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Reinventing the Health Brochure

This post was written by Marcella Felde, a CommunicateHealth friend and fellow advocate for health + design. Marcella is currently a Managing Editor at Oksbo and working at the Maranyundo Girls School in Rwanda.

Picture of oksbo brochures developed by Marcella

At a health clinic, in Save, Rwanda, I sat with Sister Catherine, an A4 sheet of paper, and a folding bone. With 4 creasing strokes and a precise cut using a pair of scissors, I completed the origami booklet. Sister Catherine held it in her palm and flipped through the booklet’s 8 pages. Smiling, she shook her head, “Very clever; very clever.” She handed me the booklet and I showed her how to reverse the paper so another book revealed itself in the refolding.

Our conversation, a mix of English, Kinyarwanda, and French, moved to content. What can the booklet do for the clinic? We considered stories for little patients, nutrition facts for new mothers, instructions on hygiene, and more. Sister Catherine began to outline how the booklet could provide instructions for the community health workers; a pocket reminder of symptoms they should be watching for in each of their communities. “This,” she said, “would be helpful.”

As I begin to develop this booklet I remind myself to ask: Who can read? What languages can they read? Should the words be in English, Kinyarwandan, or both? How does each turn of the page help build the understanding? What should each booklet contain on the other side: another booklet, a little poster? What illustrations can make the words more understandable and meaningful?

Near the clinic, I visited a primary school library where posters hung on the walls. One poster showed a picture of an apple and the caption read, “A is Apple.” An American child would probably recognize the green, round fruit with a stem — but a 4 year old in rural Rwanda would most certainly not.

When you teach English to a Rwandan child, you want to start with words she uses in everyday life. You need to use ideas and images familiar to her. Making a clear message is not a simple writing task. It requires careful research and thoughtful consideration of the reader. The origami booklets allow people to develop and share relevant content to whomever their audience may be.

Our origami booklet is remarkable because, with a single piece of A4 paper, people are able to share knowledge in an unusual way. A book may cost several thousand Rwandan francs, but a ream of paper can produce a thousand books at a fraction of the cost. The small size of the booklet permits it to be carried in a small hand or pocket and it forces the writer to be concise. Using 8 pages as a standard is a useful constraint, as well. It asks the writer to organize content into a logical progression from introduction to conclusion. It assures that the writer will not overwhelm the novice reader with too many ideas at once.

Finding the right tool for the right need, in the time and place is a fraught quest. When I see eager eyes searching for knowledge within its pages, I think this suggests that origami booklets are the right tool for spreading knowledge, in Rwanda.

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