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Taking our Learning Online:  A conversation with our Deputy Head of School

At Rwanda Girls Initiative we are proud of the incredible staff that give their heart, time, and talent each day to help our Gashora Girls reach their highest potential.  Theophile Habiyambere is our Deputy Head of School and Director of Academics at Gashora Girls Academy of Science and Technology (GGAST).  Theophile is responsible for all aspects of teaching and learning and implementing the educational philosophy of the school and promoting a culture of best practice. We are so proud of our leadership team, including Theophile, who have created a community of teachers and staff who continually seek to learn and grow and see challenges as opportunities.  Our teachers and staff have worked above and beyond to meet the needs of our students and continue teaching while our students are at home.   He took some time out of his busy schedule to share how our staff and students have transitioned to online learning.

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Gashora Girls Academy closed last month.  Schools around the world have had to pivot to e-learning.  How has this transition been for Gashora? 

 The transition to distance learning for GGAST, like for many schools, has not been without challenges, however it has not been impossible. Most of our challenges stemmed from our students who come from different parts of the country not being able to access reliable internet and devices to connect with their teachers and classmates. We have managed to tackle this issue with the support of various initiatives by service providers and the GGAST’s support to families that need it. The rest has quite smooth.

GGAST has been inundated with requests from non Gashora students asking to join our e-learning!  Congratulations.  How are you making this all work? Are you using a variety of platforms?  What is your secret of success?

This is true. We have had several requests from students from other schools to join our distance learning and we are currently exploring ways to support our wider community in the education space. One way we have responded to the call is by providing access to some of our lessons through our newly launched YouTube channel

The secret to our success is our investment in developing the ICT skills of teachers and students in every area of learning.

How have the teachers transitioned to this new platform? 

Our transition to the e-learning has been as smooth as one could hope. This has largely been possible because of the commitment and effort of our fantastic team of teachers. Over the years GGAST has been intentional in investing in teacher professional development. A big part of our skills development program has been in ICT. All of our teachers, regardless of the subject they teach, have been provided opportunity to grow their knowledge and skills in ICT tools which can be used in the classroom to increase interaction and participation of the students.  With this exposure they have been in a better position to seamlessly transition to teaching remotely.

Can you share any successes and inspirational stories during this these unusual times?

What has been inspiring to witness is how the whole GGAST family came together to deal with our new situation as a result of COVID-19.  Nobody in our team said distance learning could not be done. My colleagues on the leadership team immediately began to see which students would need some support in order to benefit from the planned distance learning program. Teachers began to brainstorm on the platforms we could use to connect and teach students. They quickly came up with ideas like a school YouTube channel and began to develop lessons in a way that would consider the very limited resources available to some of our students. It has been good to see the teacher’s hard work over the years to learn and implement more ICT tools in their lessons have paid off. We know that we are truly an unstoppable team that has a heart for education development and growth in Rwanda.

Would you share how you came to GGAST and what you have learned?

I started working with Gashora Girls Academy of Science and Technology (GGAST) in 2013 as a part-time math teacher.  In 2015 I was promoted to be the Director of Academics in.  I have a Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction from University of Rwanda, College of Education. I also have a degree in Science with Education from the same University.

Working in a socio-economic diverse school has taught me that being successful does not depend on how wealthy or not your family is. It is not about your place of origin; it is simply about your goals, and how you are committed to achieve them. Our students inspire and teach me each day with their enthusiasm and innovation.  They are self-driven, responsible and motivated!

Working in an environment where students are hungry for knowledge, skills and competencies has put me in a position to look for more qualified, capable, and self-driven teachers. It has also made me to expand the type of Professional Development Programs we provide to our teachers so they can help teach these young and talented girls from all of Rwanda to reach their highest potential.

As a technology school, I am always trying to assist both teachers and students to use ICT tools in class and outside the class. Students, together with their mentor teachers, are all engaged in different projects such as robotics, web design, app design to mention but a few. This is a result of hard work, dedication and teamwork between admin, teachers and students.  I am proud that GGAST is leading the way in technology, not only in Rwanda, but also in Africa.

  • COVID-19
  • Online Learning
  • STAFF
Our Alumnae during Covid-19

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.

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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

Sarah biking in Walla Walla. 

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: Her last outing before the lock down. 

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. 

