Hey it's Amy Karuletwa here! As the Alumnae Manager for Gashora Girls Academy and Rwanda Girls Initiative, it is my privilege to engage with our alumnae around the world, assisting them with college transitions, various resources, and internship and job placements throughout their university years. Pretty cool job, huh? The alumnae department is composed of a team of three which includes Elvanie Batamuliza, Yvonne Musime, and myself. Both Elvanie and Yvonne are Gashora alumnae who were part of our inaugural class of 2013.
As all of you know the world has changed in so many ways in recent months. Because of this, we have been in constant contact with our 621 Gashora alumnae studying all over the world to make sure that all of our alumnae are in safe & healthy environments. Most universities have allowed International Students to remain on campus and have continued to provide food, healthcare and online classes. The few that did not allow students to stay were able to find housing with host families, classmates or relatives. We also had a few universities pay for flights for students to return to Rwanda. These students have been able to continue their online classes and remain in good spirits.
Below are some highlights from conversations with six of our student who are studying in Italy, Germany, Hong Kong, and the United States.
Christine Ashimwe, GGAST Class of 2016, Duke University but was studying abroad in Italy. Christine is studying Visual Media and Advertising.
Houria Uwase, GGAST Class of 2018, Technical University of Kaiserslautern (Germany). Houria is studying Mechanical Engineering.
Pacifique Hirwa, GGAST Class of 2018, Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Pacifique is studying Biomedical Engineering.
Sarah Benimana, GGAST class of 2016, Walla Walla Community College. Sarah is studying Agriculture Systems.
Bibiche Mashenge, GGAST Class of 2016, Stanford University. Bibiche is studying International Relations.
Eliane Wibabara, GGAST Class of 2016, Washington State University. Eliane is studying Agriculture Economics & Food Business Economics.
What has been the most challenging aspect of the COVID-19 outbreak to you personally?
Christine (Italy): The most challenging aspect of the covid-19 for me has been the uncertainty that it brought. I remember when I was still in Italy, before my school decided that things were bad enough to require an evacuation, I'd see all my friends being evacuated and I kept wondering what staying in Italy could mean for me. I was told that evacuating would mean that I would lose my Visa status and that that would lead to me losing the internship I'd secured in the US along with chances of getting back to the US because there were some logistical issues on my program's end that were still unresolved. It really was a stressful time, but luckily, I got evacuated and I am not losing my student visa status.
Houria (Germany): It had been hard to keep my mental health in good condition. I am young in a foreign country and a foreign language. To get clear information was hard since all the NEWS and Articles were written and given in Deutsch. I have to admit that I panicked a little at the beginning when I saw all the supermarkets being emptied.
Bibiche (California): I was scheduled to do my internship at the United Nations this spring as well as taking classes at the Stanford in New York program. With this, my academic plan was pretty much well-laid out. The most challenging part is re-organizing my course plan. And this comes with other technical problems like a revision of one’s financial aid budget, disbursement of stipends etc. On the bright side I’ve had a-lot of help from different individuals and offices on campus
Eliane (Washington): The most challenging aspect of the Covid-19 for me is not knowing what is
next and being completely out of control. Before all this started, I had a summer internship lined up and ready to go, but now, I do not know if I will be able to do it. I worry about how this might affect students’ ability to find jobs upon graduation and its impacts on business operations in general. But again, I am focusing on living in the present and trying not to worry about what I cannot control. Although there is a lot to worry about now, there is also a lot to be grateful for. I am so grateful for the ability to do online school amid the uncertainties. I am grateful for all the free time I have and did not realize I needed. I am grateful for the nurses, doctors and everyone who puts their lives on hold to fight this pandemic.
Have you had any positive or unexpected bright moments during this challenging time?
Christine (Italy): I've actually felt grateful during this whole thing. I know there are a whole lot of unknowns, but people showed up to fight for me and made sure I got home safe. I've felt so much love from friends, family and complete strangers!
Houria (Germany): I used to paint, but I was not getting enough time for it, now I paint more frequently. I do sports every morning and I drink more water. I also got more time to work on my mental health and I know how to calm my nerves.
Pacifique (Hong Kong): This period of quarantine has been pretty fruitful and insightful. When the virus broke out in China I was afraid that we will be locked down inside our house, but I was encouraged when I saw people who wanted to protect oneself but also having fun time which reduced my fear. Through training after the outbreak of COVID-19, I was able to get a glimpse of my purpose which is one of thoughts that has been haunting me from the beginning of university. I was also able to explore new talents like dancing, singing and drawing. I believe that at the end of this period I will be more encouraged and excited to keep moving on with what life have from me compared to if the outbreak didn't happen.
Bibiche (California): Yes, there have been bright moments. Seeing how much empathy people around me express in the face of a common problem. Whether it’s how much people have raised for first-generation, low-income student population, or just friends checking in on each other, it’s definitely highlighted our care for each other. Also being back home, I am proud of how well Rwanda is handling the situation. I arrived home on Thursday, was quarantined at the hospital, and tested before being allowed into the country with other incoming travelers...all for free. Although it was a stressful position to be in, I’m really proud of Rwanda’s protocol.
Do you feel this whole situation has set you back with your education? What about various opportunities, such as summer internships, travel plans, etc?
Christine (Italy): Yes, it was hard to be in Italy and not be able to see Europe and missing an opportunity to keep learning from the best art teachers in Italy, after my program was cut short.
Sarah (Washington): It really did set me back. All the summer internships I was accepted to were cancelled including an amazing program I was going to go to in France, a Sustainable Energy Bootcamp. It is kind of challenging because this is my last summer while I am in college and I was hoping to intern with the school I am applying to for my Master’s Program. I guess I will have to apply again next year, but it might be challenging because my VISA will be almost over.
Any funny stories to share that occurred during this time?
Houria (Germany): My classmates and I sometimes go on our balconies and start talking from there in Kinyarwanda since no one can understand what we are saying. It is our way to kill boredom in this period.