21-24/07/2017: AFRIpads & Uganda Trip

The final few days that the FIR17 Glasgow team spent in Africa were surprisingly in Uganda, accompanying a group of Year 4 Architecture students from the University of Rwanda on an educational field trip. As one of their project requirements in order to complete the year, these students need to visit another country and frame their project around the architectural differences they observe between this country and Rwanda. For us, this was both interesting from an academic perspective, a new cultural experience and a way for us to have a short holiday to round off the project.

Our first stop was Kabale and Lake Bunyonyi. The lake is believed to be the second deepest in Africa, and contains 29 islands, including the famous “Punishment Island” recently featured on the BBC (article here). We stayed in a lovely resort overlooking the lake, and took a boat ride around some of the islands, taking in the beautiful scenery and enjoying the cooler weather!


Locals travelling in boats shaped from tree trunks



Punishment Island


The second destination was Mbarara Town, near Lake Mburo National Park. We took a day trip around the safari, managing to see all sorts of animals – giraffes, hippos, impala, warthogs and zebras, to name a few!

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One handy aspect of this short trip was that here we were able to purchase and pick up the AFRIpads, for which we had held a fundraiser during the time leading up to our trip. A Deluxe Kit costs ~£4, which meant we were able to purchase 180 from the raised funds. As the company is based in Uganda, doing all the transactions and shipping within Uganda saved us a lot of time and money, and ensured we would receive the kits before we left Africa.

Although our initial plan for the AFRIpad kits was to distribute them ourselves, we realised that they were most needed in areas that were far from the city. Consulting with our Rwandan team, it was clear that this was a good job for them to do without us. We already decided that it would be inappropriate for the Glasgow team to be going to villages, as we felt that the novelty of a visit from foreigners may overshadow the content of the workshops and the meaning behind the project. Therefore, we are happy to leave our AFRIpads behind and allow the FutureYou group to take care of the distribution efforts. We know our Rwandan girls are passionate about taking this project outside Kigali, therefore have no doubt that we will see great things coming from their club in the coming months.


Group photo after the Celebratory Reception on Friday – what a team!


20/07/2017: APE Rugunga & St Emmanuel

After three intense weeks of hosting workshops in schools, today was the last day of outreach activities for the FemEng in Rwanda team.

In the morning, we visited the nearby APE Rugunga secondary school. There was a strong sense of excitement in the room as the students had just finished their exams. The students were very engaged in the workshops and were particularly interested in the design challenges from the Civil Engineering and Architecture workshops. One boy in particular combined the straw tower challenge with the architecture schoolyard design concept and created a unique structure.


After the last FemEng in Rwanda team lunch together at our local church canteen, we attended St Emmanuel Secondary School. This was a great milestone for us, as not only was it our 10th and final school visit, but we also managed to hit our target of reaching out to over 1000 students! We were very happy about this, especially since we reached out to double the number of students compared to last year’s project.


To celebrate the past four weeks of working together on the project, we hosted the Rwandan team at our guesthouse for a farewell party. After a dinner together, we painted each other’s nails and made friendship bracelets to mark the bonds that were formed within the team. We also projected a slideshow of all the photos taken throughout the project which was a great way of looking back at all the nice moments we had together.



21/07/2017: FemEng Celebratory Reception

On our last day of the project, the UR Vice-Chancellor Phil Cotton hosted our teams and special guests in the UR Headquarters in Gikondo. This gave us the opportunity to share our achievements with our supporters and others interested in the FemEng work, and was a platform for the Rwandan team to publicise their club and proposed future plans.


Visitors included Stephanie May (Bridges to Prosperity), Nick Hu (Zipline), and various Deans from the College of Science and Technology. A schoolgirl from Lycée de Kigali who participated inn our workshops also came along, and gave a lovely testimonial about what the FemEng workshops had meant to her:

“At first I was wondering if a girl can join STEM fields and be successful as men can do. Well one great morning at my school, an event was held. Amazing ladies came to introduce us all about engineering in this project FemEng Rwanda. At the end of the workshop, me and my classmates changed our minds. On my side, I completely fell in love with it, I realised that no job better than engineering. From that time I have took a decision – I will be an engineer.”

