Student cycles in Rwanda to deliver diabetes supplies and education


While many of her fellow students were sharing turkey and cranberry sauce with their families during Thanksgiving break, Penn State Lehigh Valley sophomore Mandy Marquardt was cycling around Rwanda sharing information about proper diabetes care with its inhabitants.

Marquardt, a standout member of the Penn State Lehigh Valley cycling team, also races for Team Type 1, a group of cycling athletes who seek to inspire and help people around the world that are affected by diabetes. The Nov. 15 to 26 trip marked the second time that Team Type 1 has traveled to Rwanda to deliver diabetes supplies and spread the word about living with and managing diabetes. It was Marquardt\’s first time participating.

\”I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes four years ago and was lucky to have all the education and resources necessary for managing it available to me,\” said Marquardt, a Breinigsville, Pa., resident. \”It was so eye-opening to discover that, while I have the ability to test my blood sugar multiple times a day if necessary, many people in Rwanda only check theirs once a week, or even once a month, and don\’t know how to use the equipment.\”

In Rwanda, many people die from diabetes complications because of the severe lack of access to insulin and monitoring supplies, as well as to health care providers trained in diabetes care. This shortfall can be directly tied to the horrific genocide that took place in Rwanda in 1994, during which more than 1 million people were killed, 3 million were exiled, and 100,000 were imprisoned. While it is making significant strides, the Rwandan economy and infrastructure, including the health care system, still struggles to recover.

Part of Team Type 1\’s mission this year was to deliver life-saving diabetes testing supplies to the country. In addition, the trip was timed with the country\’s annual Tour of Rwanda race in which Team Type I\’s professional men\’s team participated and saw its members take first and second place. Marquardt and other nonracing team members stood alongside the Rwandan people as they cheered on the racers, and they rode as much as 171 kilometers in one day to clinics throughout the country to deliver the donated supplies. The team worked with Rwanda\’s Ministry of Health and the Rwanda Diabetes Association to organize meetings at the finish of each day\’s race, and a doctor traveling with the team spoke to hundreds of people about managing their condition.

\”The friendliness and willingness of the Rwandan people to welcome us and cheer on all the riders really made an impact on me. Also, visiting a museum memorializing the genocide was an emotional and humbling experience,\” said Marquardt, who is majoring in business management and marketing. \”The rides were often difficult. Rwanda is known as the land of 1,000 hills for a reason. But it was so worth it to help these people that I have something in common with, and show them that you can accomplish great things even when you have diabetes.\”