Josh Ruxin is a member of the faculty at Columbia University and co-founder of Health Builders, an international non-profit organization that builds health centers around the world in places where they either did not exist or where the existing sites were dysfunctional. They give the country and local governments full ownership, and ultimate responsibility for, the buildings, but provide the management training necessary to run the facilities until they are self-sustaining.
Anyone who is at all familiar with international history is aware of the awful genocide that took place in Rwanda in 1994. The 100 days of atrocities pitted neighbor against neighbor as the Hutus did their best to wipe out the Tutsi population. The after-effects of such cruelty left the country devastated, some parts more than others. Josh was sent to Mayange in the Bugesera District region of Rwanda, the area hardest hit by the genocide. There, the jungles had been decimated, the resulting cleared land had been stripped of all nutrients, erosion and famine worked hand-in-hand to create sickness, poverty and disease, and the memories of the genocide left most survivors barely hanging on to life.
"The narrative is eye-opening. I was aware of the country’s devastating history, but after reading A THOUSAND HILLS TO HEAVEN, I came away with a different idea of what Rwanda is and can be."
Ruxin had been involved with Health Builders in other countries before he was asked to go to Rwanda. He had just met Alissa, and they were planning a life together. When the opportunity presented itself, Ruxin wanted to go, but wasn’t sure if Alissa would agree to it or not. She did, and together they, along with others, many of whom were native Rwandans, helped change the country. Josh used his experience and skills in managing health care to create a state-of-the-art health care facility in the heart of Rwanda, a country where sickness, poverty and despair ran rampant. Alissa used her culinary skills to start a restaurant there, too.
A THOUSAND HILLS TO HEAVEN isn’t just about the opening of a world-class gourmet restaurant called Heaven in a place where you’d least expect to find one, and it’s not just about being successful in turning the nation’s health care system around. It’s a beautiful story about a country that was once ravaged by war, hate, violence, sickness and poverty, a country that has turned itself around and has shown the world what can be done when people create teams and work together.
I like the author’s description of the book in the Preface: “This is not a book about the Rwandan genocide, nor is it a book about politics. It is not a cookbook (exactly). It’s a book about our marriage, our adventures together in the Heart of Darkness, and about Heaven, our hillside restaurant and bar in Rwanda, where, from the outdoor dining deck, there is a very good evening view of the end of poverty.”
The narrative is eye-opening. I was aware of the country’s devastating history, but after reading A THOUSAND HILLS TO HEAVEN, I came away with a different idea of what Rwanda is and can be. And for those who are interested, Josh Ruxin has also included a section of delicious-sounding recipes at the conclusion of the book.
Reviewed by Christine M. Irvin on December 13, 2013