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Help for cleft children in East Africa

Rwanda & Tanzania
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Facts about East Africa
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55 %
Despite economic growth, the number of people living in poverty in Rwanda remains high. According to the BMZ, the proportion of people living on less than US $ 1.90 a day and thus living in extreme poverty by international definition was still over 50 percent in 2016.
In Rwanda – as in many countries in other African countries – the population is growing rapidly every year. Each woman has an average of five children. 35 out of 1,000 children in Rwanda die before their fifth birthday. For comparison: in Germany the number is 3.7.
Not least because of the strong population growth, medical care is a major problem in Africa. In Rwanda, for example, there is on average only a single doctor for every 25,000 people. The lack of qualified specialists is immense.
Over several years we trained a rwandan surgeon in cleft surgery. Today he is independently performing surgeries, providing treatment for 38 cleft children in 2022. Since the start of our work in east africa, we were able to provide a total of 438 surgeries in Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania.
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Our work in East Africa

Alongside India, Cameroon was the starting point for our international work to help cleft children. We were active in Cameroon from 2003 to 2014. We promoted a cleft project under the direction of a local surgeon and organized operations, which were supported on a voluntary basis by our current board member, Prof. Feyerherd. In the eleven years of our presence, we were able to treat almost 1,300 cleft patients in Cameroon.

In 2009 we started our work to help cleft children in East Africa with a project in Uganda. Until 2016 we carried out surgery mission to the Mbarara University Hospital. The Ugandan cleft team is now working independently, our support in the area of ​​surgery has been completed. Our volunteer project managers from the first day: the two experienced oral and maxillofacial surgeons Dr. Oliver Blume and Gunther Au-Balbach. After seven years of close cooperation, an Ugandan team now accompanies Oliver Blume and Gunther Au-Balbach on their annual missions in East Africa. Oliver Blume gives lectures at the Mbarara University Hospital tot his day.

Further expansion

Three further projects were added in East Africa over the years: Rwanda in 2011, Burundi in 2015. Tanzania has been the third location since 2016. In 2019, our teams operated in Rwanda and Tanzania and were able to treat a total of 34 patients.

In Burundi, our last mission for now took place in February 2018. This ended with an attack on our German medical team, which luckily did not harm anyone. Nevertheless, we stopped our work in Burundi until further notice. Our local doctors are also currently unable to work in Burundi. We hope to resume our work to help cleft children in Burundi soon. The primary goal will then be to train a Burundian doctor in cleft surgery.

Sharing knowledge

Our two German project managers’ annual missions serve not only to provide direct medical help for cleft patients, but also to train local doctors. The specialist training of the Rwandan surgeon Dr. Laurent Siborurema was successfully completed in 2013. In addition to the training received from Oliver Blume and Gunther Au-Balbach, Dr. Laurent also took part in a four-week training course in two of our Indian cleft centers.

After years of development work, this investment in East Africa is now bearing fruit: Under the leadership of Dr. Laurent a permanent local team has formed that now independently operates cleft patients in Tanzania.


“The most rewarding moment in our work in East Africa always is when we return the child to the parents after the operation. The joy is overwhelming every time. There is no greater reward for our work. ”
Dr. Dr. Oliver Blume, Project Manager East Africa

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Our partners in East Africa

Teams from different countries work hand in hand to help cleft children in Africa. The team of the annual surgery mission under the leadership of the experienced German surgeons Oliver Blume and Gunther Au-Balbach includes surgeon Dr. Laurent Siborurema from Rwanda and anesthetist Dr. Emmanuel Munyarugero, surgeon Dr. Deus Twesigye and nurse Caroline Nakyanzi from the University Hospital Mbarara (Uganda).

Our African team, which has been independently organizing and carrying out operations in Tanzania since 2017, is headed by Dr. Laurent. He works at the hospital in Rwamagana in the east of Rwanda, about an hour’s drive from the capital, Kigali. The hospital is our main base in Rwanda. Our partner in Tanzania is the Rulenge-Ngara diocese, represented by Bishop Severine Niwemugizi. The diocese runs several hospitals in Tanzania and lets us use the hospital in Rulenge for our operations. Dr. Prosper Mallya, doctor at the hospital in Rulenge, coordinates the work on site and organizes the patient search.

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The surgery is often the only chance of survival for a child.
Shadia after her first surgery …
… and one year later.
Impressions from Burundi: Cleft child having a bath
After the surgery: Mother with son in Rwanda
German-African friendship
Nurse Caroline with her little charge
Gunther Au-Balbach and Dr. Emma 2019 in Gitwe, Rwanda.
Hand in Hand for a little life
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Priorities of our work in East Africa
Awareness work
In many regions of East Africa, access to qualified medical care is limited. Above all, there is a lack of specialists. The patients therefore come from far away, even across national borders, to get our help. Promoting our offers and finding patients is an essential part of our work to help cleft children in Africa.
Many African children suffer from diseases and/or are malnourished. In Rwanda, a baby that cannot be breastfed is sometimes left to its fate. The operation is often the last chance for a cleft child. Our goal therefore is to provide many more operations.
Education and training are very important to our work in East Africa. This is particularly true in the medical field, where the aim is to create permanent contact points for cleft patients staffed with qualified local doctors. But we also invest in the training of project staff in patient approach, project coordination and documentation.
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Your donation for cleft children in East Africa

East Africa is one of our priority regions. Giving a cleft child its surgery costs 300 euros in East Africa. Please help us with your donation, so that we can treat even more cleft children in Africa and thus give them a better perspective in life.

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Country portrait Rwanda

With its 26,000 km², Rwanda is one of the smallest countries in Africa. With 12 million inhabitants, it is also one of the most densely populated. Almost half of the population is under the age of 18. The number of children per family is high: on average, one woman gives birth to five children.

Rwanda is an East African landlocked country with borders to Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda and Tanzania. Due to its mountainous landscape, Rwanda is known as the “land of a thousand hills”.
26,340 km²
Official languages
Kinyarwanda, French, English, Swahili
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Country portrait Tanzania

With an area of 947,000 km² – about 2.7 times the size of Germany – Tanzania is one of the largest countries in Africa. Tanzania is a popular travel destination. But despite the income from tourism, the country is still very poor. Infectious diseases such as malaria and AIDS are common. Life expectancy is correspondingly low (64 years). 30.7 percent of people are malnourished. Child mortality is very high: 53 out of 1,000 children die before their fifth birthday.

Tanzania is located on the east coast of Africa. Seven countries directly border Tanzania: Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique. With a height of 5,895 meters, the Kilimanscharo is the highest mountain range in Africa.