It was a busy Monday morning when we walked into La Palisse Hotel Nyamata for an interview with Dr Thomas Muyombo, the head of Blood Transfusion Service at Rwanda Biomedical Medical (RBC). We had scheduled an interview but he had a workshop to attend, somehow, he managed to make time to sit down with me for a chat. Over the past few weeks, I had followed different activities he has been involved in countrywide, encouraging people to donate more blood, and addressing the blood shortage in the banks, given the increasing demand for blood by hospitals. Still humble, amiable, well-spoken and youthful as he was a decade ago when we last had an interview, Tom Close, as he is commonly known in the showbiz industry, is a man on a mission to do good, adding his brick towards building a befitting society for humanity. We dived straight into the interview and from the onset we talked about the blood donation drive he has been leading, aimed at replenishing vital blood needed for medical emergencies. It is a subject he talks about passionately. “Part of what we do as the blood transfusion service is carrying out campaigns to inform the general population about blood donations so that we can have enough blood in our blood bank,” he says. Dr Tom, as his workmates prefer to call him, has been at the forefront of the campaign, using his own social media platforms to encourage people to donate blood, so that there is enough in stock to meet the demand in hospitals around the country. “We had a dire need for O blood. The campaign actually was for raising the stock for O . The response was very good,” he says about the campaign which started in August this year. Every now and then there is someone in the hospital who needs blood and he points out that as long as there is no machine that produces the equivalent of human blood, a person who is in dire need of blood can only get it from someone else who donated. Considering that blood is required quickly in most cases, it must be collected early, tested and prepared for the person who will need it. Muyombo says that in recent months, the demand surpassed the supply in the blood bank, particularly for O blood type and to avoid any shortages, a campaign was necessary. Not ready to take chances, the campaign was launched to up the stocks and meet the demand in hospitals. The campaign also helps to inform people about the need to donate blood because most people don’t feel the need to. “It is us Rwandans who have to donate so that our fellow Rwandans get blood. Each one of us is a candidate for receiving a transfusion,” says Muyombo, adding this is something many people need to understand. He points out that there is always pressure to have blood as soon as it is requested to ensure that no life is lost because of lack of blood. RBC has set up blood collection centres across the country to address this shortage. In order to meet the demand for blood, each regional centre has a target as to how much blood they can collect. Sometimes there is abnormal utilisation of blood for a specific blood group and they have to organise a special campaign to collect that particular type of blood, as was the case with O. Muyombo explains that nearly 50 per cent of Rwandans have O blood type, which also means that it is the most required blood in hospitals. “O is the blood group that is being transfused the most in the hospitals. That’s the group where you’re going to find many patients because they make up the largest part of the population,” he says. Luckily, he says, they achieved their target by 100 per cent as Rwandans responded to the call, but it is a never-ending effort. Juggling music, art and work The 36-year-old physician is considered one of the pioneers of modern Rwandan music, having started his music career in 2005, making what was a major breakthrough then, in 2007/2008. The afro-R&B singer has remained true to the call, continuing to produce music, despite his cabinet-appointed position. He is not just a musician. He is also an artist/illustrator and author of children’s books. “I don’t know if this will sound unusual but I find it something very easy to do,” he says when asked how he juggles the responsibilities. The singer and medic uses his time very well, dedicating his day time to work for the government and his time after work to hit the studio or sit in his home office to work on illustrations and books. “Doing music doesn’t require a certain set of time like it is required to work in the government,” he says, pointing out that he can go to the studio at any time. He also happens to have a team that understands the assignment. He doesn’t have to police them to do what they are supposed to do. He believes in empowering people to work under minimum supervision. Basically, he works 10 hours a day and as a doctor, he understands the importance of resting. Muyombo also says that being a government employee and a musician have never clashed in any way, as he has never been told by anyone to drop music, as long as he fulfils his duties. He says sometimes he takes a while to release music because he is working behind the scenes—recording, shooting videos, editing and more, but not because he is under pressure to stop doing music. “I’ve been working on several projects and from the last time I released an album, I’ve done two albums already,” he says, adding that one was made of different singles he released. “There’s another one that no one has ever heard a song from, that is supposed to come out early next year,” he says, adding that it has taken a lot of work and investment. Muyombo says music also takes a lot of investment if you have to do good music. Producing three or five good music videos requires a good sum of money. “It takes money and it also takes time to come up with something that can sell. I’m currently working on that album which I think will surprise many because it’s a new part of me. “I think it is going to change the way people have been looking at Rwanda music, not only my music but the whole industry because it will bring out the best that people have never seen,” Muyombo says, adding that he has been doing a lot behind the curtains. The album with about 14 songs is expected to come out in February next year. Challenges It has not been a journey without thorns. Muyombo says that some people doubted he could be a doctor and a musician, especially in a society where medics are considered more ‘serious’ than artistes. It is a challenge that never bothered him because he believes what he does is seen through results, not through the eyes and perceptions of people. He says this is because some people view artistes from the angle they see on TV or read in the news and assume that they know them in and out. “I don’t consider that a challenge. I consider it a blessing to prove to people that it’s not good to pretend without even taking your time to know someone,” he says. The biggest challenge remains lack of investment because as an artiste, you mostly have a dream that doesn’t match the budget or means, which holds back the potential of the industry. Singing for a cause Muyombo says his focus is producing songs that touch people’s hearts or make a difference in society, reflecting on one of the songs he did in 2018, talking about the challenge of infertility in society. The song “Life is Bigger” talks about the issue of some people not being able to give birth due to infertility, pointing out that there is more to life than just bearing children. It urges society to stop judging people because they can’t have children or are not married. The singer also uses his voice and platform to speak out against gender-based violence and other forms of abuse. He believes all human beings are equal and have similar rights and would wish to see his daughter grow up in a world where she has all the opportunities to become whatever she wants to be. Muyombo believes all artistes have what it takes to use their voices to fight vices in society that affect people because before anything else they are also human. Beyond that, he finds time to nurture his passion for art, which he has had since childhood, using his time to illustrate and write children’s books, to fill the gap and shortage of children’s books. Writing is equally an inborn talent as he has never had any training. Several of his books were approved by Rwanda Education Board to be used in schools. “I currently have about 80 books already approved for using in schools,” says the author who started writing professionally in 2016 after years of perfecting the craft. He was inspired to write more after he realised that there was no locally made content for children in Kinyarwanda.