RGI Blog

International Women's Day

International Women's Day (IWD) celebrates the achievements of women around the world and intends to raise awareness for gender parity and equity. This year's campaign theme is Choose to Challenge -- a message that highlights today’s emphasis on both recognition and a continued commitment to empowering women. This day of celebration is also a call to action for the work we must continue to do to advance equity globally. We happily accept the challenge and hope that this moment inspires you and countless others to keep advocating and pushing for change. 
 
On this special day, I’m so proud to be able to celebrate one of our incredible board members, Larissa Kaze. Larissa is committed to supporting women, especially Black women, in their pursuit of STEM related careers.  I hope you are as inspired by her words as I am. I also hope today you are inspired to take a moment to acknowledge and celebrate the amazing women in your own life.

With gratitude, 


Welcome Larissa.  Would you please introduce yourself and tell us a bit about yourself? 

I was born and raised in Burundi and my family moved to Rwanda in 1994 after the genocide against the Tutsi. Upon completion of my high school studies in Kigali, shout out to A.P.E. Rugunga, I moved to the US and attended Michigan Technological University (MTU) where I majored in Mathematics. I was hired at Boeing after college, where I have now worked for the past 16 years. I have held multiple positions and currently serve as a finance manager in the commercial airplanes division. I am passionate about youth education, especially for girls. Being involved with Rwanda Girls Initiative from early on and seeing the impact of Gashora Girls Academy has been fulfilling on many levels.
 
International Women’s Day (IWD) is a global event celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.  What does this day mean to you?   

To me, IWD provides an opportunity to have positive discussions regarding the importance of gender balance and to celebrate the extraordinary acts of courage and determination by ordinary women. It is unfortunate that no country in the world has achieved gender equality in the 21st century.  It is important to reflect on how far we have come, but also think about the long road ahead. On this day, I pay tribute to the women in my life that mean or meant everything to me such as my mother, my grandmother, my daughter, my mentors, and great girlfriends.
 
You mentioned that in Rwanda IWD is a big deal, how does Rwanda celebrates this day?   

In all corners of Rwanda, on March 8th, people appreciate the women in their lives and celebrate their achievements. Women are reminded that they are wonderful and an important asset to the development of the country. There are many events to celebrate and empower women in different sectors of the country and everyone is encouraged to work together to promote gender equality.
 
Why do you believe we need more women in leadership, especially in STEM fields? 

Women are at least 40% of the workforce in most parts of the world, but a much lower ratio in leadership levels. We need women's perspectives to solve our greatest challenges in STEM. I will even go further and say we need more black women in STEM fields. As an example, imagine taking your kid to see a doctor for a skin rash and a particular diagnosis would show a red rash.  On a black child, you cannot identify a red rash, which could lead to misdiagnosis. The more we have diverse representation in the medical field, the more medical professionals will be able to identify what diseases look like on different skin colors. There are many similar examples for women too. If only men are able conduct research, women would be left out of scientific studies especially on challenges that are gender-specific. Furthermore, there is a demonstrated correlation between gender diversity and financial returns. Businesses are more profitable when they have more women in leadership.
 
How can we mentor young girls to dream bigger?

Many girls struggle to believe in themselves and mentors can help bring out the shining star in them. A young girl might not know many female CEOs, doctors or scientists but a mentor will help her see and realize that it is a possibility for her. I think the best way to mentor girls is to create a trusting relationship where a girl can be open and honest. Keep encouraging their ambitions and offering feedback, teaching and guidance.
 
What advice would you give women struggling in a male-dominated industry? 

Be courageous and trust your skills. If you can identify what's unique in your background, use those skills to advance your career. Practice being assertive, know what you are saying and say it with strength. Also, try to find a good mentor who will promote you within your organization, someone who will have your back, who will tell even the most senior leaders how great you are and how much you deserve to be recognized.
 
You have been instrumental in helping to secure internships for some of our Gashora Girls Academy alumnae through the years.  What has that meant to you? 

I see myself in every Gashora girl so it is natural for me to assist them in getting internships. As a college student, I had 3 internships and they helped me build confidence as well as a competitive advantage as I pursued permanent positions. I encourage every Gashora alum, wherever they might be, to look for an internship every summer.  Reach out to the career counselors at your school, attend career fairs at school or in your area, become members of organizations especially the ones for minorities for example NSBE for Engineers. Network, network, network.
 