Iris, a member of our CST team and Annick, a member of the high school graduate team also spoke about the impact FemEng workshops had on them personally. Afterwards we were given an incredible introduction to the new club in Rwanda, called FutureYou, presented by their newly elected leader Olga. We are really happy that our project has been morphed into something that the girls we worked with wanted for their country, and the room was blown away by the confidence of the team we were leaving behind.


Phil Cotton finally gave encouragements to the teams and we presented everyone with certificates. It was clear to everyone that our work this year is not going to stop once we leave Rwanda, and there was an air of excitement about what was to come.

This was the last time we saw most of the girls, and we said our goodbyes. It was sad to leave them, but for some of us coming back next year, this is not a final farewell.


18-19/07/2017: Team Debrief & Last Careers Session

For the last two days before our final school visits, we spent time as a team working on rounding off the career sessions with Jumai and doing a debrief together.

On Tuesday morning, Ellen led discussions about the team’s impression of the project, and suggestions they would offer for its long-term progression. We split the feedback into three sections:
1. What did we like about the project?
2. What do you think is the impact of the project?
3. What aspects of this work would you want to carry into the future?

Thankfully, all of our activities were mentioned as being positively received, particularly the newly introduced industrial visits and CV clinics. The team were generally pleased with being able to help schoolpupils and have a positive impact of the lives of the next generation in their country. The benefits of working within a multicultural team were also appreciated and we were happy that our differences had enhanced the learning experience for everyone. For the high school team too, they had enjoyed learning about many different subjects that they had not previously known much about, helping them make their own career decisions at a crucial stage.
On a more general level, the team felt increased self-confidence and creativity skills.

Further work highlighted was mainly the importance of the career guidance that our project was offering, and the gathering of people together in clubs within universities and schools. However although they enjoyed the engineering focus, a more holistic STEM/Architecture theme to their workshops was preferred. In addition, paying more attention to schools in rural areas was considered a priority – this is something we are particularly happy about, as we know that in villages this type of work is much more impactful. However, we are also aware that if we were to be involved in going further out the city, the actual content of our workshops may be lost in the novelty of a visit from “muzungus”. We gave the Rwandan team members some pointers about bringing together their thoughts and plans into a real working society.

Unlike the previous sessions that focused on the Rwandan team, our final career session with Jumai involved the whole team. We started out with a TED talk on Patient Capitalism by Jacqueline Novogratz. Jacqueline had a lot to say on how dignity is brought on people through entrepreneurship and patient capital. This fitted nicely with the entrepreneurship ‘homework’ the girls had to do.

Each member of our Rwandan team had spent about 4 days thinking about a business idea that solves practical problems around them. This was to actively engage them in critical thinking and conscious observation as well as to spark their entrepreneurial spirits. They presented fascinating business ideas ranging from the production of reinforced building materials for rural areas to engaging the language barriers in Rwanda by producing language services.

After about 14 interesting business ideas, we rounded up by listening to some of the girls read out their reflective diaries. Last week we considered the University of Glasgow graduate attributes, one of which is to be a ‘reflective learner’. So the Rwandan team agreed to prepare two reflective diaries, one on the whole programme and one on the career sessions. These reflective diaries made us all quite emotional as the girls spoke about the skills they had built, their cross cultural experiences, challenges faced and how empowered they feel about being able to inspire the next generation in providing information and opportunities they didn’t have access to.

We concluded the session by going through all the slides from the beginning of the career sessions and recapping all we had learnt and shared.

Having already discussed their future plans for the FemEng work amongst themselves over the past weeks, by the end of the two days a full committee had been established, and the key activities of the group were decided. This gives them a great basis on which to present themselves at our celebratory reception on Friday morning, hosted by the UR Vice-Chancellor Phil Cotton.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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. 


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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!


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.