Before Dr. Charles Muhizi was trained as an ophthalmologist by The Hadassah Medical Organization (HMO), the southern provinces of Rwanda, with a population of over one million people, had no eye doctor for a very long time. The clinic, which he now runs at Butare University Hospital, had no eye specialist before. The most the general physicians were able to do for their patients with eye problems was to give them an antibiotic or refer them to an eye clinic many many kilometers away.

Thanks to Hadassah Hospital, and the funds raised by Hadassah Luxembourg NGO, Dr. Muhizi now has a true ophthalmology clinic, with all of his equipment provided by Hadassah.

Because Dr. Muhizi is the only ophthalmologist serving the entire population of Rwandan’s southern provinces, he explains, he must begin work at 7:00a.m. and ensure that he is able to schedule his patients early enough in the day so that they can return home that same day. Many travel 4 hours by bus to see him, or 20-30 kilometers by foot. “I can’t have Shabbat (Sabbath),” he says, with a good-natured laugh.

Having received his medical education in Mali, West Africa, Dr. Muhizi then worked for one year in Rwanda as a general physician. His opportunity to study in Israel was greatly facilitated by Colette Hartwich, then President of Hadassah Luxembourg NGO, and Fernanda Marques, Secretary General. They interviewed him, obtained the approval of the Luxembourg Ministry of Cooperation for Dr. Muhizi to be the candidate and also convinced the Luxembourg government to allow him to train in Israel. This was a “first” since before, training in these types of government-supported projects was done in Belgium.

In April 1999, after a 3-month Ulpan course to learn Hebrew, he began his medical training at Hadassah in ophthalmology. When Dr. Muhizi arrived in Israel, he says, having never been to the Middle East before, the only Hebrew he knew was “shalom.” But after one year of being in the country, he notes, he was able to talk with his patients without a translator.

Dr. Muhizi’s medical relationship with HMO, however, goes back further than his official training in 1999. As he relates, he got to know a team of Hadassah ophthalmologists, including Professor Itzhak Hemo and Professor Ehud Zamir when they came to Rwanda for several weeks on a special mission to perform eye surgery. When he arrived at Hadassah for his training, they helped to integrate him and ease his way, together with Prof. Jacob Pe’er, head of Ophthalmology at Hadassah Ein Kerem.
“After three months, I was working directly with patients,” he recalls happily, noting also with appreciation that his education comprised a multitude of rotations through the various fields of ophthalmology.

Once he completed his training at Hadassah, Dr. Muhizi went to Malawi and South Africa to study eye diseases that are particularly prevalent in his home country, such as trachoma and HIV-related eye problems.

In April of this year, he opened his clinic as a solo practitioner, at the Butare Hospital. Initially, he says, he worked as doctor, nurse, and optometrist. Since the clinic is located near the University of Rwanda, where reading is such an important part of people’s lives, many patients come to him for glasses.

In the months that followed, he was able to expand his “staff” to include another general doctor, who he is training in the basics of ophthalmology.

He also now has two nurses working with him, who will shortly go to study ophthalmology in Malawi for nine months, their training also sponsored by Hadassah Luxembourg.

“Charles Muhizi,” notes Colette Hartwich, “showed great courage and an outstanding faculty of adaptation, an ability to learn Hebrew and mentally adjust his training to specific African needs, including coping with a post-genocide Rwanda and its complexities. Charles Muhizi is a real humanist, a man who can understand the pluses of any culture. Israel and his own country can be very proud of him.”

Dr. Muhizi felt privileged to see Colette, Fernanda, and Prof. Pe’er again when they visited Rwanda in 2002. He also notes that he was able to meet other Hadassah International representatives at our annual conference in Jerusalem in 2000, where he made a presentation to the delegates.

“I would like Hadassah to know,” he says, “that I won’t disappoint you.” I’m happy about what I’m doing here in Rwanda. And you would be happy if you saw what we have here now, thanks to your help.” He adds: Dr. Pe’er continues to stay in touch, always offering his support.

In sum, he comments, “Hadassah started helping me in 1999 and is still helping me today. Thank you, Hadassah, for everything.”

–Lonye Rasch