RGI Blog

Alumnae Profile:  A Passion for Agriculture

My name is Vanessa Giramata, I am a junior at Washington State University, studying Agricultural Economics. Growing up, my dad worked for an international company that worked with local farmers of rice.  This was my first introduction to agriculture.  I, like most people, especially back home, once believed that agriculture simply meant cultivating and harvesting crops for food. But through my dad, and his work, I learned it was much more than that.  My curiosity grew as I wanted to know how our agriculture sector works.

In high school, I was blessed to attend Gashora Girls Academy of Science and Technology (GGAST), where education was different than the norm in Rwanda. I was encouraged to think, to analyze, to dream big, and to be creative. It was at GGAST where I decided what I wanted to pursue in college, economics and agriculture.  I really enjoyed these two subjects because I had always wanted to have the opportunity to contribute to the development of my country, and the because of my family, the agriculture industry was one that had always been on my mind.

I was honored to receive an agricultural scholarship to Washington State University through the Howard G Buffett Foundation.   It is a privilege to have received this scholarship and I am thankful for my time at WSU which has provided me different opportunities to grow in my leadership skills and find my passion within the field.  The classes and opportunities I have been given at Washington State University has taught me the vastness of what the industry has to offer, it has allowed me to think at a much deeper level about how I want to contribute to the industry and my country.

 

The agriculture industry is much broader than I originally realized; it needs engineers, economists, analysts, and so much more.

One amazing opportunity that broadened my mind of how in-depth this agricultural industry is, was the chance to attend the Agriculture Future of America Leaders’(AFA) conference. AFA is an organization that works on providing personal and professional development programs to college students and young professionals in agriculture. The program bridges the gap between academic, leadership and work experiences while helping students understand the impact of their decisions. Students are given the opportunity to network with peers and leaders in the agriculture industry as well as increase their excitement about the future of agriculture.

While at the conference I attended different seminars and workshops where I was exposed to different sides of the agriculture industry. During the conference, we talked about current and future problems that the industry faces. A classic example is the population rising at a higher rate than available food to feed them. It sounds very simple to solve…..just grow more food. However, there is limited land to grow on.  In order to solve this problem, we must maximize the productivity of the land, but we also need to provide safe and healthy food.  This healthy food also must be affordable…... and it has to make a profit.  With all the additional costs the government might need to subsidize the farmers in order for them to stay in business. This could create, in turn, a government tax increase. This ripple effect goes on and on.  As you can see, the issue requires more than one industry to partner with in to find an efficient solution.

Perhaps the thing I treasure the most out of this conference is these wise idea exchanges I had with other students that attended. I have begun to identify the role I want to play in order to contribute to my country.  After graduating with a degree in Agricultural Economics, I plan on attending graduate school for a degree in public policy. I desire to work in policy analysis, to serve my country and to help develop policies that can be implemented to help Rwanda with a sustainable agricultural future that leads to food security.   My generation is the next generation in service, and we need to be more driven and devoted to lead our world, to make it better. I believe a new and better change will begin as we work on one problem, one industry, and one country at a time. I will start with policies in the agriculture industry in Rwanda.

Where will you start?

  • AFA
  • Agriculture
  • agriculture education
  • Agriculture Future of America Leaders
  • Food Security
  • Washington State University
  • WSU
Trust the Process

INSPIRATION TO INSPIRE THANKFULNESS:

TRUST THE PROCESS

This Thanksgiving weekend we are thankful for all of our friends, partners, supporters, teachers and alumnae.  Many of whom came together on November 2, 2018 at the Four Seasons to celebrate, The Power of Courage.  It was an inspirational evening where guests heard from a variety of Gashora Girls Academy of Science and Technology (GGAST) alumnae and a current GGASAT student.  One of these amazing young women was Darina, a sophomore at Princeton University, and GGAST 2015 graduate.  We want to take this opportunity to share with you her inspirational words!  We hope you are inspired by her story and join with us in giving thanks for all of those fighting for gender parity around the world!

