Mama Therese: an Advocate for Women & Children in the Rwandan Senate

Mama Therese_RwandaResults for the recent Senate elections in Rwanda came back with exciting news for our MCHIP team in Rwanda. Therese Bishagara, National Field Program Manager, won her Senate election, and will be taking her passion for improving the health and lives of women and children to Parliament.

Mama Therese, as she is affectionately known around the MCHIP Ikiraro project office in Kigali, has a diverse and impressive background. She joined Jhpiego in 2008, and has supported both the ACCESS and MCHIP projects as a Field Program Manager. Previously, she helped found the Kigali Health Institute and served as its Director for eight years, conducted laboratory research in the biological sciences, worked as a program manager and advisor for other development organizations, and has volunteered as the President of PRO-FEMMES, a national women’s organization which serves as an umbrella organization for 55 women’s associations and provides consultations to the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.
Amanda Makulec, an M&E associate who supports MCHIP/Rwanda, had a chance to ask Mama Therese as few questions about her past work experience and what she plans to do as a member of Parliament.
Amanda: Have you always had an interest in running for public office?
Mama Therese: I have worked many times with politicians, and can continue to help the country to improve services [through this position]. I was previously appointed by the Ministry of Health to start the Kigali Health Institute, in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, and have many experiences working with the government.

Amanda: Can you tell me more about starting the Kigali Health Institute?
Mama Therese: I was working in the Center for HIV research in Kigali, and was recruited by the Ministry of Health to start KHI. The American Embassy and USAID contributed to the project, with financial support for laboratories, radiology, dental work, technical expertise, curriculum development and other things. Later, the Institute was transferred over to the Ministry of Education. Some achievements there included strengthening the partnership and collaboration with other national and international universities and training institutions, donors, and other partners…and monitoring the execution of KHI plans for the improvement of quality training.
Amanda: How do you plan to bring your passion and advocacy for maternal and child health to your work in the Senate?
Mama Therese: The position is good for advocating for maternal, newborn and child health, because Parliament controls government activities and can see if activities are well-planned and new health programs implemented…As I have worked with Jhpiego and have supervised our work in the field, I know the problems in communities and can advocate to improve the health in the field and improve [health equity]. In the field, there are not many health centers, and women travel for five kilometers or more. We can advocate to improve this, start new health centers, and the communities can have access more easily.
Amanda: You seem very focused on improving health in the communities. Are you originally from Kigali, or did you grow up in a rural area?
Mama Therese: I grew up in a rural community in West Province, which is how I know the challenges in the communities.
Amanda: As you’re leaving MCHIP, what are you most proud of accomplishing here?
Mama Therese: I learned a lot from Jhpiego, especially around maternal health. I learned much about saving lives, from ACCESSS through MCHIP. Jhpiego activities were always visible, especially in the community. We trained community health workers to save the lives of women and children, and have seen decreases in maternal and child mortality. We’ve also shown visitors from American what Jhpiego is doing, and the partners have appreciated [our work] in the community, and we’re very proud of that.
Amanda: Thank you so much for your time, and your commitment to improving the lives of women and children in Rwanda. We wish you all the best in your new position!

Amanda Makulec
Monitoring and Evaluation Associate