Student - April 12, 2018

Back to basics in Rwanda

Who: Eva de Groot, MSc student of Nutritional Physiology and Health Status, and Floortje Kanits, MSc student of Epidemiology and Public Health
What: Research for MSc thesis on the relation between nutrition and growth in length in babies
Where: Rutobwe, Rwanda

Text Femke Janssen

‘When we walked around the village, everybody looked at us. We were amazed by that extreme staring. People on their way to market with those big baskets on their heads could really stop, stand still and stare at us until we were out of sight.
We lived in a little house in the middle of the village. We had one of those camp showers, a big bag which you fill with water and put out in the sun to warm it up. As soon as it is warm, you hang it up and you can stand under it, slightly bent over. If we wanted a shower we had to think about it in the morning, and then we could have a shower in the late afternoon. But not too late, or it would be dark. There was no electricity so it really was pitch dark in the evenings. Washing and cooking all took longer so our days easily filled up with the basics.

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The devil
The study had been going on for some time and it was about child development from birth and to one year. We looked at various aspects of the babies’ diet, and at their length and weight. We had to fill in questionnaires about what the children had eaten the previous day, and about how things were done in the household. We also took samples of saliva and breast milk.
Research is something very strange for people there. One of the mothers actually wanted to drop out because she was afraid we would give her samples to the devil. And they really have no idea what is done with that research. And yet as a researcher you have to fulfil the informed consent requirement, so we had to tell them something about it. But they didn’t really understand.

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No hero
We had formed a picture of how it would be, but it is very different once you are actually there. We find it difficult to explain to people how life is there. You learn a lot from the experience, above all that there is more than this world that we know. That there are also people who have so much less, and yet are happy. Probably because they don’t know any better.
You have to go there with the attitude that you are going for yourself, to get a better understanding of the research and of people there. You shouldn’t expect to play the hero, or that people are eagerly waiting for you and you are going to make the world a better place. Because that’s impossible.’