Felicity Harley's Trip to Rwanda

Inside look at the making of Butaro hospital

Building Butaro Hospital

Cody Birkey – An architect for Butaro Hospital and volunteer from the MASS GROUP, San Francisco – a Harvard Graduate so perhaps a fellow New Englander!

“I’m  fascinated by the stonework. We chose the material because we thought it highlighted the region really well, being a kind of volcanic pumice found only in the Northern Province of Rwanda. We had the masons mock-up the stone work, encouraging them to make as tight of joints between each stone as possible. The first mock-up showed too much mortar. Personally, I’d love to have left the stonework at that time, it was functional. But there was a bigger vision in mind. We asked the masons to tear down the mock-up and try it again with less mortar. Once they had done that, we had them tear it down and try it again with less mortar still. To the chagrin of the tired masons, we then had to ask for a fourth attempt. By this time the stonework was tight and beautiful, and we gave the workers the go-ahead to begin on the extensive stonework you saw on Butaro. The masons went to town, eagerly working their way around the buildings, little by little becoming even better and better at their work. By the time they had looped all the way around the hospital, they requested to freely replace the first work they had done, since they “had become so much better masons from the time they had begun.” They had taken so much pride in their work that they had eventually raised the level of expectation even on themselves. In fact they had become exceptional, and I’ve had high-end contractors in other parts of the country ask if they can contact the “magnificent masons used at Butaro.” It’s exciting to see the hospital construction used to challenge rural, barely-trained masons to become the best in the entire country. These masons can ask now top-dollar for their services and bring the their income home to the otherwise very poor unskilled region of Burera. It took a bigger vision than simple construction, but it’s turning out to have been worth it.

Building a hospital that goes beyond what you’d normally see in rural Africa has other benefits too. Like Oliver explained, its really significant that we’re going to the poorest regions of the country and providing the best hospitals. Although that comes with its surprises. The hospital is located along a main pedestrian fare through the local area. A few months ago, a few people came up to one of our Rwandese foreman and asked “who the hospital is for.” 

“It’s for Burera, its for you,” he explained.

“No no, its too nice to be for us. It must be for someone important.”

“No, its for you. This is the Burera District hospital for the farmers and workers and everyone.”

It’s a shame that anyone would feel they didn’t deserve something like a special hospital. But it’s an absolute pleasure to be part of proving thoughts like that wrong. The poorest, most marginalized people are *exactly* the people who deserve the best care we can offer.”

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