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My name is Darina Kamikazi, and all my life I have had great luck. I’ve been lucky enough to grow up in a loving family, with my mom and my siblings.  We were not wealthy, but my mom always found a way to make ends meet and, even though I attended an under-resourced middle school with a fairly bad reputation, I was lucky enough to get good grades. The problem with being lucky, however, is that, usually, luck does not fit into the development narrative. I have come to find, through the classes I took and from personal experience, that the question that guides the development projects in any community is “ what do they lack and how can we help?” It does not necessarily come from a place of pride, but it does usually mean that help is given on the basis of weakness.

Girls’ education in Sub-Saharan Africa is a big issue.  The global narrative is that girls do not receive the same access to education as their brothers. Instead of being educated, they stay at home and perform housework, which leads to a series of inequalities and consequences. There are many development projects created to help solve this issue, Gashora Girls Academy of Science and Technology (GGAST) is one of them.  GGAST was created to empower girls to pursue their goals beyond the limits their societies had set for them, and to reach their highest potential.

However, what is so different about Gashora  is that the school focus is on strengths instead of weaknesses. The question they ask is not, “what do you lack and how can we give it to you”, but “what do you have and how can we help you use it to get what you lack”. That shift in focus is important because I was not the poorest, and I was not in any immediate physical danger, but I was smart, and that’s how I was accepted into Gashora.

It was not easy at first. Our headmaster did not believe that the grades were really mine, because my middle school had a reputation of forging reports. It took a lot of convincing by my mom and a neighbor of mine, for a chance to attend. In fact, in my final year of high school, that same headmaster confessed that it was out of luck that I was accepted to GGAST (quite an unusual graduation present). He  told me that, at that time, he was skeptical but decided to trust my mother and my neighbor.  I worked hard and did well in my 3 years at Gashora; I won public speaking competitions, I was a debate and public speech coach, and I graduated with the 3rd highest grade in my class!   Fast forward to my last months in Gashora, when I was trying to figure out where to apply to college.

My university counselor, Mr. John, was convinced I was a good fit for Princeton University.  I decided to trust him and give it a chance. I did my research and applied.

The problem with focusing on weaknesses is that people’s level of vulnerability is unstable and can vary from time to time, but focusing on strengths, only helps support them. My mother had been sick throughout my last year of  high school, and she passed away on December 18, 2016, exactly 3 days after I was admitted with early admission into Princeton. Her passing made my siblings and I more vulnerable than we had ever been, to the point where we needed all the help we could get. But, because Gashora had invested in my strengths for 3 years prior to that period, even when my situation was bad, I still had hope that it could change for the better.

I am now in my second year of college, and I love it there. I have been taking classes that range from quantum reasoning to social psychology and I loved them all (well…almost). I found a Christian community that I belong to and that I am heavily invested in, and I found out I am really good at dealing with stress and work well even under pressure (which is another way of saying that I procrastinate a lot). I am glad I trusted Mr. John.

Perhaps it was the same thing with the Princeton admission officers. Perhaps they had doubts about my abilities to excel at Princeton. Worst case scenario, let’s even say that, perhaps, they admitted me out of luck. To me, it does not matter, because I am making sure that, by the time I graduate, they’ll be glad they trusted me.

The truth is, trust takes courage. It takes courage to invest in strengths instead of weaknesses, and even more courage to invest in strengths in spite of  the weaknesses. But without the collective efforts and courage of my mother, my neighbor, my former headmaster, Mr. John, the admission officers at Princeton, and every one who supports Rwanda Girls Initiative, I would not be studying at Princeton now.  No one knows what the future holds, but if there is any advice I could give every one in this room, including myself, it is this: choose courage, and trust the process. Thank you

  • courage
  • Princeton
  • Strength
International Day of the Girl

Gender inequalities in homes and communities every day, hinder girls from reaching their full potential.  On International Day of the Girl, we stand with the world community in recognizing the need to accelerate progress and opportunities for girls around the world.