Alumnae Highlight:  Orange The World: What we ought to do to be practical activists against Gender Based Violence

Studying abroad has many advantages for our Gashora Girls Academy of Science and Technology (GGAST) alumnae.   Rwanda is one of African’s  fastest growing nations and the opportunities for tertiary education are growing with it.  In the last year, two prestigious universities have opened, University of Global Health Equity, which was created to change the way health care is delivered around the world, and Rwanda Institute for Conservation Agriculture, whose goal is to prepare the next generation of agricultural leaders in Rwanda.  However, there are many  programs that are not available in Rwandan universities, especially when it comes to Science and Technology.  Our 329 alumnae who are or have studied outside of Africa, hope to gain a better understanding of the world and use what they learn abroad to make an impact in their home communities and country.

Jocelyn Mizero is one of those leaders! Jocelyn is a Gashora Girls Academy 2013 graduate.  After graduation she attended Lafayette College where she earned her B.S. in Biology.  After graduating in 2018 she worked for Tiba Foundation in Kenya where carried out a fact-finding mission to develop an Accident and Emergency Nursing program in an emergency room at Matibabu Foundation Hospital.  After 5 months of service she worked for Tiba in San Francisco as a Development and Communication intern.  This fall she returned home to Rwanda where she is currently a surgery research officer with Partners in Health in Rwanda.  Her passion lies in public health research. 

The following article was written by Jocelyn as she has been inspired by the international campaign, Orange the World: 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence.

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November 25th marked the first day of the international campaign Orange the World: 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. This campaign is coordinated by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership. The campaign starts on November 25th, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and ends on December 10th, Human Rights Day.

November 25th, 2019 also marked the start of the 2019 Global Gender Summit (2019 GGS) being held in Kigali until the 27th. This is the 4th edition and the first time this summit has been hosted in Africa. The previous editions have been held in Istanbul, Manila and Washington DC in the US, respectively.

This year’s theme for the 2019 GGS is “unpacking constrains to gender equality”. The delegates will explore the following dimensions: “scaling up innovative financing; enabling legal, regulatory and institutional environments; and securing women’s participation and voices.”

In his opening remarks at the summit, His Excellency Paul Kagame spoke about activism and how “it is about the management of expectations, identifying relevant things you ought to do, getting more organized and really deliberating and doing things within our means to do, because there is a lot within our means that we don’t do.”

This struck a chord. In my journey towards self-liberation, what I heard from President Kagame’s remarks is that the time is now to speak up and to be intentional about what I advocate for. For the sake of my mother who stayed in an abusive marriage for the sake of our better upbringing, and for other women whose voices will never be heard for the fear of dismantling their homes and denying their children a better future, I have chosen to always speak up.

 However, the first step of activism is having the knowledge to speak up.

It was during induction/orientation week at my new job with Partners In Health (PIH/IMB) that I learned about the Isange One Stop Center for Gender-based Violence (GBV). During a tour of Rwinkwavu District Hospital, a PIH-supported site, we approached a secluded building with the words “Isange One Stop Center”. When I asked what the building does, I was met with surprised looks. Their eyes begged to know how come I didn’t know this initiative existed. I did not beat myself too much about that and instead I allowed my curiosity to take over. I left the center with all my questions answered by the nurse we found there.

Isange One Stop Centers (IOSCs) are run by the Ministries of Gender and Family Promotion, of Health, of Justice and the National Police of Rwanda. These centers strive to provide comprehensive services to adult and child survivors of Gender-Based Violence (GBV) and child abuse. These services not only include medical but also psychological and psychosocial wellbeing. The centers also offer legal protection and justice. I realized that the reason for seclusion of the IOSC at Rwinkwavu District Hospital was secluded was to help avoid stigmatization of the survivors.  There were 44 Isange centers all over Rwanda by Jan 2019. There is one Isange center in each district located at the district hospitals. The target is to have 500 centers, with at least one in every sector of the country.

Gender-based violence happens frequently to women and children and that day at the hospital, I learned that if I was going to be an activist for women’s and children’s rights in Rwanda, a country that I have not lived in for the past 5 years, I had to stop being the feminist that adopts issues and progress of foreign lands but fails to acknowledge those of their own homes. It was time to listen and learn.

The words of President Kagame at the 2019 Global Gender Summit about activism rang true. Activism should not happen from the comfort of our homes and screens. However, it is about identifying relevant things that we can do within our means to be practical activists. We need to equip ourselves with the knowledge to speak up. Prevention is the best medicine for GBV and fortunately for Rwanda, Isange One Stop Centers are an insurmountable resource.

