Using U.S. Strength to Make a Difference in the Lives of Children

Eugene Zimulinda, DOD-Rwanda, answers questions from Peace Corps volunteers and their local counterparts following a training in March 2011 on how to recognize and respond to the signs of abuse, neglect, and violence among children in Rwanda.

When Zara Ahmed and her U.S. Government colleagues began reviewing high-priority needs to be included in Rwanda’s Global Health Initiative Strategy, they did not know they would end up developing an innovative partnership.

The team was reviewing the statistics from the Office of the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator’s (OGAC) latest gender-based violence report on Rwanda when they identified an area they knew they had to act quickly to address. “Rwanda has a serious problem with gender-based violence,” explains Ahmed, Health Systems Strengthening Advisor for CDC-Rwanda. According to OGAC’s report, 50 percent of all gender-based violence cases in Rwanda involve children under the age of 17. “Rape is very under-reported,” she says. “We realized we needed to get people to the clinics.” The team also understood that there is a need to educate teachers, who have the greatest contact with the target population, to identify the signs of gender-based violence, abuse, and neglect among children.

Team members were mulling over how they would just do that, when they had a breakthrough. “We realized we have contact with a dedicated team which is already engaged with this community,” says Ahmed, referring to the Peace Corps volunteers who are working with women and children in schools and healthcare facilities across the country.

So the team turned to a partner with a strong grassroots reach, the Peace Corps, and explained their mission. The Peace Corps was planning to train new groups of health volunteers to work in Rwanda, and offered to expand the training to include teaching the volunteers to identify the signs of gender-based violence. Even more exciting was that the Peace Corps volunteered to expand the program for free. “That was music to our ears,” says Ahmed.

The last puzzle piece to fall into place was the trainer. Neither CDC, USAID, nor the Peace Corps had a candidate available in country who could teach the segment on gender-based violence. So Eugene Zimulinda, President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) Project Manager for the US Department of Defense (DOD) in Rwanda, who has expertise in the subject, stepped in to perform the March and April 2011 trainings. Currently, the 42 health volunteers and their 73 Rwandan counterparts are working in 20 districts in Rwanda, using their skills to make a difference in the lives of the country’s children.

“It was a very good exercise of using our own unique U.S. Government strengths,” says Ahmed. By combining forces, the CDC, DOD, Peace Corps, and USAID have accomplished something that was just a dream a few months ago, and without creating a new organization or using new funding.