Of the 1 billion young people, including 600 million adolescent girls, who will enter the workforce in the next 10 years, more than 90% of those living in developing countries will work in the informal sector, where low or no pay, abuse and exploitation are common.  

The mission of Rwanda Girls Initiative (RGI) is to educate and empower girls of Rwanda to reach their highest potential.  This is made possible by our many donors and partners who provide scholarships to 98% of our students. As a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) school, our unwavering commitment to excellence and innovation has nurtured students to become leaders in the country in academic and entrepreneurial achievements that will help transform the nation, and continent by developing the next generation of scientists, social entrepreneurs, advocates and thought leaders who will bring new insights and solutions to the biggest global challenges we face.

On International Day of the Girl we are thrilled to share an essay by Gashora Girls Academy Alumna, Rusa Divine, and her passion to fight for Women's Rights.  

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Growing up in a ‘typical African family’, sexual and reproductive health topics were taboo and topics that were not discussed by the older generations. This created a thirst in me for knowledge and a inspired me to apply for medical school.  This would be the perfect platform for me to satisfy my curiosity. After graduating from Gashora Girls Academy of Science and Technology (GGAST) in 2013, I applied for and was accepted to the University of Rwanda.  Unfortunately, it did not satisfy me to the extent that I wanted.

Cutting the story short, last year I joined IFMSA (International Federation of Medical Students’ Association) which is currently the biggest student run organization in the world, and I would say the first place that truly and fully quenched my thirst for knowledge on reproductive health. IFMSA works under 6 standing committees and I am currently involved in SCORA, Standing Committee on Sexual and Reproductive Health including HIV/AIDS, where I work as the SCORA Regional Assistant for Africa! We perform many activities such as campaigns, awareness programs, educational programs, training's, outreaches, and attend external meetings.  These are done locally, regionally and internationally.  IFMSA and SCORA has opened many gates for me, and taught me how to advocate for the change I want to see in the world.

Around the world, but mostly in Africa, women’s rights are violated daily. Girls are forced into marriage at a young age, mutilated where she is then considered to be a woman, and raped.  Girls are dropping out of school due to various reasons, including unwanted pregnancies.  These young girls do not have access to sexual and reproductive health information and services to take care of themselves are know their options. All these are women’s rights that are being violated daily.

Wait….

You might be thinking, that this is not an issue here in Rwanda.

But believe me when I say that is an issue, and a serious one.  I have worked for almost a year now in different hospitals here in Rwanda both outside and inside of Kigali, and we meet these cases every single day.

These are not just other medical cases that we encounter but they are human beings with families who care for them. All this has shaped me into a young female advocate for women’s health especially girls and reproductive health.

It is a topic that am now familiar with, a topic that once you bring it up, people will roll their eyes.  However, this is what keeps me going because it’s high time we put this on the table, whether we want it or not. These are issues that are happening out there to our mothers, sisters, aunties, cousins and friends. Why not fight for and with them?

IFMSA has brought me on a journey where I feel like I am making an impact either directly or indirectly, but you do not need a big organization to start the fight. Start small, start with a few group of people, start wherever you are and start with whatever you have and before you know it you will have done a lot more than you think. 

As I finish, I’ll end with a quotation from Marianne Williamson’s book,  A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of a Course in Miracles, that I heard  while I was at GGAST.  “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine as children do. It’s not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own lights shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

 

  • Gashora Girls Academy
  • gender inequality
  • IFMSA
  • International Day of the Girl
  • International Federation of Medical Students
  • Medical
  • reproductive health
  • SCORA
  • Sexual Health
  • Women's Rights
Business Leader, Engineer, Wife, Mum!

STRIVE, but never forget the present!

Every time a meet a bright young woman I look into her eyes and remember myself. I always used to wonder what I would be like as an adult.

