17/07/2017: Bridges to Prosperity & Kigali Parents

Today was a very inspiring day, in the morning we got an insight into Bridges to Prosperity from manager Stephanie May, and learned about the organisation. This was followed by a site visit to two of their footbridges. In the afternoon, we visited another school located on the hills of Kigali, with beautiful views and excited high school children.

We started the day with an introduction into the Bridges to Prosperity organisation and a focus of their work in Rwanda. Their mission is to innovate, educate and inspire communities through the impact their work has on the society. By building these footbridges, they create improved access to health services, markets and schools. The footbridges have a profound effect on the community increasing the number of children that enrol in schools by 12%; girls that attend schools by 200% and 30% rise in household income (statistics from Nicaragua). They operated in 20 countries, building over 200 bridges which serve over 1 million people. In Rwanda, they currently completed 29 bridges which are helping over 178,000 Rwandan locals but there is a potential for 350+ bridges that could be built. Their work is extremely impressive – check out their website for more information about their projects… you can even find a workshop about how to built their types of bridges! They are strongly engaging the local communities by allocating local workforce for the construction of the bridge. After the completion, the organisation provides training for members of the district in order to maintain the structure.

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The Rwandan team were blown away with their work, as it was the first time hearing about it, especially the impact the have on the local society. This inspired them to work towards helping the community around them and making a difference. They had many questions for Stephanie, related to her career path and how they can get involved. We were happy to see their drive to get involved as this was one of our goals.

The visit to the bridges was made even more interesting as we were able to see more rural areas and meet the people passing around there. The impact could be seen straight away, as many locals were passing the bridges while we visited it. The visit was even more impressive for the Civil Engineering students as they got to see some interesting structures – a suspended and a suspension bridge. Stephanie explained to us the construction process, which takes approximately 2 months. Most of the construction materials are sourced locally, further helping the local economy.

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In the afternoon, we attended Kigali Parent’s Secondary School. The school was located on a high hill and had amazing views of Kigali. The workshops were a success as the children were very responsive together with their lecturers which showed their enthusiasm and wish of including this type of workshops is their future teaching lectures.

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Overall, we had an amazing day full of inspiring stories, learning about bridges but also meeting the enthusiastic children from the schools. This is the rewarding we get for all the work we did so far and hopefully making your day better!

16/07/2017: Nu Vision

Today we planned on visiting two schools and going on a team trip to the Ubumuntu Arts Festival, at the Kigali Genocide Memorial.

In the morning we attended the Nu Vision High School. Here we met an impressive number of students, covering approximately 200 overall (150 of which were female). Today it was our first attempt at presenting the Zipline workshop, consisting of explaining the process of delivering medical products to remote areas of Rwanda using a poster we prepared. Additionally, we showed them a parachute package that we received from Zipline, used to hold the blood/plasma products and safely drop them to the target hospital. The students were impressed at the simplicity of the design, compared with the impact it has on the local community. This was linked to the Aeronautical Engineering theme, represented by our team member Holly.

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Due to an unexpected memorial service for a late teacher, our second school visit was cancelled. Instead, we returned to the guest house with the girls and spent some time together working on their CVs further before heading to the festival.

The Ubumuntu Arts Festival was an amazing cultural experience for us and the Rwandan team. There were artistic performances showcasing humanity and different tragic events  across the world, ranging from the Syrian uprising to political scenes in Burundi, the Rwandan genocide and the abduction of the Nigerian Chibok Girls. These stories were emotional and close to home for some of the team members, bringing a great sense of purpose due to the present realities for many people across the world. 

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It was really nice to spend some leisure time as a full team, and gave us an unexpected evening out to break up the school visits. Our week ahead is our last and full of things to do!

14/07/2017: Riviera

Today we started the day with a CV Clinic Workshop for the Rwandan girls. We split into groups and shared our experience with them by comparing CVs and talking about interview techniques. Our goal was to help the girls create their own CVs and motivate them into applying for jobs and internships.

In the afternoon we attended the Riviera School. This was a very international school with high school students from all over the world and countries such as Burundi, Oman, China which gave us an even broader outreach and cultural impact. We exchanged interesting stories with the children about their culture, our experience in Rwanda and future plans for the FemEng project.

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Our team member Sihang met a high school student from China who moved there with her family and had the chance to speak her own language for the first time in a while. China seems to have a great impact on the Rwandan economy bringing jobs to the local community though investing in the construction field. Anais, a student from Burundi, was very happy to rehearse her German language skills by talking with our team member Kati.