What do you think helped you get where you are today? What progress have you seen on gender equality in your life and work?

I am where I am today because of hard work and taking advantage of available opportunities.
When I was at MTU, I applied online for a summer internship at Boeing and was asked to come interview in Seattle. When I got here, it happened to be a sunny February day. I loved the city and promised myself that I would live here one day. I was offered a full time position after my internship and moved to Seattle not knowing anyone there. Once there, I met other young African professionals working at other companies. We were in the same shoes and we created a phenomenal support system, almost like a family that we have kept up to this day. Later in my career I realized that in addition to being technical, I also like people and enjoy learning from them and finding ways to help them achieve their potential. That’s how I established a goal to get into management. Hard work, supportive mentors and my network helped me get there.

 
You are a working mom.  What is one piece of advice to all women who are juggling between home and work?

What I consider a good harmony between being a mom and career keeps changing as my daughter grows and my job responsibilities shift. The one piece of advice I would give to women is to learn how to organize their time and manage tasks. With the Covid-19 pandemic, being organized is important as we have been working from home and have school from home too. First, let me say that I am grateful to have a job that allows me to work from home. I keep up a visible calendar with daily tasks and try to avoid hectic mornings by preparing things in the evenings. Still, it is hard at times to be fully productive at work with all the distractions that come with being a parent. I’ve tried to be transparent with my team, so they can understand my working from home reality, and I also listen to theirs. On weekends and vacations, I turn off laptops and work cell phones to be present for my family and for self-care too.
 
What advice would you give your 20-year-old self?

  1. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Let go of worrying about your weaknesses and strengthen your strengths.
  2. It’s okay to make mistakes. Learn and move on.
  3. Start saving for retirement now.

CELEBRATE the women in your life with a one time gift!

To celebrate International Women's Day a give a gift in honor of your loved one! We will email them a special note letting them know about your gift in their honor and the impact it has on girls' education.

HONOR A WOMEN HERE

  • IWD
  • IWD2021
  • Womens Day
Alumna on the front lines of COVID-19

We have all seen the sacrifice that frontline health workers around the world have so willingly given.  Individuals have demonstrated courage, compassion, stamina and selflessness.  We are thrilled to introduce you to Dr. Mutoni, a 2013 GGAST alumna, who  immediately joined the frontlines to support the COVID-19 pandemic.   We thank her and all like her who continue to serve the community.  


Tell us about yourself.

I am Dr. Mutoni Clemence and I was part of the pioneer class, graduating in 2013. While I was in high school, I studied Physics, Chemistry and Biology (PCB) with the aspirations to become a medical doctor…. and luckily my dream came true.
 
You went to University of Rwanda to study medicine.  What specifically did you study and when did you graduate?  
 
I attended the University of Rwanda College of Medicine & Health Sciences.  At first, I pursued a pharmacy specialty. However, I realized quickly that I was not passionate about pharmacy at all. Due to my strong test scores my first year, I was able to apply to switch my major to general medicine.  My application was accepted, so I made the switch!  I graduated from the University of Rwanda as a general physician in November of 2019. 
 
What were your biggest obstacles in medical school? 
 
I met many obstacles in medical school.  The workload the first two years was more than I expected. Although we had a lot to learn in a short amount of time including human anatomy, physiology, pathophysiology, pharmacology, and microbiology. I managed by joining different discussion groups and taking advantage of support systems.
 
Even though I desired to be a medical doctor, I struggled with missing my family and at times felt burnt out. I overcame it by taking care of myself, exercising, eating well, laughing, loving, or calling over friends.  It helped that everyone at school was going through the same emotions. It made me push myself harder.
 
What surprised you about school? 
 
Among the things that surprised me were the lack of other women.  Having gone to an all-girls high school and lower secondary school, I was not used to having men in the classroom, not to mention having them as the majority.  When I first arrived, I was scared and felt I did not belong. 
 
Tell us about your clinical internship at Rwanda Ministry of Health? 
 
In medical school, we had several rotations in different departments and at different teaching schools around the country. Internships starts when you reach your third year. We rotate in every hospital department but spend much time in pediatric, internal medicine, gynecology and obstetrics, and surgery. The rotations taught me to become more independent, adapt quickly, and I also learned how to work professionally.
 
You were a working at Rwanda Biomedical Center during the summer of 2020 in the midst of a global pandemic.  What was that like? 
 