When I was a child I loved to play. My imagination was free and I enjoyed carefree play. I remember turning 10 years old and wondering what I would be like in the year 2000. I would be so grown then! What would I be doing?

I am sure many young women reading this share some of those thoughts as they navigate life into adulthood.

But as I became I teenager I increasingly focused on the realities of the world. I was so focused on future visions of myself that I think sometimes I forgot about the present.

Yet if there is one thing I could tell myself back then, it would be to enjoy the journey more.

One day I took the time to reflect on what has become of the girl who wondered. What are some of the ways in which I would describe myself now? I could think of many ways but I decided to narrow it down to the top 4 that people who encounter me experience the most. So, in this blog I share with you what they mean to me. As you read, I want you to remember that all your hopes, dreams and ambitions are valid. Remember that you don’t have to become just one of the many facets of yourself. You can become them all. Sometimes you cannot be all at the same time but each day I find that at some point I am one of these at least.

Business Leader

I am passionate about business. Business, in the right hands, can be a force for good. When I was 17 years old I decided that one of the things I wanted to be was a business leader. I later understood and defined that to mean CEO and pursued that goal. My reasoning was simple; if I can lead business I will be in a position to make good decisions that impact lives. It was the surest way to impact society, in my view. So, as you consider the future and your role in society, remember that there are many ways to make a positive impact. For me becoming a CEO allowed me to do more than just make impactful decisions. It provided a platform for me to talk to many people. It allowed me to talk to influential people and share my ideas in the hope that their views will be enriched. So, remember that your ambition is valid.

Engineer

I was exposed to engineering at a very early age. My Dad is an engineer and he made fixing things look normal. He taught me mathematics in ways that heightened my curiosity. So, I loved science and mathematics so much. Being able to solve a problem always felt rewarding. So, for me, becoming an engineer seemed like the most natural thing to do. I once toyed with becoming a doctor. Looking back, I suspect I did not want to miss my beloved mathematics.

At some point, I realized that people did not think young girls should become engineers. But I found out too late to be convinced. Not everyone will share in your views on career and that is okay. What matters is that you discern the right voices to listen to. That you learn to filter out noise and focus on the inputs that build you up.

Wife

I got married because I wanted to and not because I had to. I enjoy being able to walk through the journey of life with someone who really cares about my journey. Someone with whom we can mutually reinforce and enrich what life has to offer. That is why it has to be a choice - of both people - to walk the path. The best part for me is alignment of values. Two people come from different backgrounds with different experiences and cannot possibly have the same views on everything. What makes it possible are values. Values provide the compass that helps us navigate life. So, before you have to think about assessing someone else’s values, be kind to yourself and determine what your own values are.

Mum

Becoming and being a Mum is the most challenging facet of my life. I tell my children how they gave me a new name, Mum! However, with that name comes uncertainty. I never understand why anyone would assume that being a Mum is easy. I can assure you that being a Mum is more demanding than being an engineer. Engineering presents certainty. Even when you get things wrong you can fault-find your way to correct your mistake most of the time. Children are different. They are people who are evolving into themselves. They don’t come packaged in certainty.

Being Mum is by far the best part of my life. It stretches me beyond my limits physically, emotionally and mentally. If it is one of your goals, prepare yourself to be stretched. The stretch is the reason why sometimes you hear more about the challenges. I accept all the good support I can get because I know I am not the only person they need.

If like me you are a dreamer, then I hope reading this has given you one idea of what a girl like you can become. And if you live more in the present, then I hope that reading this will help you embrace all that you are.

Regardless of your perspective, what ultimately matters is that you realize your potential.

The world needs your best, so let it all out.

  • advice for young women
  • Business Leader
  • Engineer
  • Girls Empowerment
  • girls in stem
  • inspiration
  • Lucy Quist
  • Mum
  • STEM
  • Wife
  • Women in STEM
Hope Burns Bright:  A Teens Visit to Rwanda

In May of 2018, co-founders Suzanne McGill and Shalisan Foster took a group of passionate advocates of girls' education to Rwanda to learn of the country's history and visit Gashora Girls Academy of Science and Technology (GGAST).  This trip included 14 year old Vivian, an eighth grader from Bear Creek School. She will be attending Eastside Prep this fall as a freshman.  Viviane shares her experience in this beautiful essay below. 


