Last school visit!

After a morning of last minute souvenirs and secret santa shopping, the whole team met up for our last school visit of the 2019 FemEng in Rwanda trip. This school, Camp Kigali, was located right next to the University of Rwanda college of science and technology (the campus we were staying at), and was the school rescheduled from Monday. Our team set up each engineering subject in a different corner of the school hall, and students wandered around reading our posters and asking questions as we gave short presentations. This science-fair style set up helped, as the students had minimal English abilities and the Rwandan girls did the majority of the speaking and presenting in their native tongue, Kinyarwanda.

The afternoon started with another trip on the mototaxis! No longer scared, the ride on the back of a motorbike is exciting and fun for the Glasgow team, and part of everyday life for the Rwandan girls. We drove about 10 minutes, to a nearby area of Kigali where we met up with Materne Mateso and Frida Kamikazi. Ellen brought us into contact with Materne as he had helped discuss Rwanda with her when she first started the project, four years ago, as he was born and raised in Rwanda. He completed his undergraduate in food science in Egypt, before traveling to Glasgow to do his master’s in food security. After finishing his degree, Materne returned to Rwanda to found his company, FarmPal. This is an online platform for external investments into farming projects. The company assists and manages the farm projects, to reduce risks and ensure time management and completion during the projects. This benefits the farmers by giving access to capital that they wouldn’t be able to achieve due to harsh bank loan standards. Materne talked to us about his company, and about the challenges and rewards of being an entrepreneur.

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We were also introduced to Frida, who founded AMASHAMI, a company working with refugees on social change projects, particularly focused on young mothers. The programs run for these young mothers “focus on leadership skills, goal-planning, financial literacy, building a network, exposure, community engagement, skill-building, sisterhood building, and socio-emotional learning”. After some good conversation at the rooftop café, we said goodbye and thank you to Frida and Materne. The Rwandan team caught mototaxis back to the hostel as we were done for the day, and the Glasgow team travelled into the city.

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We returned to the market area, where we met up with the seamstress who had been making our clothes. She had finished the alterations from the other day, and we tried them on in the corner of the shop. With only a few small alterations needing done, which were quick fixes, we all had our new outfits all done! Each of us requested different styles of clothing, and in different patterns and colours of the African wax material, so each had a unique outfit to remember our trip to Rwanda by.

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The FemEng in Rwanda Team 2019 🙂

Day 18

This week started off nice and slow. The school we had planned to visit was forced to reschedule as the impromptu holiday on Friday required exams to be moved to today. Luckily we were able to reschedule the visit to the school, Camp Kigali, for tomorrow which was just a short walk away. The easy day allowed for us to go into town, shop for secret santa presents, and pick up a few souvenirs for ourselves.

After lunch we went back to the hostel for a chilled afternoon. Several of us did some laundry (hand washing) and some took a nap. With a bit more energy, Ellis, Jeanne and Monica decided to go for a trip to the Inema Arts Centre, just a short moto taxi ride away. This is a small art gallery in Kigali that displays art made by artists from all over Africa. After viewing the art, the girls stopped for coffee and a cake at a nearby rooftop coffee shop, enjoying the views before heading back to the hostel.

In the evening, all the girls walked to the Vice Chancellor, Phil Cotton’s house, as he had invited us for dinner. We were served a lovely meal of roast chicken, mashed potatoes, potato salad and mango salad (what a treat!). We even had ice cream and fruit salad for dessert! The evening was lovely and full of good conversation between the girls, Josephine, and Professor Cotton. It was a great way to end an extended weekend.

The FemEng in Rwanda Team 2019 🙂

Day 17

Sunday at last! A morning to relax and sleep in after a late night the night before.

Several of the Rwandan girls went home for the day so the Glasgow girls decided to go for a lazy brunch at Simba (our regular restaurant/supermarket). The avocados in a Rwanda are triple the size of those in the UK, and full of flavour, making an excellent avocado brunch sandwich.

At midday, the Glasgow team and two of the Rwandan girls (Lydie and Fabiola) headed to Josephine’s house. Josephine has been helping with project management for the Rwandan side of the project since the start, 4 years ago, and has been very helpful and welcoming. Her and her husband invited us into their home for a relaxing afternoon of good food and company. Josephine and her cook prepared a huge meal of Rwandan/Kenyan food, a delicious twist of the staples. Josephine’s 3 daughters (5 year old twins and a 11 year old) kept us well entertained. Josephine even showed us how Rwandan mothers carry their babies on their backs, tied with cloth. The two girls fell asleep tied to the backs of Fern and Hannah, so adorable!