The numbers of COVID-19 surged when I was a fresh graduate from medical school. My first thought was the need and necessity for medical professionals to step in as frontline workers.  As a healthy adult, I took COVID-19 as an opportunity to intervene and give back to my country and family at large.  I was able to begin volunteering in a quarantine center where I worked as a data manager and medical doctor. I had to distance myself from my family and from the people I love because of the fear of transmitting the virus to them. During the pandemic, I have realized that medical job is not just a job….it is so much more.  
 
You are currently working at Kabgayi District Hospital. Tell us about your job.
 
The Kabgayi District hospital is in the southern province, an hour from the capital of Kigali. I am currently working an intern doctor and I work with clients in all departments. In August of 2021, I will be deployed to another hospital. 
 
Where do you see your career going in the next 5 years?
 
I do not know well what my tomorrow holds but I wish to further my studies in public health, urology, or pediatrics.
 
 What were some of your favorite memories of Gashora?
 
Gashora was and will always the best place to me. Gashora shaped me to become a confident, responsible woman. I am so proud to be part of the Gashora community. Among the best memories was our weekly counselling each Wednesdays with our mentor. Everyone had a mentor who would monitor your academic progress and social life. Additionally, I will also always remember the Friday night dancing.

 What advice would you give to your Gashora sisters who are coming behind you? 
 
I would tell them that university life is great and challenging. We may have many great ambitions and aspirations, but life is full of unpredictability. Your career may be affected by various events such as financial or health issues, however, always be prepared when an opportunity knocks to grab it. Most importantly, celebrate your own success and be yourself.


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A monthly gift of $20 provides 3 meals a day. 
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  • COVID-19
  • Medical school
Harvard Graduate Angela: A Passion for Economic Development

 

This last year has been full of unexpected challenges, but through all the unforeseen circumstances, the Gashora Girls Academy (GGA) alumnae remained steadfast, filled with hope and continued to pursue their ambitions.  

We are thrilled to introduce you to Angela, a 2015 GGAST alumna, and 2020 Harvard graduate.  She took time out of her busy schedule to share with you her experience at Gashora, her transition to studying in the United States, and her experience graduating and beginning a career during COVID-19.  

__________________________________________________

Tell us about yourself.

My name is Angela Uwase Rangira and I graduated from Gashora Girls Academy in 2015. While at Gashora I majored in Math, Physics, and Geography because I wanted to have a good mix of the sciences and humanities. While there I was unsure what I wanted to do after graduation other than attend a good university where I could meet people from different backgrounds and explore my academic interests without feeling limited to one field. 

Where were you when you found you were accepted to Harvard?!

When I found out I was accepted to Harvard, I was attending the annual iDebate camp. It was the morning of December 11, 2015 and I was preparing for my first class when a friend texted me that she had seen people posting on social media about their admissions. I was not overly optimistic; however, I am not the type to postpone bad news. I asked my cousin who was also attending the camp if I could use her phone to check my email and --- boom, in big bold letters the word CONGRATULATIONS! I could not believe it!  I refreshed the portal like five times to make sure there wasn’t a glitch in the system or something. I told some of my closest friends who were also at the debate to make sure I was not dreaming. It was their excitement that solidified this new reality and I immediately called my mum and dad to let them know. It was, expectedly, one of the best moments of my life. 

Angela with fellow 2013 Gashora Alumna, Yvonne, also a Harvard graduate. 

How was your transition to the US?  What were your biggest challenges the first few months to a year?

Our college counselor did a great job preparing us for the realities of American college life, at least as much as anyone can prepare you for life away from everything you have ever known. I took comfort in the fact that another Gashora alumna, and great friend, was already in attendance. When I arrived, I already had a small community of Rwandans that I could rely on when I needed to.

The other nice thing about the first few weeks of college is that everyone is excited to meet new people, so it is rare to end up having meals or sitting in class by yourself. I was lucky because some of the first friends I made in pre-orientation went on to become my best friends in college and that support system is what got me through the harder days.

In terms of challenges, I had to work on my time management to balance the different responsibilities. At Gashora, our schedule was set for us and there was little variation from day to day. In college, I had to figure out how to balance everything by myself and it was initially overwhelming given all the choices that were suddenly available to me. The other challenge, and the worst part of college in Massachusetts, was dealing with the winter. I do not think anything could have possibly prepared me for the excruciatingly chilling cold and depression that comes during long Boston winters.