During the remaining 14 days of the campaign, I want to challenge my fellow Rwandan activists to dig deeper and find the things within our means that we need to do to dismantle the culture of silence that fuels GBV in our society. May it be speaking up ourselves just as a start to pave the way.

Jocelyn Mizero

Aspiring Physician and Global Health Professional | Surgery Research Officer at Partners In Health

  • Biology
  • GBV
  • Gender Based Violence
  • Lafayette
Staff Profile:  Gisele Tunga

Gashora Girls Academy of Science and Technology enjoys the privilege of educating and inspiring 275 dedicated and passionate young women through our innovative model of education that combines strong college-prep academics, along with health, social and  emotional development and extracurricular programs.  We holistically develop our students passions, interests, leadership, competitive and entrepreneurial spirits, and athletic pursuits.  This is made possible by all the leadership, administrators, staff and students who give 100% every day to the Gashora community!  

One of these such leaders is Gisele Tunga, one of our support staff who wears many hats!  Enjoy this post written by Gisele. 

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I have been at Gashora Girls Academy of Science and Technology (GGAST), since the school opened in January 2011, as the administrative assistant and nurse.  Before coming to Gashora, I graduated from the Kigali Independent University (ULK) with a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics and Social Sciences and worked as an advisor at the orphanages in Rilima, Rwanda where my role was to work, guide and encourage the orphans to reach their dream.

The inaugural class had 90 girls; but enrolling students at a brand-new school that had no track record was a great challenge; one that we no longer have! We had to convince students and their families to take a risk on GGAST, explaining that it was going to be a high performing STEM school for the brightest students. What we heard by most students was, “Why should I go to Gashora?” These young women had the opportunity to go to schools that they already knew, why take a risk on a new school. We struggled with this for the first couple years, especially with girls who lived in remote parts of the country. We would call the top performing student in each district to invite them to attend and they often questioned traveling far from home. Knowing the value of the opportunity, it was our job to be convincing and do our best to get the girls to accept the offer.

Now we have 400 applications per year, and our reputation reaches across the country and continent. It has been amazing seeing the students and teachers grow this school into one of the best schools in Rwanda, not only in academic achievement (top 3% of the country) but in whole girl development.

Some Gashora alumnae have written after they arrive at college and thank me for giving them the opportunity to attend our school. They express so much gratitude and appreciation. It brings tears to my eyes when they say that the day I called to invite them to Gashora was the day they were blessed by God. We now have alumnae studying in 25 countries around the world and have graduated 524 young women, future leaders of Rwanda.

My responsibilities at Gashora Girls Academy has grown and changed through the years.  I continue to assist in the admissions and enrollment process, determining students' financial aid packages.  I also support the organization of school field trips, communicate with parents, and having one on one meeting with students supporting their different struggles.  I have shared beautiful moments with the girls during these one on one sessions.  I realize that it is a great honor to be a part of a solution, and a part of their lives.

Additionally, I have the opportunity to mentor the Dear Doctor Rwanda (DDR) Club. In this club, we work around the clock trying to make a difference in the community. Some of the activities include proper nutritional workshops and tutoring Dihiro School students in Physics, Chemistry and Biology. Within the school, we have focused on primary health such as hand washing and basic healthy habits. 

I also oversee the Aerobics program that is contributing to physical health and fitness of our students. More generally, I work closely with the Dean of Students to promote Whole Girl Education which is the philosophy upon the school is founded.

I have grown into a strong believer of girl empowerment and the magic that educating a girl child can have on a society. From working closely with Gashora students, I know that each of them is the complete package of what the nation needs- inventive, innovative and competent girls. I am inspired so much by my girls’ confidence, initiative, risk-taking, and creativity. My favorite part of Gashora is admitting students from low socioeconomic backgrounds and watching them be transformed by the Gashora experience to achieve their full potential and dreams.

As Mother Teresa said “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” I am grateful to be a part of the Gashora community; it is where I live my passion to do all things with love and where I enjoy not only what I call work but my second home.

  • STAFF
Alumna Profile: Positive Journey Toward Progress

The following post is written by Gashora Girls Academy alumna, Hillarie Uwamahoro, GGAST Class of 2014.  She is currently studying at Earth University in Costa Rica.

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A dream that can bring life changing opportunities turns into a reality when a person takes one step forward. A girl that was raised without hope ultimately found joy that dignified her destination. That girl today faces the world differently and has discovered crucial tools that lift her up in the moments of sorrow to encourage herself and others.