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We are looking forward to our trip tomorrow to Lake Kivu for exploring more of the Rwandan nature and enjoy new experiences with our team!

15/07/2017: Group trip to Gisenyi and Lake Kivu

On Saturday we took a group retreat to Lake Kivu and Gisenyi town, a 3-hour drive from Kigali but definitely worth it! As one of the best-known tourist attractions in Rwanda, we were keen to ensure a lot of driving in order to see it.

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Many of our Rwandan teammates had never been there before, and we were surprised to learn that most of them had never even swam before! An interesting service you can receive at the lake is to rent a one-on-one swimming instructor who will spend hours with you teaching you the basics. It was really great to see them embracing the water, as we were told by one of the instructors that many Rwandans are afraid of swimming and bodies of water in general. We take for granted that we are often forced into swimming lessons as young children, and for these girls it was a big step for them to throw themselves right in! The rest of us relaxed lakeside with a Virunga in hand, and took a pedalo trip to the middle of the water.

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The new swimmers were exhausted on the trip home, but it was a lovely excursion for us all and a great chance to be on the beach to break up our school visits.

13/7/2017: IFAK

In the morning, some of our team went to visit the Radisson Blu Convention Centre, an iconic piece of Rwandan architecture (and engineering!). They also visited the Inema Arts Centre, where modern art is displayed and local artists were able to talk about their work. The Rwandan culture is beautifully reflected in the pieces of artwork and gave the girls a cultural injection before our school visit in the afternoon.

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(The rest of us slept – Wednesday was a busy day!)

In the afternoon we had a last-minute booking for IFAK Don Bosco in Kimihurura. We were only given a short window of 50 minutes in which to give our workshops, but we managed to get through around 100 children! Despite having a good amount of rowdy boys, there were equal amounts of engagement from everyone – especially towards the Biomedical Engineering stands, where there was a great deal of conversation around Tissue and Cell Engineering; not a common topic to speak about extensively at these workshops. There was a particular group of young men who were fascinated about the concept of being able to replace their own heart by growing stem cells on a pig’s decellularised heart!

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Another highlight from this school visit was that the pupils were very determined to participate in FemEng Rwanda in some way. We are positive that the continuing student club in UR will facilitate the formation of STEM clubs within schools – it is great that we are inspiring establishment of groups even on a high school level, in addition to student groups within the university. By taking the contact details of interested high school pupils, the UR student group are able to reconnect with these individuals to follow-up with their ideas!

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Tomorrow we have another careers session from Jumai for the Rwandan girls, and visiting another school in the afternoon. We will also create a workshop based on Zipline and link it with Aeronautical Engineering. It’s been a tiring week, but very interesting and we are feeling productive!

 

12/07/2017: Day trip to Muhanga (Zipline Rwanda)

We usually learn from the workshops that we give or from questions asked by students, but today was different. Today was our learning day. We had two trips, one to Zipline and another to a bridge construction site.

The first trip was to Zipline located in Muhanga District, Southern Province. Zipline is an American company that operates drones. In Rwanda, they distribute blood to Hospitals that have difficulties collecting it from the Capital in required quantities and on time. When we arrived, we were explained and showed all stages of blood delivery.
Zipline receives blood from the government and stores it. It is upon request then that all start. Before flight, the drones are prepared and thoroughly checked by a control system to avoid human error. Blood is then packed in a carton equipped with a parachute that are able to reduce shock upon landing. We were lucky to see the drones take flight and land at Zipline after delivery.
It was a needed experience for everyone as we were able to see different sciences and engineering fields applied in real time. From biomedical, electrical and electronics, architecture, geology, product design, mechanical to aeronautical engineering were all experienced. All these above relative to blood conservation, the control systems, the topography, measuring the wind, solving technical problems, flight control, blood packages, etc.
Although Zipline saved many lives, it still encounters many difficulties such as the complex topography of Rwanda. Who will solve Zipline’s problems? Although it is an American company, it is interested in Rwandans that are qualified as they know best their country, so go for STEM and study well no one knows!

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Our second trip was to a bridge construction site in Muhanga District as well. The road was nice and the scenery beautiful. Unfortunately, we couldn’t reach destination due to the car failure. We were however happy to enjoy a trip deep inside Rwanda which more green and peaceful. On our journey we also got the chance to see the context of life in the country which will be more fruitful in our next workshop as understand more the terrain we are working with.