My time in Rwanda was truly an experience I will never forget. Each experience, from dancing at the Inema Arts Center to learning about the genocide, opened my eyes to the culture and hope Rwanda is full of. I have to admit that the 24 hours of traveling and the mosquitoes weren’t the best; however the vibrant rolling hills and picturesque culture made it all worth it.

Our first few days were spent learning about the history Rwanda, including most importantly the 1994 genocide which killed almost a million people in 100 days.  With the genocide taking place so recently,  you could see first hand the effects that it had on people on a daily basis. The hardest part was a visit to Nyamata Catholique Church where more than 10,000 people were mercilessly slaughtered. It was hard to see the piles of blood soaked clothes and skulls of more then 2,000 Rwandan citizens, and I couldn't fathom how cruel neighbors could be to neighbors.  In contrast, we could see the hope of the youth as the school kids across the street were outside practicing their English on us crazy looking foreigners. The hope in the younger generation burned so brightly not only in those young school children’s eyes, but in all of the citizens of Rwanda who truly loved their country and were working to make it the best place in the world.  Hope was prevalent in every aspect of the country of Rwanda including the art co-op we visited, Inema Arts Center, where we drank delicious fruity drinks, looked at colorful paintings, and danced with local kids. It was truly a light on the trip that reminded me of how far Rwanda has come since 1994.

I don’t even know where to begin when describing the time I spent at Gashora Girls Academy of Science and Technology (GGAST). I have never been to a high school where every student was full of so much drive and passion about making their country better. The thing that stood out to me the most as a soon to be high school student, was that all the girls genuinely wanted their fellow classmates to succeed and do their best; even if it meant their fellow classmate is doing better then them.  They truly celebrate each other's achievements and desire the best for their "sisters."  At my school, my classmates are happy about my successes, but at GGAST the girls are proud of their fellow classmates successes. The girls are a unit, and when one succeeds, all of the girls and so happy and proud.

The school itself is beautiful, not only because of the view of the lake or the pristine farm, but because of the people. All of the students were kind, interesting and funny. It was so exciting meeting Sandra, the student my family sponsors. Sandra was so funny and meeting her helped all the students at the school become real to me. Her funny personality and witty comments showed how she was truly a teenage girl that had big dreams to make a change in her country.

We were lucky to be their during the election for Head Girl at the school. We got to see the entire student body come together to support and listen as  four girls' debated for the position of Head Girl. After every answer all of the students in the crowd cheered and hollered. It was a really cool experience seeing them vote because they took it very seriously.

The girls all have jobs on the farm from weeding to special projects like working on irrigation. The plots were clearly labeled and organized with the different fruits or veggies that were being grown on them. Each thing is grown for a specific reason and a majority of the food grown on the farm is eaten by the students and teachers at Gashora. Another activity every Gashora Girl participates in is after school physical activity. They have a soccer, basketball, volleyball, and dance team as well as a running club. The drummers from the dance team provide rhythmic music for all of the sport teams during their practices. The girls all work hard at their sport and most of the practices like basketball and dance are run by the senior girls.

Rwanda is an amazing place filled with amazing people and I am excited to see how Gashora Girls will change the world. It is empowering as a young girl to be surrounded by such amazing women.  If I had to describe Rwanda in one word it would be HOPEFUL.

Rwanda is ready to show they world how far they have come and the Gashora Girls are a big part in that. The younger generation is looking over the horizon and ready to face the challenges of tomorrow. The sadness from Rwanda has created a platform of hope that these amazing women are going to leap off of and change the world.

- Vivian

  • Farm
  • Genoc
  • rwanda genocide