Friday, June 1, 2012


The robbery was totally unexpected. Security systems and other precautions failed. The 65 year-old victim, George, had even helped prevent others in his community from suffering similar losses. But this one was different enough from those cases to avoid detection. A stranger had apparently found a way in and perpetrated the crime when no one was watching. The theft was confirmed. The known losses had been inventoried, but it was expected that the full extent of the burglary would not be known for some time. George was devastated as all the consequences began to sink in.
George was a medical doctor in Rwanda.  He had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. He felt useless to help his community with much needed medical treatment.  He had saved lives.  He had been a talented and much sought after physician.  He had worked very hard to raise and educate his family, as well as other extended family members in need.  He used to be needed.  Now it was he who needed help, to lean on others to walk any distance. In the past, other doctors had valued his opinion. He was popular, esteemed and had social standing in his community. Now he had none of that, at least as far as he was concerned. He had been robbed of his identity. In its place he had been offered worthlessness, pity and estrangement.

In Rwanda, men have value if they are strong, stoic and self-sufficient. Any admission or appearance of weakness or dependency is avoided. A man is to work hard, provide for and protect his family, maintain his reputation and be strong. George had achieved all of that and more. But now he was left feeling alone, worthless and aimless. He preferred to stay at home rather than bear the humiliation he felt. As a doctor, he knew what the future would hold. The "thief" would continue to steal from him as if he were completely defenseless.

Odd though it may sound, George did not know anyone who had Parkinson's. That left him unable to process all the things he was going through. When his family asked if I would meet with him, I was only too pleased to do so, as long as he was interested in meeting with me. I was comfortable and enjoyed my time with him in his home. Even though his symptoms were considerably different than mine, we had much that we could share. We both enjoyed our work, loved our families (especially our grandchildren), and found our identity and purpose in helping others. I understood his sense of helplessness when, month after month, we saw the thief rob him of his dignity.

Rwanda does not appear to have any organized support for people with Parkinson's. It appears that because of the cultural response to this disease (and lots of others), people become prisoners in their own homes, waiting to be relieved of their burden of humility. I suggested that maybe he would be the perfect kind of person to start such an organization. He certainly understands the issues from a medical vantage point as well as a personal perspective. He has a reputation that would help in promoting awareness of the disease. And, most of all, he has a need to reorient himself and find significance again. We talked about George coming to Montréal in 2013 to the World Parkinson Congress. His family was enthusiastically supportive. He has a brother who lives there, whom he has visited several times. I would meet him there. It sounded perfect.

But there is much that can happen in the next 16 months, as there is for any of us. And George taught me things about that as he hesitated, knowing full well that he could not make any new irrevocable commitment given his current lack of self-confidence. But I was encouraged. We had connected. Our relationship had begun. Hope is born and kept alive in such interactions.


  1. Thanks Bob for all you are doing, It is very humbling to read a post like this and to realise how much there is to be done. I hope you are bringing back a mountain of images, and much to report. Have followed some of your journey, hope you are having an amazing time. Lindy

  2. Cindy (& Randy) SmartJune 1, 2012 at 8:51 PM

    God is good...His timing is perfect. To think you were there when this man needed to meet you and find encouragement! May God continue to direct your paths.

  3. So glad it worked out to meet with George! Thank you for your willingness to engage with the Rwandan people.

  4. The final paragraph seems to portray beautifully the reason you wanted to make this grand trip.

  5. How true this all sounds,

  6. sweet story - thanks for illuminating the darkness by lighting candles of hope :)