Sylvia and Josiane are finishing their S5 (junior) year this spring and recently were elected Head Girl and Deputy Head Girl at Gashora Girls Academy for the 2021-2022 school year. We are thrilled to share their thoughts about their new role, what quality education means to them, and how they have changed since their first days at Gashora Girls Academy.
Please introduce yourself.
Sylvia: My name is Sylvia Agatako, I take Mathematics, Physics and Computer Science.
Josiane: My name is Josiane Uwumukiza. I am currently finishing my junior year, studying Chemistry, Biology and Mathematics.
You both are celebrating campaign wins for student government. Tell us what roles you won and what your responsibilities will be?
Sylvia: I am privileged and delighted to have won the role of Head Girl at Gashora Girls Academy. My responsibilities are overseeing the activities in the school, and collaborating with my colleagues in charge of other departments to develop our community. I also advocate for students' requests. All in all, I bridge the administration and the student body.
Josiane: I won the position of Deputy Head Girl, serving as part of the student’s government. Some of the roles I will play are enhancing a cooperation between students and the administration for better decision making, as well as bringing creative ideas forward in order to make Gashora better, thus influencing young leaders filled with confidence and a love for learning.
What made you want to run for student government?
Sylvia: I ran for student government as I had a desire to give back to the community. I wanted to serve the school, running for the Head Girl role was the ultimate opportunity. I also had great support from my friends and family every step of the way, and they helped me believe in myself.
Josiane: One of the major reasons was the influence I got from a philosophy lecturer I met during Yale Young Global Scholars who taught me that not all choices in life are easy to make, sometimes we must make sacrifices.
What do you believe quality education is and why is it important?
Sylvia: I believe quality education is gaining knowledge and understanding. However, it is more than merely being an audience of the teacher, it is analyzing the content provided and sifting what is right and important, then moving on to look for more content to feed your mind. For the most part, it is putting to use what you have learned, to create solutions in the outside world.
Josiane: Quality education is one that educates the whole person for a transformed future and the betterment of the society. I believe we have different tastes and abilities and there are some essential skills one must have to succeed in this world and impact the community, for example, well-developed cognitive skills. We would be doing nothing if we only teach a child relativity in physics without telling her that it is why people have different viewpoints in life and this does not mean that they are wrong. One might be very bright, but quality education is responsible for her success.
How have you changed since coming to Gashora?
Sylvia: Honestly, a lot about me has changed over the past three years! Most importantly, I have learned to learn. To learn from every person in our Gashora community. I have learned that sometimes, even the smallest gestures are significant to other people depending on what they consider of importance. I have also learned that sometimes we speak and influence, but the loudest speech is walking the talk and taking initiative, knowing that no one else must do it but me. Lastly, but certainly not the least, I have learned to divide my attention to all the school activities, my academics, and still come back to my social life.
Josiane: “In Gashora, whether you want to or not you grow.” This statement was said by the former Head Girl when we were new students and I have witnessed it come true. Gashora is a place that made me realize that there was more to myself that I never knew about. It helped me view myself beyond my expectations, with shifting my thinking topics from I must get good grades, to what else can I do to plan for my future ahead? I have learned how to get out of my comfort zone.
Tell us about the clubs or sports you are involved in at Gashora? How have they helped form who you are?
Sylvia: I am involved in Poetry Lab; The first time I joined the club, I was unaware of my ability to compose or recite a poem! I was surprised that my colleagues trusted in my friend’s and I to represent the school in a poetry competition where we emerged third. Poetry lab helped instill in me confidence and helped me find my voice.
I am also a member of the basketball team. Basketball has taught me to value teamwork because without it, there is no way your team will play the game. Besides, even when you lose or win, you do it as a team. I have also learnt to persevere through the many practices and running rounds.
Third, I am involved in the Media Club, which is in charge of telling the Gashora stories, through blogs, pictures and videos. The club has taught me to be responsible and to be the voice of the Gashora girls. I have learnt to be creative and create aesthetic work.
Josiane: I am the head designer in Arts Revolutionary, head of the designing department in Kaza Fashion Agency, a member of Poetry Club, and president of the Music Club. All of these have taught me critical thinking and how to be innovative. They have helped me to improve my writing and speaking skills which aided me through the contesting process of being a Deputy Head Girl.
What will you miss most about Gashora after graduation?
Sylvia: What I will miss most about Gashora after graduation is how whenever there is an event, students dress up and show up for their sisters cheering them on. I will miss the sisterhood and supportive community of friends.
Josiane: I will miss the student-teachers bond: the football matches, basketball, and singing for birthday girls, among others.
What do you hope for the future?
Sylvia: I hope for success, happiness, health and prosperity for my family, friends, school and myself. I hope the future will be better than now.
What or who inspires/motivates you?
Josiane: I am inspired by my sister who was born in 1995 directly after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. She always tells me that no matter where you come from you can achieve something great. There is a quote that says, “how much knowledge you can get depends on your willingness to learn.” Whenever I feel pessimistic, I tell myself that there is no other way I will be open to the world of challenges except through accepting to learn new things.
What is one word that describes you?
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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.
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?
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.
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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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.