A Thousand Heavens, No More Poverty

How do you teach someone who has never eaten in a restaurant how to be a waiter?

That might seem an odd question to pose when you are thinking about global public health and development, but it is a central question in Josh Ruxin’s fantastic new book, A Thousand Hills to Heaven: Love, Hope and a Restaurant in Rwanda.

So why is this relevant to health and development? Heaven employs 30 staff year-round. Each of those individuals supports an average of 10 family members.

I had the pleasure of hosting Josh in Seattle this week to talk about what he’s learned about health, restaurants and human resilience during his decade living and working in Kigali, Rwanda.

He’s learned a lot . Health Builders, which he founded, has partnered with the Government of Rwanda to upgrade health centers across the country by providing training in critical but mundane tasks such as payroll systems and how to set and meet rigorous performance standards. He’s watched a country rebuild itself following the 1994 genocide, and seen the power of forgiveness for unspeakable atrocities.

And he’s learned how to run a restaurant – Heaven – in a country that has no culture of dining out. It required training staff in the basics of working at a restaurant: Smile at the diners. Give them a menu when they sit down. And encourage their guests to try foods that they have never heard of before, like guacamole or mojitos.

He’s watched a country rebuild itself following the 1994 genocide, and seen the power of forgiveness for unspeakable atrocities.

So why is this relevant to health and development? Heaven employs 30 staff year-round. Each of those individuals supports an average of 10 family members. A network of local merchants – from farmers to furniture makers to taxi drivers to tour guides – benefits economically from Heaven. Since Heaven opened in 2008, it has positively impacted the lives of thousands of Rwandan citizens.

Dr. Blaise Karibushi, HealthBuilders long-time country director, is quoted in the book, saying “In the long run, this place will do more good than a dozen charities coming to Rwanda. If every poor place had a thousand Heavens, there would be no more poverty.”

In you are ever in Kigali, make sure you go to Heaven. But in the meantime, read A Thousand Hills to Heaven.

Originally published by Gabrielle Fitzgerald on Impatient Optimists