Wow, So Many Lights

By Dana Karen Ciccone

My first thought while landing in Kigali for the first time was, “Wow, so many lights.” Miles and miles of hilly darkness had suddenly opened up to reveal this cosmopolitan center of Rwanda, gleaming. When I returned two months later, arriving after a grueling 30 hours of travel thanks to a missed connection that sent our flight plan through Nairobi, I was decidedly more grumpy than the previous visit. Yet my heart still fluttered when we began descending over those mossy hills.

As a project manager within the Yale University Global Health Leadership Institute (GHLI)—GHLI is a consortium partner on the USAID-funded Leadership, Management and Governance Project—I was flying back into Kigali to implement the second stage of the Senior Leadership Program (SLP) in Rwanda. The SLP is a six-month executive-style certificate program comprised of three classroom sessions, a hospital-based field assignment, and project mentoring from SLP faculty.  Its objective is to impart best practices for strategic problem solving and accountable, gender-sensitive governance to senior health sector decision-makers.

The participants in Rwanda included 28 of the country’s 42 district hospital medical directors and five professors from the National University of Rwanda School of Public Health. As I greeted and was warmly received by these esteemed health leaders at the start of Session II, I was reminded that it is our participants who make this experience so exceptional.

Session II of the SLP, like Session I, combined curricula in leadership, management and governance, with guest lectures in procurement, finance, and human resources from Rwanda’s National Procurement Authority, the Ministry of Finance, and Public Service Commission, respectively. Throughout the four-day program, participants worked closely with the SLP faculty to finalize plans for root cause analysis, strategy development, implementation, and evaluation of their hospital-based field assignments.  When the course reconvenes in June for Session III, participants will present the results of their strategic plans, and upon completing the course will receive a certificate of completion for Advanced Training in Leadership, Management and Governance.

Despite months of curriculum design and program preparation, my imaginings of how the SLP experience would unfold were nothing like what actually happened.  I knew there would be some long nights and last-minute adjustments, but I wasn’t prepared for the humbling experience of sitting alongside our hospital directors and trying to offer guidance as they devise new approaches to the tremendous challenges they face on a daily basis. I underestimated how much joy I would feel when witnessing those ‘aha!’ moments on participants’ faces when the teachings started to sink in. And I was especially surprised by the sadness that overwhelmed me when I had to say goodbye.

The announcement of my departure from Yale, made on the last day of Session II, was met with a rumble of groans that caused my eyes to sting with tears.  The hardest part was not knowing what to say except, “Thanks.” It’s impossible to explain how attached I became to people I had only met just a short while ago. I started the program hoping that I might leave it feeling like I had touched someone’s life in a meaningful way.  As I worked side by side with so many dedicated health leaders grappling with serious real-life issues, it was I who was truly touched, and changed by the experience.

Dana Karen Ciccone is a Project Manager for the Yale Global Health Leadership Institute (GHLI) and the Coordination and Implementation Manager for the LMG Project at Yale GHLI.