Janice Radcliffe: Lessons from the “Land of One Thousand Hills”
By Alexandra Notman
Eighteen years ago this month, thousands of Tutsis were ushered into the Mugonero Church compound by Reverend Elizaphan Ntakirutimana with promises of safety. The Tutsis eagerly accepted sanctuary from the Hutu militia that was terrorizing the Rwandan countryside. The reverend, however, was a Hutu and, with his son Gerard (a doctor at the church hospital), they informed a militant Hutu group about their Tutsi refuge. What followed at the compound would come to be known as one of the largest and most brutal massacres of the Rwandan genocide with over 5,000 dead and within a month the civil war would bring death to one million Tutsis and Hutus.
Nearly two decades later the voices of a children’s choir can be heard radiating from the Mugonero church windows. “It was very powerful to have the energy of love replacing what happened there,” says PE and Rec Fitness Director and Instructor Janice Radcliffe. “They are very focused on healing, on forgiveness, and on the future, but they also don’t want to forget the past and they don’t want anyone to deny that it happened.”
In February, Radcliffe, along with an emergency room doctor from Lincoln City, Raj Baman, and a friend and former student of Radcliffe’s, pharmaceutical representative Jessica Fichtel, traveled to Mugonero, Rwanda, for a medical mission trip at the town’s Seventh-day Adventist compound. This is Radcliffe’s fifth medical mission trip to Africa; since 2006 she has traveled three times to Ethiopia and once to Tanzania. Radcliffe is the logistics person, coordinating everything from where volunteers will sleep to what medicines to bring. She also helps with medical care on site. The three volunteers chose Rwanda this year because a former colleague, surgeon Jesse Tarabanza, was already in Mugonero working as a full-time volunteer.
“It’s a place I’ve wanted to go for quite a while,” says Radcliffe, who recalls hearing about the genocide as graduate student. “I feel that our country was really negligent in refusing to play much of a role in Rwanda that year. I’ve thought about it ever since and it has really bothered me.”
Radcliffe and her colleagues flew into the tropical Rwandan capital of Kigali before driving the dirt roads carving through the rolling hills that are so prominent in Rwanda, known as Le Pay de Mille Collines or The Land of One Thousand Hills (in fact, the actual “Hotel Rwanda” was named Hotel Mille Collines). Passing fields of bananas and mangos and plantations of tea and coffee, they arrived in the region of Lake Kivu, one of the great lakes of Africa, and home to their final destination, Mugonero. The Mugonero church and hospital are perched atop a hillside with views of the great lake and the shores of the Congo on the far side. The equatorial lushness of the land surprised Radcliffe. “I didn’t know before I went how visually exquisite the place was going to be.”
The trio settled into their lodgings – a cinder block building with beds, a flushing toilet, and a hot water shower. Compared to her past mission trips to Africa, these accommodations were posh. “To be able to shower is a real treat,” says Radcliffe, laughing.
Like any good guest, Radcliffe came bearing gifts, many of which she had gathered with the help of friends in the University of Oregon community. Along with “bags and bags full of medical supplies,” Radcliffe raised money prior to the trip as a donation to the hospital. For the town’s primary school, Radcliffe delivered 13 backpacks bursting with crayons, paper, pencils, erasers, rulers and other school supplies for each teacher and, for a nearby orphanage, many new soccer balls.
Days in Mugonero began at 7:00 a.m. with breakfast, packing a lunch, and loading a SUV with medical supplies before taking the rough mountain roads to nearby villages to provide medical aid and supplies. Radcliffe wants to make one thing clear though, they didn’t go to Rwanda to rescue anyone. “The word mission or missionary can sometimes evoke strange feelings for people because it can have a connotation that you are going in to be the savior,” she says, pointing to Rwanda’s dedication to self-sufficiency and President Paul Kagame’s goal to wean the country off foreign aid. “I want to make it clear that when we go there, we are not trying to change people or say that we know a better way. We go there and learn from people, too. We like to believe that we are just supplementing the good work that is already going on. I don’t want to propagate the story that there’s hopelessness in Africa, because there is so much hope there, especially Rwanda.”
Every day Radcliffe, Dr. Baman, and Fichtel would attend to lines of Rwandans in the Lake Kivu region suffering from intestinal worms, respiratory problems, tuberculosis, HIV, and malaria. Some cases were simple, like the teenage boy who sought relief for pain in his eye, which was red and watery from irritation. Dr. Baman shone a light into the boy’s eye and discovered a piece of metal that had been lodged there for years. The boy recovered quickly after a quick trip to the hospital for removal.
One day, a father brought in his young daughter Chartene to one of their clinics. Chartene’s head and neck were extended back and frozen stiff – a textbook example of highly infectious bacterial meningitis, a potentially fatal infection. Dr. Baman sent Radcliffe to the nearby pharmacy for antibiotics immediately. While Radcliffe was trying to find the right antibiotic, Dr. Baman was trying to quarantine Chartene from the rest of the patients while also making sure that those who had been exposed to the little girl were vaccinated with antibiotics as well. Dr. Baman knew that Chartene needed more than an antibiotic shot, she needed intravenous antibiotics that could only be provided by the Mugonero hospital. A woman in labor already occupied the only ambulance in the region so he decided that they would drive her there themselves.
“Within 24 hours she was ok,” says Radcliffe, smiling through tears. She remembers visiting the hospital the next morning to find Chartene smiling and playing with her father, mother, and younger brother by her side. “I just think if Raj hadn’t been there that day, if we hadn’t been there that very day, I don’t know what would have happened to her. I fell like Raj saved her life.”
“I learn a tremendous amount about medical care every time I go,” says Radcliffe. “But this mission in particular, I learned a lot about the genocide and a lot about forgiveness. I saw examples of people who had been able to forgive someone for murdering a parent or a child.”
Radcliffe pauses and thinks for a moment. “Then sometimes why is that we hold grudges for the smallest slights? This is how it is in our culture where we are so elevated in our privilege that the biggest gripe someone might have is that someone didn’t say ‘hi’ in the hallway. I don’t know how to resolve that in my own life. How do you rectify that?”
She hopes to continue her volunteer work in Rwanda and is considering returning in December with Dr. Baman and Fichtel to work with an orphanage. While staying in Mugonero, she would often walk the steep mountain trail to the L’Esperance Orphanage (esperance means hope), a highly sustainable compound that is home to 140 children. The orphanage uses sand and UV filters to clean water, food driers and handmade stone stoves, and they grow and dry pineapple. Director Victor Monroy wants the orphanage to be completely self-sustainable without relying on international aid within five years.
“That orphanage is a special place,” says Radcliffe. “I want Rodney [Bloom] to go back there with us and build composting toilets for all the bad latrines. A lot of places don’t have plumbing so they have pit toilets. There’s all this new technology with composting toilets that would fit in perfectly there.”
From the UO Student Affairs Staff Newsletter (http://bit.ly/LtcT0r)