In May 2016, a group of five outstanding female TRSM students travelled to Kigali, Rwanda, to work with students at the Akilah Institute for Women. Akilah is a college dedicated to enabling young women to achieve economic independence and obtain leadership roles in the workplace and society.

Here, Ashley Nandan (2nd year, Economics) documents the highlights of her trip to Rwanda and tells us why she now feels like a global ambassador for the history and culture of Rwanda.

Waiting at Pearson International Airport

Day 1: Arriving at the Akilah Institute for Women

After about 20 hours of travel and 7 hours of sleep, we started the day by meeting the principal of the Akilah Institute for Women, Lisa D, and our liaison, Nadie, who will be guiding us throughout our week-long journey.

On our way to the Akilah Institute

On our way to the Akilah Institute

Just 1 percent of Africans go to university and only 0.33 percent of African women attend university. The Akilah Institute focuses on Hospitality, Entrepreneurship and Information Technology. So far, they have 145 alumni and are currently at full capacity. This year they had 700 applicants and were only able to accept 95 women.

The Akilah Institute campus

The Akilah Institute campus

Today was one of the most inspirational days of my life. We visited the Presidential Palace Museum, the place where the 1994 Rwandan genocide began. The Rwandan genocide was only 22 years ago, and most people currently living in Rwanda were directly affected by it. The average age of a person in Rwanda is 27 years old and many young adults do not have parents. We entered each room, including the secret rooms no one ever knew about. In the torture room, real blood stains were still present.

Presidential Palace

Presidential Palace

Today Kigali is a fully functioning city, with one of the lowest crime rates in Africa. The Rwandan government’s mission is to be fully IT connected by 2020 which shows how focused and driven Rwandans are. A clear representation of their character and motivation.

Day 2: Meeting the Girls

Students at Akilah

Today was the day I had been waiting for: the day we get to meet with the students and get to know more about them, their goals and their lifestyles. At first, the girls and I were nervous about how we’d fit in with the Akilah Institute students. We didn’t know how to dress or act. Everyone stared curiously, but if you break the silence with a wave or smile they are the nicest people you will ever meet in your life.

We began with a speed-dating exercise to break the ice. I noticed the Akilah students were very analytical and inquisitive about our lifestyle and what we can bring to the table while we’re here. I got questions such as, “Why did you choose to come to Rwanda out of everywhere in the world?” and “Why did you think there was a need for transportation in Rwanda?” (Transportation was the focus of the business I wanted to implement.)

Stanley's entrepreneurship class

Stanley’s entrepreneurship class

We later moved into groups of five where they could pitch their ideas in detail and we would reply with some feedback. I got so into the ideas and was able to so easily form relationships with these girls and knew that just two hours to work on this would not be enough. The girls are all so polite and very soft spoken. They were a bit shy, but passionate about learning from others.

TRSM students at front of class

During the latter part of the day we hosted a presentation on Ryerson. We tried to make it as interactive, short, and fun as possible. I was really happy they enjoyed our presentation and were excited about networking with us later. I got some great feedback about my transportation idea. One of the girls, Shaquena, told me to stand outside when we talk and count how many times the bus comes. I noticed the buses were really small and filled with people. One time the bus didn’t even stop to pick up people because it was too full. Clearly there was a need for more transportation but how was I going to make it more reliable and available to everyone.

Today left me with many ideas and many factors to consider that I didn’t consider before. The culture in Canada is so different. There was a lot about my idea that needed to change.

Day 3: Presentations and the Rwanda Development Board

We began the day by talking to a class about the importance of learning about human resources and how it can help them obtain jobs in the future. An outsider perspective of the value of what they are learning in class really gave them the motivation to do well. Nadine then led us to a leadership class where we were put in groups and able to get to know some new students. They were also just as passionate about their school and motivated to do great things. The topics we discussed in class were around women in media, women in armed conflicts, women empowering the economy, and women in distressed situations. I learned a lot about specific examples of leadership women took in Rwanda.

After this leadership class, we went back to work with the young entrepreneurs. We had a very limited time to work with them so every seven minutes we’d move onto a different person. An hour flew by so quickly. It’s never enough time to actually talk about ideas in detail. Also, the language barrier made the process slower.

A boardroom at the Rwanda Development Board

A boardroom at the Rwanda Development Board

Our next stop was the Rwanda Development Board. We were able to meet with Paula and Louise, who were very intelligent ladies. I was particularly impressed with their method of problem solving. For example, they wanted to integrate 4G LTE network in Rwanda but they didn’t want to make it unfair to service providers. So they decided to make 4G LTE a wholesaler. They also mentioned that they are promoting strong competition and attracting transnational companies. They gave me some great advice on my transportation idea. They believed that true problem wasn’t having more buses but to put metrics in place so the government could find the solution to the problems occurring. The opportunity came up to partner with a startup at Ryerson, which led to the opportunity to visit the kLab incubator.

Kigali

Kigali

Day 4: Final Presentations and the Canadian Consulate

Today we had final presentations on our proposals. My group of girls did amazingly well. They are so much more confident in their ideas and really recognize the value of creating relationships with others. I wish I could spend more time with them. Each and every one of them is so unique and are making such great decisions for themselves no matter what personal adversity they may face. I exchanged my contact information with so many girls today and have added over 50 new Rwandans to my network. One of my girls, Souzane, made me a handmade gift so that I will always remember her. It was truly a blessing getting to meet them and work with them on things I am so passionate about.

A hand woven gift

The gift Souzane made me. Her business is hand weaving products from grass. (Yes, she made that!)

“To know that I made a difference using my knowledge and skills is the greatest gift.”

The group of girls I worked with. (Josephine, Claudine, Josette, Joyeuse, Missing: Souzane)

The group of girls I worked with. (Josephine, Claudine, Josette, Joyeuse, Missing: Souzane)

After leaving Akilah we went to the Canadian Consulate where we met Marcelline, the trade commissioner in aerospace, agriculture and processed foods, arts and culture and so much more. She was so happy to have us there and was such a powerful woman. She provided me with a lot of insight about my project and persuaded me to be a stronger competitor in the transportation market rather than being someone to just “fix” transportation. Considering Kigali is such a small city, the plan was feasible.

We went back to Akilah for our final goodbye from the county director Aline. She thanked us for our stay and welcomed us back anytime.

We had our final lunch back at Master Coffee Shop with Regis. Delicious as always. We purchased his coffee beans to take back home with us. He personally roasts his own coffee beans to perfection. He also sent us off with a warm farewell, welcoming us back in the future.

Looking over Kigali

Not everyone gets the opportunity to travel to Africa. So, leaving Rwanda, we know that we are now global ambassadors in educating others on the history and culture that surrounds this beautiful country.

Students at Akilah

Thank you Akilah!

Posted by Ashley Nandan

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