11/07/2017: St Joseph

Today was a first – giving our workshops in a basketball court! St Joseph is a technical school, hence the hard hats. We started the day in shade but very quickly ended up completely exposed to the morning sun – as you can imagine, we were struggling a lot more than our Rwandan teammates, but had a large number of children turn up. Approximately 150 boys and girls roamed around our stands, with some gathering more interest than others. At the Biomedical Eng stand, there seemed to be a great deal of inquiry into exactly how did the pregnancy test work – only from boys!

Upon returning from this visit, we were called from the school director as he was really grateful for us to go and speak with them. Apparently they don’t have many visitors (potentially due to their more practical nature) and they very much enjoyed us taking an interest in them. We may have to pay them a second visit!

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In the afternoon, Jumai held a CV-writing session with all of us, so we could help one another and offer some advice to the girls which hadn’t written one before. The high school team especially enjoyed it and were very inquisitive!

Tomorrow we visit Muhanga to see Zipline and the Bridges to Prosperity site. It will be a long day of driving but we are looking forward to it!

 

 

10/07/2017: Lycèe de Kigali

After a restful Sunday, the FIR team got back to work. Sadly, we were still without a working minibus today and ended up taking a cross-country hike to our first school of the day, Lycée de Kigali. It was also coincidentally the hottest day since we have arrived, so we were all slightly red-faced by the time we arrived; thankfully only one grazed knee was obtained.

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Some of the Rwandan team members went to this school themselves, so they were really happy to be able to go and visit. As one of the better schools in this region, we had a very different experience compared with the previous two we visited last week. Many of the children were already driven to study engineering and go abroad to do so, which indicates that it is common that alumni from the school were likely given information and encouragement already about this. However, there were still many questions and gaps in their knowledge about the engineering and science concepts we present in our workshops; in some ways, they could appreciate the concepts even further!

Today we tried running all of our workshops simultaneously, creating our “science fair”. This allowed a varied mixture of activities to be side-by-side, some which took longer and some which could be explained in five minutes. It felt very relaxed and allowed pupils to stay for whatever time they wanted at each station. Overall we saw over 60 people in about one hour!

Afterwards, Jumai took down contact details of pupils who wanted further information – many had asked about specific things like scholarships and degree programmes they were interested in. As we were with a fairly senior cohort, a large number of the students knew what they would like to study already – however, there’s nothing wrong with showing them something different!

We sadly had to cancel the visit to our second school today as we were unable to get there without a working bus; we are confident we will be able to visit later in the week. However, this meant Jumai could run her first careers session with the Rwandan teams and gave the rest of us some time to tie up loose ends in our workshops and tidy up our messy studio! Jumai tells us more about how it went:

“We spent the session focusing on the social responsibility compelled on our generation of Africans and how we can fully embrace that. A TED talk on architecture by Diebedo Francis Kere (building with clay and community) got us all reflecting on how technology and education can enhance how we collaborate with our communities on giving back. The Rwandan team also spent good time analyzing the Rwandan terrain, looking at issues such as unemployment, improper land use, population boom and illiteracy. They came up with unique solutions and ideas on how to deal with these issues. After this, we ran the Myers Briggs indicator test individually to allow us track our natural tendencies and personalities. It was a great first session and the team members did say they felt empowered and recharged even though it was a long grueling day.”

Tomorrow we have a painfully early start, visiting a nearby school at 8am – but we are excited all the same! The minibus was fixed this afternoon too and will be available for the rest of our time here, with our much loved driver from 2016, Gratien, who makes the long journeys a lot better!

8/7/2017: St Andre

We weren’t sure what to expect after yesterday’s school visit – where we were overcrowded with too many students and too little space – but our visit to St Andre high school was a completely different story.

Thanks to a technical fault with the campus minibus, we were forced to take individual mototaxis with our workshop materials in hand (including three models of bridges, 3D architectural landscapes, 10+ posters and a life-size drawing of a set of lungs). Our Rwandan team were super helpful with coordinating 23 motorbikes at the one time, although we did end up looking like a very tame motorcycle gang.

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Upon arrival at the school, we were directed to a huge assembly hall with a large stage and a PA system, which gave us the space to set up 6 workshops simultaneously. The room gradually filled with pupils, a mixture of boys and girls, to the point we were getting a little concerned that we wouldn’t be able to host all of them in the 90 minutes we had been allocated.

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After an introductory speech from Jumai covering engineering as a whole, we brought groups of pupils up to the stage in groups to start taking part in the workshops. It ended up being more like a science fair, with pupils walking around and asking questions alongside the set activities and presentations we had prepared. This made for a more relaxed feeling, and allowed the children to have a look at all the different themes instead of being limited to the workshops they were standing at first.