After a nice relaxing afternoon in Josephine’s garden, we returned to the hostel. The local seamstress had brought the clothes we ordered for us to try on for final adjustments! Very exciting to see the bright coloured fabrics and different styles each of us had requested! Still full from lunch, we all had a chilled evening, face timing friends and family and relaxing.

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The FemEng in Rwanda Team 2019 🙂

Day 16

Today we had an extremely busy day planned!

We departed the university campus early in the morning to visit Tumba Technical College. The students were in the middle of their exams however the lecturers were extremely keen to show us around the campus. Their sustainable energy systems were of particular interest to the team. They use solar power in order to provide electricity to the school and heat their water.

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After the tour we drove for a couple of hours to Musanze where Sonrise school is located.  Unfortunately this visit didn’t go quite to plan due to lots of roads in the area being closed off for the cycling cup. We were determined to reach the school on time so made the decision to walk for 45 minutes with our materials.

The school visit was extremely successful, at first the pupils seemed hesitant to ask questions, however after some encouragement from the head boy and girl we received lots of thought provoking questions. Many of the students were even interested to know how they could continue their studies in the UK.

Unfortunately because of the road closures our plans for the rest of the day had to be changed. Originally we planned to drive to Lake Kivu after the school visit, however  we decided as a team it wouldn’t be worth it as the sun would have set by the time we arrived.

Instead we visited the National Volcano Park which was located close to the school. The entrance to the park was decorated with a variety of large wicker animals which the girls took as a photo opportunity. Although the weather wasn’t the best it was amazing to see the volcanoes so close up.

On the drive back to the accommodation we discussed going on a night out. Ellen had been in the two previous years she came and wanted us to experience the nightlife there.   Five of us from the Glasgow Team and Lydia went out for some drinks at a bar and then headed to a nightclub called Envy. We had a great night dancing and were extremely happy to find that the club sold food!! We all enjoyed some brochettes and cheesy potatoes before heading home.

The FemEng in Rwanda Team 2019 🙂

 

Day 15

Today Ellen joined us! She flew in to join us for the last week and a bit (unfortunately her suitcase didn’t make it). Ellen started FemEng in Rwanda 4 years ago and participated in the first two years while she was in university. Now being back in Rwanda for the third time, she knows her way around!

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We started our day by getting a bit dirty! Boots, hard hat and high visibility vests on, we were ready for our site visit at the new campus for the Rwandan Institute for Conservation Agriculture (RICA). This new campus is designed by MASS, the civil engineering company we visited last week. The campus is still being built, getting ready for its first group of students in August (including one of our own Femeng Rwanda high school graduates!). One of the engineers guided us around the site, showing us the accommodation buildings, teaching buildings and eating areas. First years are also responsible for a small barn and taking care of the animals inside. MASS focuses heavily on sustainability and giving back to the local market. This is seen by the campus’ huge solar panel system, naturally cooled buildings (no need for air conditioning) and almost all locally sourced material. Dirt from onsite is compacted to form bricks that make up many buildings, and timber from Rwanda is used for several of the roof structures. All in all it was very interesting to see the way the location of a building and campus can determine so much!

After the visit, we returned our hard hats and HI-VIS and piled back on the bus to visit a nearby school, Gashora Girls Academy. Two of the high school graduates on our team attended that school, and were more than happy to help the current school girls give us a tour of the school. Since we arrived at lunch time, we joined the girls in their food hall for lunch before our presentations. We split up between four classrooms, each for a different field of engineering, and presented to the girls. Overall the students seemed very keen, asking many questions.

On the drive back from the school we stopped at Nyamata church. This church has now been turned into a memorial site, and is the location of the killing of over 50,000 people during the genocide. A guide gave us a tour around the site, telling us about the history and how the events transpired. Thousands of Tutsis went to the church in hopes that the holy land would help protect them. Unfortunately this did very little as they were slaughtered, men women and children. The church now has displays of the bones of the victims as well as photographs and clothing worn by those who perished. Displays also show possessions that the victims had including documents, jewellery and photographs. Many of the different church buildings are severely damaged due to explosives and fire. The site also has a mass grave which visitors can go down into and see the coffins of hundreds of victims. The experience was very emotional for all the girls, bringing the graphic facts to this very real event. After a long day and drive back, we arrived back on campus ready for some pizza for dinner and then bed.