You recently graduated from Harvard with a degree in Economics.  What interested you about this major?  What do you enjoy about this degree and how do you hope to use it?

I have always been interested in international development issues because of the various extracurriculars I was involved in at Gashora. As a debate student, I participated in a lot policy debates, and a lot of my extracurricular activities involved engaging with the surrounding community which challenged me to think about systemic issues that perpetuate cycles of poverty. I chose to concentrate on economics in college as I felt I lacked the tools with which to think about these issues and their solutions. Most of my interests have evolved over time but my hope is that I can use my knowledge to create economically sound and data driven solutions to address some of these issues.

 

You worked for Raise Uganda Now (RUN) for two years while at Harvard.  What was your role and what did you accomplish while there? 

I joined RUN because I wanted to be part of a nonprofit that was working directly on issues affecting Africans. I was tasked with figuring out how the nonprofit could use its donor funds to create new opportunities that would generate more income for an orphanage in rural Uganda. I had to research, document, and synthesize data on the community needs which the organization could address using a feasible, sustainable, and more importantly, profitable venture with the funds being used to finance other operations. I drafted a report including recommendations for the team to explore three different ventures. The last time I checked, two of the ventures have already been implemented.

You were able to have a couple different summer internships while at Harvard, one with the University of Global Health Equity (UGHE) and one with the National Bank of Rwanda (BNR).  Tell us about what you were responsible for and what you learned?

Both of my internship opportunities were Harvard funded research internships. At UGHE, I performed health finance research with a focus on community healthcare development along with another student from Columbia University who was also interning there. I learned a lot about field research, health policy, and the Rwandan healthcare system.

At BNR, I was a monetary policy and research intern and most of the work I did was on understanding the bank’s transition from one monetary policy framework to another. It was particularly challenging because I had less exposure to monetary economics and most of the work the central bank does requires a complex understanding of monetary economics. I learned a lot by the end of my internship, but I also realized that I did not want a career in academia. I had fantasized about living a life in the pursuit of answers to the most complex of problems, but I realized I did not want to keep asking questions. I wanted to be part of the teams that are implementing these solutions in the real world. 

Looking back at your years at Gashora Girls Academy, how do you feel it prepared you for college and beyond?

The emphasis Gashora Girls Academy puts on a holistic experience that goes beyond the classroom provided great preparation for me.  The values of acceptance, integrity, and resourcefulness that I learned at Gashora significantly shaped my college experience. That said, the best thing that Gashora gave me was the community of effervescent, exceedingly resilient, and equally ambitious women who became the best support system anyone could have asked for.

What are some of your favorite memories of your time at Gashora?

There are too many. I mean, it was easily the best (combined) three years of my life. I miss the late-night conversations, the public speaking competitions, the talent shows, and the Friday movie nights. Students at Gashora were just the right amount of intelligent & fun, and they all had such warm personalities that are so rare to find.

You graduated during COVID-19.  How did that impact your graduation experience? 

Angela, in white, with fellow 2020 graduates. 

Graduation was a crazy time for everyone. I do not know if I will ever get over the fact that I did not get to wear a gown and walk “down the aisle” to receive my degree. I was also scared because I had recently decided I did not want to work in international development and trying to find a new career path in a pandemic seemed impossible. However, I am thankful for good health and that my family and friends were able to stay safe. With all the free time, I reflected a lot about how far I had come and what I wanted the next phase of my life to look like. I ended up taking a couple online classes to learn things that I had not had the opportunity to learn. Additionally, I had the great opportunity to network with several Harvard Alums who had a desire to assist new graduates with job sourcing.

You have started a new job!  Tell us about it!

I am working as an Associate Analyst for HubSpot, a SaaS company headquartered in Cambridge that sells marketing, customer service, CRM, and sales software.  My job is part of a one-year rotation program that will allow me to explore how HubSpot uses data to improve its platforms as part of the product operations team and later the finance team. After the rotation program, I will join either of those teams as a Product Analyst depending on which experience aligns with my interests the most.

Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?

Ideally, I will have my own company that is enabling market-driven economic development in Rwanda and across Africa or I will be working for a company doing that in a position where I can influence the direction of said company. I plan to use the next few years to figure out “what kind of company and how” before going to grad school and beginning to work on a more concrete plan.

  • Economics
  • Harvard
  • Internship
From Korea to China....An Alumnae Interview

Meet Claudine! 

