Elephantiasis can be eradicated by wearing shoes – specialist

TONYA HUSTON can be described as a woman with a big heart. A native of Texas in the USA, she has been a physiotherapist for 18 years and six years as a certified medical practitioner in the treatment of Lymphedema, also called Elephantiasis.
Patients receive some treatment to relieve the pain. (Joseph Oindo)
Patients receive some treatment to relieve the pain. (Joseph Oindo)

TONYA HUSTON can be described as a woman with a big heart. A native of Texas in the USA, she has been a physiotherapist for 18 years and six years as a certified medical practitioner in the treatment of Lymphedema, also called Elephantiasis.

She came to Rwanda in 2008 after joining a team from Texas what works with widows in Musanze District called, True Vineyard Ministries.

After seeing one of the widows with elephantiasis, she said her skills could help her and many others that were not receiving specialized treatment and established an organisation called Imidido Project, a clinic for those with the condition.

How do you describe yourself?

I describe myself as one who is committed to making a difference in those lives that are struggling with elephantiasis, as well as, developing a program that is sustainable and will help to eradicate this condition in Rwanda.

What leads you to being who you are?

Someone once asked me if I was a Christian and my response was yes… but in my opinion to be a Christian is to be Christ-like to all and this is what inspires me.

Is it the act of compassion that made you work with Imidido Project or it’s part of your work schedule? 

I am the founder and executive director of Imidido Project. I am extremely passionate about this project and its success. I have sold my home in the USA and work part time in the USA to fund the project, and I volunteer my time when I am in Rwanda. I am very compassionate toward those who, through no fault of their own, acquired this debilitating condition by not wearing shoes while working in the fields.

What is the biggest impact the Imidido Project has had in terms of the disease?

The biggest impact is giving those suffering from the condition back their self respect by managing their condition, as well as, providing income generating activities with other organisations like SPARK, to give them a hand up to a better life. The long range impact through educational initiatives will hopefully eradicate this condition from Rwanda. Elephantiasis (Podoconiosis-from the soil) is 100 percent preventable by wearing shoes.

What do you think Imidido Project will be like in five to 10 years? Would you have been successful of raising awareness about the disease and ways of combating it? 

The five-year plan is to develop a local NGO to provide jobs, education, and sustainable clinical models throughout Rwanda to care for those suffering from this condition. The 10-year plan is to eradicate elephantiasis from Rwanda through education and in partnership with the Ministry of Health.

And would you have been successful in your mission?

The Imidido Project is already a success story. Many lives have already been changed and more will continue to change in a very positive way. Through partnerships with local NGOs and the Ministry of Health in Rwanda, love and hope are building a brighter future for the vulnerable of Rwanda.

How is your experience working along Rwanda professionals?

I am very thankful to have worked with many outstanding professionals in Rwanda, including Jean Paul Bikorimana (Physiotherapist), Jeanne Uwizeyimana (field work educator), Thomas Bishyizegahari (legal representative), Dr Eugene Ruberanziza (project manager for neglected tropical diseases) and Dr Theopile Dushime (clinical director, Ministry of Health).

And what has been your best and worst experience in Rwanda?

My experience in Rwanda has been overwhelmingly positive. The people of Rwanda have been very kind and they appreciate the work that we do and our commitment to long term solutions. I think Rwanda has so much to offer including its beauty, its culture and its progressive nature. It feels like a second home to me. There are too many bests to mention. I will say that my least favorite thing about Rwanda is the organized chaos at the Kigali bus station.

What person has had the biggest influence on your life?

My mother left a legacy of love that I want to continue throughout the world.

How do your family and friends take your responsibility of helping the vulnerable?

My family and friends are very supportive, with donations and prayers, and several who have given their time to travel to Rwanda to volunteer their time to the project.

 

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