The last twenty-three years has been a period of discovery.  I have learned who I was, who I am now and what I want to become. I was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in 1995, one year after the Rwandan Genocide of 1994. During that period, my country, Rwanda, was still on the journey to bring back peace and unity ruined during the Rwandan Genocide. Due to the security issues, my family went to DRC as refugees in July of 1994, where they stayed until November of 1996. When leaving Rwanda, my mother was pregnant with me. She had to walk from the Northern Province of Rwanda to DRC carrying a baby in her womb. The journey was extremely long, and due to political instability, was without means of public transportation.

I was born in February 1995, and I started facing health problems such as diarrhea and Pneumonia because of poor hygiene. Fortunately, I survived since we returned to Rwanda in November 1996. Upon returning to Rwanda, my parents had to start from scratch because they didn´t have a job and our assets had been damaged. They built their future like any other person who faces struggles and work persistently to overcome them.


When I was 5 years old, they took me to a primary school, where I would walk 6 km. I faced difficult moments as a young girl because I did not have enough school kits. My siblings and I had very tough and emotional lives during that season. Food was a valuable and precious thing for my family to have. I never believed that it would be possible for me to go for higher studies because of the lack of financial resources.  My father got a driving job and my mother dedicated herself in subsistence farming. That is how my parents started thriving slowly. Despite the struggles we had reestablishing our lives, I was academically strong and I was accepted to Gashora Girls Academy.  At Gashora I received educational support and indispensable opportunities.   I met incredible colleagues and teachers who encouraged me. I began believing that there is no limit to embrace my goals and strive for my future. My objective had always been pursuing agricultural studies to ensure that hunger and poverty were not found in my community. My region only practices farming for family consumption because of lack of sustainable skills on how to improve agricultural productivity and turn it into a big source of income. Furthermore, there are many young girls of my generation who didn´t get the opportunities to go for higher studies, and they ended up having unplanned pregnancies. However, there are some other youth who don´t want to get involved in agricultural activities because of ignorance and negative attitude towards farming.

Many youths believe that agriculture is meant for uneducated people because they grew up seeing uneducated farmers in the community. The main reason behind all these challenges is the history that Rwanda had in the past.

In 2015 I experienced a life changing opportunity when I was admitted to pursue Agriculture Sciences at EARTH University in Costa Rica where I received a scholarship from the Howard Buffett Foundation. I was the first girl to study outside of Rwanda in my community!

While at EARTH I began experiencing agriculture technical skills especially in soil science and I was strongly motivated by soil management techniques to increase productivity.   I had never seen these techniques being applied in my region. In 2018 I worked with Precision Agriculture Center (CAP) here in Costa Rica for six weeks learning new mapping technologies for soil precision management in order to optimize soil development and productivity. I also pursued an internship at Tuskegee University from August to December 2018, where I had an educative and bold experience conducting research from the Soil Chemistry Laboratory. I acquired scientific skills on carbon decomposition in soils and professional working ethics. In addition, I developed my enthusiasm towards Soil Sciences from the university professors, past and present. For example, I was inspired by the former president of Tuskegee University, an educator and author, Dr. Booker T. Washington, whose message says: “if you want to lift yourself up lift up someone else”. From that quote I learned that nothing is impossible in all aspects of life; only that we need to have self-esteem and encourage each other to move forward without leaving anyone behind. It does not matter how downtrodden we are; all we need is a positive attitude to achieve big accomplishments.

Because of this exposure, I started having many crucial viewpoints on upgrading my career in order to play a big role in transforming the economy of my region and people´s perspectives. I can firmly say that I have been on a positive journey towards progress because I am no longer a slave of poverty. I used to think before that poverty is equal to not having money, but now I define poverty as a status of not having hope and concrete ideas. I believe that my dream of being among agricultural scientists in Rwanda is yet to come, and once achieved I will do all it is required to contribute to the transformation of my village.


If youth would work hand in hand and creatively, our history would be turned marvelously because the future is US. It is our responsibility to foster positive changes that improve the standard of living for the people in Rwanda.
 

In summary, my struggle and success has made who I am today and the best is yet to come. My eyes are now facing the stars in pursuing a graduate degree in order to professionally prepare myself as an agent of change in soil science. Thus, I shouldn’t allow my past to define me but instead use my present to overcome the past in order to build an impactful future.
 

Positive attitude wins!

  • Agriculture
  • poverty