of my stay, and a common theme soon emerged. Innovation, often at the community level, in order to tackle issues often assumed to be fundamentally unsolvable—poverty, hunger, lack of education.
I found an internship with Solid’Africa, which is a local non-profit organization in Kigali dedicated to helping the poorest patients within public hospitals. While Rwanda boasts a solid health care system, those who are the most vulnerable often fall through the cracks. Over the past six years, Solid’Africa has steadily grown from a group of concerned friends cooking meals within their own houses to serve a handful of patients to an established nonprofit creating a new way of addressing systemic poverty within the hospital system in Rwanda.
A few days after my arrival in Kigali, I began my work as a grant writer for Solid’Africa. My office was only a 10-minute walk from the Convention Center, a gleaming dome that houses conferences and important meetings. That evening, I was invited for dinner at the home of Isabelle Kamariza, the founder and current president of Solid’Africa. “It isn’t right for anyone to go hungry, or to die because they can’t access their medicine,” she told me. “We need to find better ways of providing for everyone.” Therefore, my internship centered around an exciting new project for Solid’Africa—the Gemura Kitchen, which is currently under construction. “Gemura” is a kinyarwandan word that means “food for all.” This kitchen will have the capacity to cook over 9,000 meals per day. Those that are not provided to patients will be sold, and the revenue generated will allow the Gemura Kitchen to be a self-sustaining entity.
Rwanda is often described as “the land of a thousand hills.” This summer, I learned that it is also the land of a thousand visionaries. I met dozens of Rwandans, many of whom were my age, who had either successfully started a social enterprise organization or who were in the process of building one. Organizations across Rwanda often share ideas and strategies. Isabelle and the volunteers at Solid’Africa are determined to create a new model of healthcare that may one day be implemented throughout neighboring countries. In the few months I spent in Rwanda, I perceived the advent of a reverse globalization: a tight-knit group of organizations in a small country, with innovative ideas and solutions applicable to much wider audience.