With a degree in International Studies from Yonsei University in South Korea she is now pursuing her masters in China!  Her ultimate goal.....to use her understanding of East Asian counties to help form strong partnerships between Rwanda and East Asia. 

________________________________________________________________

Please introduce yourself.  

My name is Claudine Ukubereyimfura and I am from Huye district in the Southern Province of Rwanda and I graduated from Gashora Girls Academy in September of 2015 with a strong interest in politics and Korean culture. My goal was to study in Korea and I was lucky to be admitted to Yonsei University. In 2016 I left for South Korea excited to start my new life in a country I considered to be my second home, even though I had never been there before.  In February 2020,  I graduated with a major in International Studies.

 

You studied in Yonsei University in South Korea for your undergraduate studies.  What did you study and what interested you in this major? 

At Yonsei University, I attended Underwood International College (UIC) which is a unique college with an all-English program, bringing together Korean students and International students from all over the world. Majoring in International Studies I took classes in politics, international relations, economics, and history. I found most of my classes very interesting mainly because most of my professors were experts in areas of Korean politics and China-Korea-US relations. My professors offered me a Korean perspective to world politics, which is something I guess I could only get form Korea!  I was really able to explore my interest in Korean domestic politics and East Asian international relations.  Along the way I also developed interest in China.

 

Thinking back to your first months in South Korea, what were your biggest challenges and how did you overcome them? 

My biggest challenge during my first months in South Korea was not being able to speak Korean. Although at UIC all classes are in English, speaking Korean was critical for daily living. Thankfully, during my first year, one of my Gashora sisters, Lisa, was there. Lisa had taken one year to learn Korean and she helped me a lot especially during my first months in Korea. My lack of Korean skills and my cultural barriers didn’t really seem to prevent me from having a good time in my first year. I think my naivety, open mind, and enthusiasm really helped me engage more with Korean culture, make many Korean friends and try many new things.

 

What were some of your highlights living in South Korea?

Honestly, there are so many highlights, I am not sure where to start from! Some of my best memories in Korea include attending Yonsei University AKARAKA festival which is a festival in which many different K-pop celebrities are invited to perform for Yonsei University. There were both Korean and international students singing and dancing together, shouting the Yonsei slogan in unity with a shared passion. It was such a happy moment and definitely one of the best memories I have had in my life!

During my 4 years in Korea I have had many opportunities to visit different places outside Seoul, try many different Korean dishes, and participate in multiple festivals. I even visited a friend of mine and joined her family to make Kimchi in winter which was so much fun!

 

Living abroad can be an incredible experience, how do you think it has impacted who you have become and how you see the world?

For me studying abroad has been a very meaningful experience that shaped me as a person. Studying in Korea strengthen my passion for East Asian International Relations, gave me opportunities to interact with people from different countries and helped me become an independent person. Living in Korea for 4 years taught me that cultural barriers are real, but that they can also be overcome as long as you have a genuine desire to understand others. And by learning about other people’s cultures, you open doors for yourself to a new world and new ways of thinking and understanding the world we live in.

 

You graduated and went back to Rwanda in the midst of a pandemic.  How has Covid-19 impacted you? 

I graduated in February of 2020 and was unable to have a ceremony, but we were able to borrow graduation gowns and on the graduation day, my friends came to congratulate me and take pictures with me. I left Korea in the last week of February, right after my graduation as cases were increasing rapidly. When I arrived in Rwanda there had not been a positive case, but after two weeks home, schools were closed, and Rwanda entered into complete lockdown. This meant that I couldn’t find an internship or volunteer opportunities which was my plan after my graduation.  Instead, I decided to start teaching myself Chinese and learning Chinese history through podcasts since I would hopefully be leaving for China in September to pursue a master’s degree. This was a fun experience because I started to enjoy learning Chinese.

 

You are now in Graduate School pursuing your masters at Yenching Academy of Peking University in China!  Congratulations!  What are you studying and has COVID impacted your plans?

I am pursuing a master’s program in China Studies and my concentration is Politics and International Relations, however, because of COVID-19, I was unable to go to China and have been taking my master classes online. It was really hard for me at first to come to terms with the fact that I was not going to be able to go China. I felt like my learning experience was not going to be the same and that I won’t be able to make friends.

