Rachel Jonassen Bittman
Over the summer in 2017, I had the opportunity to travel to Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda, to spend three and a half months working with a breast cancer initiative. I worked with the Breast Cancer Initiative of East Africa (BCIEA), a small nonprofit with a goal to promote awareness and education of breast cancer, while simultaneously de-stigmatizing the disease. They train volunteers, called village ambassadors, on how to recognize the symptoms, how to reduce risk, and what to do if you think you might have breast cancer. In addition to the in-person training, that ambassador is given a smartphone with all this information, then sent back to their community, and trains others. I traveled throughout the country, interviewing these ambassadors on their thoughts of how BCIEA was performing – what they liked, what they wanted to see improved, and any concerns they had. I used these interviews, along with additional research, to perform a program evaluation, providing a report to BCIEA that held successes, areas for improvement, and ideas to further expand on project activities. Toward the end of the summer, I set up an app-based data tracking system, to allow ambassadors to instantaneously send information to BCIEA on the trainings they hold, referrals made to doctors, and other details; this will help the organization gather more complete data, without any delays as they had previously experienced, waiting for semi-annual trainings for ambassadors to bring them forms with the same information that can now be sent at the completion of each training session they hold in their community.
In his life, Raoul Wallenberg was a true humanitarian, dedicating his time to bettering the world. BCIEA embodies those same beliefs, and every volunteer who works with the organization in Rwanda embraces those values. My time working with them, learning their stories and experiencing their interactions with the community around them, have irrevocably changed me for the better. I chose to pursue public health because I believe that things can always be better, but it will take everyone committing to that effort to see any real results. The men and women I met in Rwanda are working tirelessly towards that goal, and I was humbled to be able to join them this summer.