How We Unleashed Compassion at a Refugee Camp – Rwanda Part 3

Compassion It - Compassion at a Refugee Camp - Rwanda

My Compassion It teammate, Burrell Poe, and I joined the organization Alight for a week in Rwanda in order to unleash compassion within the healthcare system at refugee camps. This compassionate care initiative, Amandi, began with uncovering obstacles to compassion. After that, we creatively developed solutions to remove those obstacles.

We spent the week at the Gihembe camp in northern Rwanda, which houses 13,000 refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. We used a human-centered design process to help us assess needs of the clients (refugees) and healthcare providers. Therefore, we began by cultivating empathy.

To better put ourselves in their shoes, we spent time observing and interviewing healthcare providers and their clients.

What did we notice?

1 – Healthcare providers wished they had more time with their clients

2 – Clients needed help figuring out how to move through the various processes of the healthcare system

3 –Providers wanted a way to occupy patients’ children 

4 – Clients and providers needed spiritual support

5 – The waiting rooms and patient rooms felt bleak and uncomfortable

6 – Providers perceived “compassion” as as a big, elaborate act (not including small gestures)

What is compassion?

Compassion It - Compassion at a Refugee Camp - Rwanda

We wanted everyone on the design team to be on the same page with the definition of compassion. Many people confuse compassion with empathy, pity, sympathy, and kindness. Because of that, Burrell and I led the team through a collage creation session and discussion to help us agree upon a shared understanding of the word.

At the end of the session, we agreed:

1 – Compassion is a response to suffering.

2 – Everyone suffers, and therefore everyone deserves compassion.

3 – Everyone wants to be seen, heard, and valued.

How can we unleash compassion?

After truly understanding the challenges the providers and patients face, we spent time coming up with ideas for solutions that unleash compassion. We brainstormed individually, and then our teams came together to figure out the best and most viable ideas. 

Compassion It - Compassion at a Refugee Camp - Rwanda

Because the Amandi initiative doesn’t have the luxury of unlimited funding, we narrowed down ideas based on effectiveness and the amount of resources required. 

Some of our ideas included:

1 – Creating a non-denominational chapel within the existing facility. This would provide a quiet space for patients, their families, and healthcare providers.

2 – Partnering with the camp’s religious leaders who could serve as chaplains to provide comfort and a listening ear

3 – Recruiting teen residents as volunteers who can read to and entertain children

4 – Hiring community health liaisons who would bridge the divide between residents and the medical providers. They would also communicate basic healthcare information (like the importance of washing hands).

5 – Creating more inviting and compassionate waiting rooms and spaces

6 – Developing compassion and self-compassion checklists for healthcare providers. These will help them keep compassion front-of-mind. 

7 – Providing compassion and self-compassion training 

I’m proud to report that Alight is taking steps to begin prototyping some of our ideas, and they hope to eventually scale these solutions to refugee camps worldwide.

***Do you want to “compassion it” and support this work? Donate to Alight’s Amandi initiative (please include a note to earmark the funds for Amandi)

About Compassion It

Compassion It is a nonprofit whose mission is to spread compassion and inspire compassionate actions through workplace training, personal development training, tools, and content. We envision a world where compassion is practiced by every person, for every person, on every day.

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  1. David on December 9, 2019 at 2:04 am

    Thanks so much for these reflections!

    • Compassion It Team on December 11, 2019 at 10:57 pm

      You’re welcome, David!

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