As expected, it has not been easy! Due to time difference, I now have 3:00 am and 4:00 am classes!  But, overall, I have been enjoying my Yenching experience and I have been able to make friends and even participate in extra-curricular activities online. The whole Yenching community has been very optimistic which is encouraging and helps most of us stay motivated. I am still hoping that I will be able to leave for China in early 2021, because it is important to learn about China when you are in China, and I am also excited to meet my friends and classmates in person.

 

What do you hope to do with this degree?

As I mentioned earlier, during my undergraduate, as I studied more about Korea, I naturally became interested in China as well because both countries share history and both countries relations are important for East Asia region’s stability. By pursuing a master’s program in China, I am hoping to get a better understanding of East Asian international relations from a Chinese perspective. After Yenching, I am thinking about pursuing a PHD in either East Asia regional studies or Korean Studies but my ultimate goal is to use my understanding of East Asian countries to help form strong partnerships between Rwanda and East Asian countries. I also believe that there is a lot we as Rwandans can learn from countries like Korea and China in terms of economic and social development.

 

What advice would you give to your fellow Gashora Girls Academy sisters graduating from GGAST in the Spring?

One thing that I would like to tell to Gashora girls graduating next year is that it is fine not have all the answers to the questions of who you want to become or how are you going to help change the world. Of course, if you already have those answers that is great, and I am super proud of you! But if you don’t, that is also ok. But make sure to use your time in college to figure out what you really love and what you are passionate about. As George Wilhelm Friedrich said, “Nothing great in the world has ever been accomplished without passion”. So, I wish you all to find that one thing that you love and then use that love and your passion to accomplish great things!

 

What are your hopes for your future?  Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?

This is a hard question especially this year now that I have seen how many things can suddenly change in a very short time. But my hope for the future is to continue doing what I like and to share my passion and interests with others. I love East Asia and I am very interested in East Asia and I hope that in the future I can become someone who can bring East Asian countries and Rwanda closer together be it culturally, politically, or academically. I hope I can be someone who will foster understanding between Rwanda and East Asia. Right now, I am not yet certain how exactly I want to do that but everything I do now and plan to do in the future one way or another will be geared towards that goal.

  • Asian Studies
  • China
  • International Relations
  • Masters
  • South Korea
An Alumnae Conversation: Farming, Giving Back, and Providing Hope

 

The vision for the Gashora farm was threefold; nourish our students with healthy food, serve as an outdoor classroom for our students to learn about agriculture, connect; serve and support the surrounding community by sharing best practices in farming. Today our 42 acre farm is growing an incredible variety of food for our school and we aspire to be self-sufficient- growing everything that we are eating at school. Students are not only engaged with the operation of the farm but our agricultural focused curriculum offers them a chance to learn about new and innovative farming practices. Our students and farm staff work with the farmers from the surrounding community to help them improve their practices to create more yields. In addition to farming, the farm has also been an incubator for student businesses, including the well-known Gashora Gold Peanut Butter.

After schools around the country were closed in March due to COVID-19, the farm pivoted quickly from feeding students and teachers to serving the community of Bugesera. School leaders worked with the community leadership to identify the most vulnerable in the community that would benefit from the support from the Gashora Farm.

We are also incredibly proud to have two of our GGAST Alumnae returning to school as staff members and helping with the oversight and management of the farm. Below, Olive and Gloria, share some of their reflections about their experience working at Gashora and the challenges they are facing during this global pandemic.


First, can you both introduce yourselves?

Olive:  My name is Olive Niyizigihe. I am from the Northern Province of Rwanda, Musanze District and graduated from GGAST in 2013. In 2014 I attended the University of Rwanda College of Agriculture, Animal Science, and Veterinary Medicine, where I received my bachelors’ degree in crop production.

Gloria: My name is Gloria Uwizeyimana, I was born and raised in Mayange, Bugesera. I graduated from Gashora Girls Academy in 2014.  I attended Earth University in Costa Rica, a five-year program where I studied Agricultural Sciences and graduated in 2019.

How long have you worked at GGAST and what are your responsibilities?

Olive:  I joined the GGAST staff in February 2019. My responsibilities include managing the school Value Added Center (VAC), where our Gashora Gold Peanut Butter is produced.  I also collaborate with the farm team in order to achieve specific goals and reach the mission for the Gashora farm to provide our school with healthy food.