Liberation Day

Here, July 4th is “Liberation Day” and marks the end of the genocide in 1994. The word “Kwibuka” is used, meaning “to remember”. On this day the country comes together to remember what happened and those who are no longer with us.  Every year, thousands of people pack into the Amahoro stadium in Kigali to witness military shows and the president’s speech. The whole country tunes in to watch the event on tv or listen on the radio. The sports stadium itself has great ties with the genocide, as it protected 12,000 Tutsis in 1994.

 

As we are in Kigali, the Glasgow team and a few of the Rwandan girls set out early to get to the stadium at 7am. Once the president is on the move to the stadium, all roads close so it’s important to get there in time! The event started with a military and police procession, and a huge marching band. The military remained on the pitch of the stadium, in perfect formation, as the various presidents and leaders of many African countries began to arrive. These leaders came to witness the celebration and give their respect and support to the country of Rwanda. Many more leaders from around the world were unable to attend, and instead sent their respects. The final person to arrive was His Excellence, the president of Rwanda, President Kagame. While he has been president since 2000, he was the leader of the Rwandan Patriotic Front, the rebel force that ended the genocide, and thus greatly loved and respected by the people of Rwanda. The event lasted several hours, with speeches and demonstrations from various national dance and music groups. The president gave a long speech concluding with the following quote “We left the past behind us and embraced the future by coming together as a family. We must remain solid in defence of these values through each and every generation. We will not lose our way again”. After this, the president and various leaders exited the stadium followed by the military procession and then at last the gates of the stadium and the roads opened and 30,000 people streamed out of the stadium to go home (naturally there was quite some traffic).

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After lunch a few of us went into town to the markets to buy some souvenirs and gifts for the Secret Santa exchange between the Rwandan and Glasgow teams. With the help of a few of the Rwandan girls, we did some haggling to get a good price. After a long and exhausting day in the sun, with all of us managing to get a bit sunburnt at the stadium, a good meal for dinner was much appreciated.

 

Jeanne is 20!!!

Today was a very exciting day as it was our little Jeanne’s 20th birthday!!! Sadly, Jeanne had been very unwell in the days leading up to her birthday, however, she was determined to have a fun day out at Agahozo Shalom High School.

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In the morning, we presented our 4 workshops to pupils, who all took a keen interest in the different disciplines and had some very challenging questions for the team.

In the afternoon, the school was hosting their annual science fair and invited us as special guests. Both pupils and teachers had set up different experiments and demonstrations to present at the fair. Our team set up stalls in which students could come and ask questions that may not have been answered in the morning workshops. This was an excellent opportunity for the team to have more personal conversations with pupils who were interested in that particular subject. Our team leaders, Hannah & Lydie closed the science fair with a speech about the importance of STEM and the future possibilities you can pursue.

After a long drive home, the team went out for a lil treat dinner for Jeanne birthday (she was still unable to stomach a beer *gasp*), but when we arrived back at the accommodation, she was very surprised to be welcomed with a giant cake and the whole team singing HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

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Day 12

On Tuesday morning we had the opportunity to listen to the stories and talk with some influential women in STEM as well as the Vice Chancellor and Principal of the University of Rwanda. The Vice Chancellor, Phil Cotton, thought it important to give both women an official introduction to highlight the importance of the stories they were about to share. Our first speaker was Judy Dorsey a mechanical engineer and founder of Brendle Group. The company aims to prevent as well as using engineering to solve the effects of climate change and sustainability issues. The team found her story inspiring as she faced challenges of becoming an engineer in the USA 30 years ago. In particular, she found bias in industry when wanting to start a family, therefore, started her own company which has now completed over 300 projects in 30 states. Judy’s final words were to eliminate the ‘either/or’ mindset and instead introduce the fact you can be a mother AND an engineer!

65838584_664559777343725_1018401093081628672_nOur second speaker was the deputy director of the Rwandan Association of Women in Science and Engineering (RAWISE), Eva Ujeneza. She shared her story with the girls of growing up in Rwanda after the genocide and the struggle to afford education. Despite these struggles, Eva had the support of school teachers, her family and followed her gut instincts when it came to pursuing maths instead of more traditional careers. This led her to AIMS (African Institute of Mathematical Sciences), where she achieved her Masters in Applied Maths and is now pursuing her PhD. Her main message was to take risks and to not be afraid when it comes to pursuing your goals, even if it’s different to someone else’s idea of what you should be doing.

Although both women had very different backgrounds and upbringings, there was a clear similarity in their resilience and determination to achieve and prosper in a career in STEM.