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Although it was a little mad at times – with some workshops being completely swamped to the point we couldn’t see the people running – but we had so many questions from interested individuals about different subjects, career options and enquiring about what we do. This was really fun for all of the team, getting the chance to pass on advice and having children becoming interested in their degree subject thanks to the workshops. Even the people who weren’t able to fit on the stage at the

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We also had an insightful conversation with the accompanying staff member, and he explained that they would appreciate some form of follow-up after we leave. Once we returned back to campus, we all sat round and discussed the feedback we received during our school session:

  • Firstly, acknowledging the desire for follow-up, we were brainstorming how to provide information that is useful for the children visiting the workshops. Common questions revolved around the subject combinations suitable for particular degrees – the Rwandan system fixes children from an early age into three distinct subjects, which can be really limiting later on. We were asked a lot about scholarships too, and how they could get to study in the UK.
    • Therefore, we talked about the possibility of creating a website which would be a hub of information for the children and teachers we meet with. This could contain all the answers to their questions alongside other functionalities.
  • Secondly, many of the children we met wanted to get involved with FemEng as well. The Dean of Discipline suggested we help them to start a club within the school which would be focused on STEM.
    • This encouraged us to think of how we could facilitate this; or more appropriately, how the Rwandan team would be able to work with these ideas.
  • Finally, we were reminded by one of our Rwandan team, Alexia (Mining), that we must realise that many of the schools in the city are fairly privileged, and already know about science and the possibilities for their futures. She wants us to also visit rural areas to ensure we are opening up opportunities to everyone.
    • This led onto a great discussion about the Rwandan team’s plans for how to self-sustain this initiative when we leave. Olga (Architecture) was passionate about the continuation of this work and they have planned to meet over the weekend to discuss how they will move forward.

It is super exciting to see how we have facilitated these young women to be leaders and teachers in their own schools and their own country; most of the time we were able to sit back and let them run the workshops with little input from ourselves. We are confident that this group will visit schools when we leave, and they are prepared and willing to do so.

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Now it’s the weekend, we are all taking a break to recuperate and rethink how to improve the workshops. Monday and Tuesday will encompass another two schools, and on Wednesday we get to visit Muahanga to visit both Zipline and Bridges to Prosperity sites. Our Aero and Civil Engineers are particularly excited!

7/7/2017: EP St Michel

Over the past few days, we have been sharing with you about the design and preparation of our workshops as well as the integration of our three teams.

Well, preparation peaked today as our morning was spent doing trial runs of our workshops in batches. In the midst of triumphs and troubles, laughter and chuckles, we managed to put final touches and elements on the workshop presentations while ensuring different aspects were timed and clearly delivered.

Meanwhile, Ellen was off visiting the manager of Bridges to Prosperity in Rwanda, an NGO which enable communities to build footbridges to enhance the trade within their areas (https://www.bridgestoprosperity.org). They are keen to take on interns within their organisation and to establish partnerships within the University of Rwanda, so we have planned to pay a few visits to their bridges (both finished ones and those under construction) in addition to having an information session with UR students.

After lunch, we visited our first school, GS EPA/St Michel. There, we learnt that St Michel is one of the schools in Kigali that largely accepts students who failed the Primary 6 exams. Starting out with such a school definitely gives a strong sense of purpose to us.

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Although we had a few challenges in having only a short time with the students and a very small classroom to work in, we presented across 4 workshop stations to over 70 students. We covered biomedical engineering (light in diagnostics), and explored mechanical engineering (cooling), mining engineering and civil engineering (bridges).

Our Rwandan high school team members took the lead along with us and UR students in delivering workshops in a mix of Ikinyarwanda and English language. It was exciting watching them own fields of studies and activities some of them have only come to know in just about a week or so.

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We also managed to reach out to some students we couldn’t fit into the classroom where the workshops were being delivered. We had career chats and interesting conversations with them and although it was the end of the day, the students were very keen about still trying to get in.

On observations, a chat with a S1 student called Joel who wants to be a pilot but has not been doing well in mathematics revealed that travelling a long distance to school, limited access to library resources coupled with the absence of internet infrastructure might be crippling his dreams. We also observed that lots of students only want to study medicine and we think this might be because there is a lack of knowledge about diverse career options. Trust us to get a few converts by the end of the day.

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All in all, it was a great start to our school visits. Our teams worked quite nicely together, quick on their feet to improvise where necessary and to bridge language barriers where present. We are excited about our visit to St Andre tomorrow and will let you know how that goes.