Gloria: Having graduated in December of 2019, I began working at GGAST in February.  I have the opportunity to help fill the gaps on the farm and work in all key areas providing suggestions to improve farm performance.  I am also coordinating our collaboration with the Rwanda Institute for Conservation Agriculture (RICA).  RICA is a school that combines research, education and extension services to train Rwanda’s next generation of leaders in agriculture. This is an exciting new partnership that I am excited to help coordinate.

You are a GGAST alumnae! How does it feel being back at school in a staff role?

Olive:  Honestly, I cannot find a word to articulate the feeling I had the moment I heard that I was hired. I was extremely excited to join the GGAST staff. I have GGAST in my heart and I have no doubt that this is where my foundation for life began. I believe in giving back to the community and am excited my career is beginning at GGAST. I love working here so much because I dedicate my strengths, skills, and knowledge for the betterment of the school and the future generations.

Gloria:  It feels like a child who makes her way back home, even though a lot has changed since the last time I was here. There are few faces that are familiar, even our Head of School is new. So, it is so different but still feels like home. I haven’t felt like a part of the staff yet but it is a work in progress.  I now have responsibilities to meet, and realize that every decision I make can create a difference!

School closed on March 20th. How have things changed you during this shutdown?

Olive:  It is true that this was a very difficult time for everyone around the globe in their respective careers. In every situation, for good or bad, one learns from it.  In regards to my career and my responsibilities here at GGAST, I have learned a very important lesson; to always to have a well-equipped stock as it has helped our activities kept going. I also decided to have the VAC team join the farm during this time as many of our casual farm laborers are unavailable. 

Gloria: Before the school closed, I worked with both students and the farm staff, but today I work just with the farm staff, which means I now see more gaps to fill than before. On the other hand, I am very much comfortable staying at school and working on the farm while also using this time to work on my personal development.

Gathering the food for the handout. The farm is now providing food for approximately 300 people/week (95% of the recipients are nursing mothers).

With the school closure, you have shifted to serving the community with produce boxes for 50 families/approximately 300 people in Bugesera. Can you tell us how this came about and what that has been like?

Olive:  It has always been one of the school values to help the community. Even when school is in session our students volunteer their time and talent to tutor the students from other local schools.  In keeping with this culture, we were able to support approximately 300 people, in 3 rounds, with food who were severely impacted by COVID-19. Our Head of School worked with the local government to help identify the families that had greatest need.  It had been a very good experience because to put a smile on peoples faces. We have been able to supply food including beans, tomatoes, fresh bananas, cabbage, yellow bananas, butter nuts, Carrots, dry maize, fresh corns, red onions, papayas, watermelon, amaranth.

Gloria:  It has impacted many and was a huge need considering how tough these times have been to all people around the world. The families have been so grateful for the food received.                    I cannot deny the sight of joy in their faces every time they stand in a line to receive the package.      I have been at the front of the line serving during the three rounds of our distribution.                        We are doing what we were meant to do as a community.

What are some challenges you face on the farm right now?

Olive: The farm is facing a challenge of the irrigation system due to severe flooding in the northern part of Rwanda. This has caused water to be pushed from Akagera River and to fill Mirayi Lake (the lake near the school) which has now flooded.  This has made it difficult for the water pump, used for our irrigation, to function. As a result, we are doing our best to water the crops manually by fetching water from the lake to pour on the crops. We also have less clients than usual and we had to reduce our sale price, which will decrease our intended benefits.

Gloria:  This pandemic has brought its many disadvantages. In addition to the flooding that Olive mentioned, the farm doesn’t have enough suitable appliances and tools to be used in specific activities like pruning and the application of agro-chemicals. For example: Pruning saws, power pruners and a tree pruner. At least one power pruner can do all the work. Our orchard has been badly affected by the brutality of an insect, and the pruning tool is of the upmost importance to revive the orchard. 

Where would you like to see the farm 5 years from now?

Olive: I would like to see the farm sustaining most of the school kitchen so we did not need external suppliers. I would like to see the VAC Market increased and be able to be a supplier of products outside the country. I would like our school farm to continue to grow as a model farm whereby others farmers and community members interested in agriculture would come to GGAST to learn from us.

Gloria: I would like to see the farm more sustainable, advanced in technology and data collection. I would like to see the farm fulfill its main goal to supply all necessary fresh foods to the school, Gashora community and the market in a profitable manner. I would like to see the farm implementing regeneration agricultural practices whereby environmental protection and soil rehabilitation measures become a priority.

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