 

The team have arranged a ‘secret santa’ to exchange some gifts at the end of the project (which is fast approaching 😦 ), therefore, the Glasgow girls sneaked into town to try buy some presents at the local markets! Ellis ended up buying more for herself, however, we discovered a new talent of Monica’s…haggling (she is BRUTAL). The team shuffled off to dinner, shopping bags full and happy.

The FemEng in Rwanda Team 2019  🙂

Day 11

Today we had another school visit planned with the bus leaving at 11am. We managed to incorporate a trip to Rutenderi bridge built by Bridges to Prosperity as it was in the area. The old bridge was constructed from two logs with many people losing their life trying to cross. The new bridge allows for a safe crossing and for the locals to transport their agricultural produce to the market. This was a great opportunity for us to see the work they do after receiving a talk from them last week.

 

The Rwandan girls bought sugar cane from a young local boy selling it at the bridge. The Glasgow girls tried some but were not so keen!

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We had lunch at a local buffet restaurant recommended by the Rwandan girls before heading to Inyange Girls School at 2pm. We presented to a group of 450 pupils who were extremely grateful to be given to opportunity to learn more about engineering and university in general. It was a pleasure visiting them!

 

We headed back to the accommodation, having a quiet night as a couple of the girls were feeling under the weather. After having dinner at Simba (our favourite local restaurant) we had an early night in hopes of feeling better tomorrow.

Day 9 & 10 (the weekend!)

After the very late night, the team were excited to get a lie in, getting up around 9 as opposed to the usual 6:30am.

In Rwanda, there is a tradition called Umuganda, which roughly means “coming together for the common purpose to achieve an outcome”, in which on the last Saturday morning of every month, Rwandans gather and work on community projects and cleaning. Businesses are closed and transportation is limited as the communities nationwide come together to make Rwanda the cleanest country in East Africa. This is not mandatory, but several of the Rwandan girls took part.
Many of the girls travelled home for the weekend, so after a lunch together, the Glasgow team were free to choose how to spend our weekend days off, so naturally we went and got our nails done! While waiting at the salon, it was interesting for the Glasgow girls to watch the styling and braiding of African hair. The salon was pretty busy, so by the time all six of us finished, with colourful nails/toes, it was time to start thinking about dinner.


Instead of visiting our usual restaurant, we decided to explore a new area. Unfortunately, after quite a long walk to the restaurant we found online, we realised it had closed down! We soon found a little bakery, and bought samosas, bread stick pastries and mini pizzas, and sat on the side of the road enjoying these delicious pastries, before returning home for the night.

On Sunday, after an 8 am breakfast (many of the Rwandan girls attended church), the Glasgow team set off for our treat day. We walked to the Hôtel des Milles Collines. This hotel is famous for sheltering 1,268 Tutsis during the genocide in 1994. The hotel became the basis of the film, “Hotel Rwanda”. Using our personal spending money, we enjoyed the all day brunch buffet and relaxing by the pool. We all were a bit more tanned, filled up with dessert, and relaxed, ready for a new week of school and site visits.

In the evening, we travelled to a suburb of Kigali with Lydie, the Rwandan team leader, as her family had invited us all over for dinner. Her dad is a TV journalist in Rwanda, and her mum an ex school teacher who now runs a small shop. Two of Lydie’s 5 siblings also joined us in the living room for food and good conversation. Lydie’s mother had prepared a huge number of dishes, including avocado salad, peas, cassava bread, fish, finishing off with a bowl of fresh fruit for dessert. It was explained to us that in East Africa, the person hosting the dinner should make way too much food, and if all the food is eaten, it is a sign that they didn’t make enough. It’s also common to make a variety of dishes in case the guests don’t like something.


In Rwanda, the national language is Kinyarwanda. Due to the colonisation, schools were taught in French, another official language of Rwanda. In the early 2000s, English was added to the schooling system, and in 2008 it fully transitioned from French to English. This means the younger population, and all the Rwandan team, were taught in English and are fluent in our language, with varying levels of French. This is the opposite for the older population, who speak primarily French and Kinyarwanda, and varying levels of English. While Lydie’s father understood a lot of English, he preferred to speak in French, while Jeanne translated. The rest of us ~tried~ to use our National 5 french to identify a minimal amount of conversation (basically bonjour, merci and anything to do with food). The conversation was very interesting and we learned a lot about Rwandan traditions, and ideology. At the end of the night we all took the bus home, tired and full of good food, ready to fall asleep.

The FemEng in Rwanda Team 2019 🙂