I recently had the privilege of visiting Rwanda for a second time. The last time I visited was in 2009. On this visit I had the unique privilege of visiting some wonderful places in Rwanda which I will be sharing in a series of articles. One of these was the Gashora Girls Academy in Rwanda. The school’s serene environment embraced me on arrival, even before I met the dedicated head and his team.
Gashora is about an hour’s drive outside the capital, Kigali. It is on a bit of a hill as part of the beautiful lush green
surroundings. The school directly overlooks a calm lake and in those few moments I suddenly wished I was a school girl again.
I met a school of inspired young women. Young women who predominantly studied mathematics, chemistry, physics, biology and computer science as well as subjects like economics. I was on a mission to spend time with young women in STEM.
I started with a tour – Teta was my tour guide; a beautiful final year student full of smiles. Sometimes I wonder why we mention words like beautiful when we talk about girls but they reminded why. I will come back to that in a moment.
Teta told me how she had come to the school shy and reserved. She said she never knew she had a voice and now cannot keep quiet. She proudly told me all about her school as we walked and talked. Almost 300 girls, the classrooms, the dormitories – I even had the opportunity to join them for lunch in their dining hall!
During my tour I met the remarkable Stella! Stella is a recent graduate of Gashora who studied science. Stella shows us all that intelligence has no geographic limits. She shows us, as I always say, that our continent is teeming with great talent; raw talent that needs opportunity to realise potential. Stella has gained admission to Harvard, Duke, Princeton, Columbia, Brown, Vanderbilt, Amherst, Pomona and Williams universities all in the USA. I watched the shared euphoria with which the girls told me about her and when I met her, one jokingly said to me, ‘maybe the schools need to apply to her’.
After my tour we moved into a science laboratory to talk about STEM experiences and hopes for the future. I shared with them my love of STEM with them. I told them how challenging it can be sometimes because as women in STEM we are still a minority. We talked about real examples of my experiences and how I overcame challenges.
But this is about the girls and they inspired me more that they will ever imagine. Their hopes and dreams coupled with what they are doing to achieve them reminds us all to keep going. To keep going in our drive to accelerate Africa’s development through STEM.
I met an aspiring doctor who told me that her ultimate ambition was to become the Minister of Health. She feels it is important to understand the practice of medicine if she is going to provide the best healthcare possible to her people.
I met a future Aeronautic Engineer who said that even though today she may not be able to fully practice this in her country one day she will make it possible for future aeronautic engineers to practice in their country because she will set up the industry there.
I met a young lady planning to work in the petroleum industry and so plans to study Chemical Engineering.
I met a future politician who wants to first become a Computer Scientist and have her own profession before going into the business of government.
The list is endless. Their bold ambition and hopes reminded me that together we are creating #TheBoldNewNormal for Africa.
Girls will always be girls and we must celebrate all of what makes us who we are. Remember my point about ‘beautiful’. Over lunch one of the girls shared her view that too often as women, we focus on what we are not so good at rather than celebrating our feminine strength and the things we enjoy. She said:
…Women should focus more on the strength and capability that come from the unique female experience.
We literally let our hair down as our discussion extended to comparing notes on hair care. We do it all.
Thank you to the founders of this wonderful school for our girls. Thank you to all the committed staff who make it possible.
To find out more about this amazing school please visit www.ggast.org