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December 12, 2013

Into Africa

Driven by equal parts passion and ambition, young Americans are taking a career path less traveled to Rwanda, turning life experience into a world of good, almost 20 years after the genocide.


Photo Credit: Courtesy of Jonathan Torgovnik

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THIRTY MINUTES FROM central Kigali, Rwanda, tucked behind a rutted, red dirt road, are the Ndera headquarters of Gardens for Health International (GHI)—an alfresco bungalow and office space on five acres of farmland that unfurl down into a valley. In the fading light, sunflowers tower over vines dripping with passion fruit, while pineapples ripen alongside cilantro, arugula, beets, and papaya. A dinner party illuminated with votive candles and paper lanterns is in full swing. There is a massive outdoor wood-fired stove, and the indoor kitchen is stacked with freshly picked ingredients for mango guacamole, pesto, and pumpkin-sage soup. Some guests do prep work, while others set the table for more than 50 people or relax with a cold Primus, a Congolese beer. The resulting feast is more satisfying because of its collaborative nature. The same could be said about GHI itself. Julie Carney, 27, Emma Clippinger, 28, and Emily Morrell, 26, founded the organization while still in college in the U.S. to provide nutrition education and reduce childhood malnutrition.

Earlier, a denim-shorts-and-Wellies-clad Carney tended the crops, strolling through rows of greens and plucking a leaf from a moringa tree, which has a sharp aroma, vaguely akin to horseradish. "They call it the 'miracle tree' because it's loaded with vitamins," she says. "We teach mothers to grind the dried leaves into a powder to add to porridge for their children." By "we," Carney means not only GHI's 28-year-old executive director, Jessie Cronan, but local colleagues as well. These young American expats are just a few who have brought their ideas for a more equitable world to this tiny country (about the size of Massachusetts) of 12 million, and are quick to say they're not there to fix or save the country but to channel their energy toward Rwanda's own vision of the future. "We view our work here as one of partnership and collaboration," says Carney. "We don't want or deserve all the credit." 

Photo: Claire Ingabire, Julie Carney, Annonciathe Muhayimana Niyibizi, Emma Clippinger, and Naomi Musabyimana of Gardens for Health International, whose mission is to alleviate malnutrition in children.

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