Archive for the ‘Generation Rwanda’ Category

Generation Rwanda’s 2011 new student selection process is officially open! Last week we finalized our applications and sent them off to our ten partners, organizations around Kigali and Rwanda that act as intermediaries in order to avoid an inundation of thousands of hopeful students at our office.

Mountains of paper (11,000 pieces to be exact)

In recent years, student selection has been an extremely competitive process because the Generation Rwanda scholarship is essentially the best university scholarship available in Rwanda (I’m biased, but it is). It provides university students with full tuition, housing, healthcare, monthly living stipend, English training, computer training, career development services, counseling, leadership training, entrepreneurship training, and more. It comes as no surprise that last year we had a 2% acceptance rate: out of 1,500 applicants we accepted 30 who began university this past January.

This is the beginning of an extensive two-month process that will end in June. Once we receive completed primary applications, we judge them based on applicants’ scores on national examinations, secondary school results, financial status, and motivation. Successful candidates will be required to sit for a language exam in English or French and complete a secondary application consisting of essays. Applicants who pass the second round of qualifications will then be invited for interviews at the Generation Rwanda office. One of the last steps is a physical verification in which staff members visit the homes of successful students to verify that their financial claims are true and that they are indeed vulnerable and unable to afford university any other way.

Sorting and stapling took a long time...

For students in Rwanda who are interested in applying for a scholarship, first make sure you meet these basic criteria: You graduated secondary school in 2009 or earlier (students who graduated in 2010 must wait until next year to apply), you are not currently studying at a university, and the combined average of your S5 and S6 results is 65% or higher. In addition, you must meet specific criteria regarding your national exam score. Select from the locations below where you can pick up the application (note: you will have to return the application to the same location so make sure it is the closest to you):


  • SOS Children’s Villages – Kacyiru, close to MINAGRI
  • Uyisenga N’Manzi – Kacyiru, close to King Faisal hospital
  • Gisimba Memorial Center – Nyamirambo, near Green Corner restaurant
  • FAWE – Kiyovu representative based in the RAUW office at KIST (the gate across from Handicap International)

Southern Regions

  • JAM Orphanage – Shyogwe, Gitarama
  • SOS Children’s Villages – Gikongoro office in the Nyamagabe district

Northern and Western Regions

  • SOS Children’s Villages – Byumba office in Gicumbi district
  • CARITAS – Ruhengeri, at the Bishop’s residence

Eastern Region

  • CARITAS – Kibungo, next to Bishop’s office/house and across street from UNATEK
  • Hope and Homes for Children – Bugesera town

Completed applications must be returned to the organizations by 3 pm on Friday, May 6th, so don’t delay! Feel free to contact me with any questions at helaina@generationrwanda.org.


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Last week I participated in a working group about professional mentorship, organized by the Babson Rwanda Entrepreneurship Center (BREC) as a follow-up to their “Workshop on Supporting Entrepreneurs” that I attended last month. The initial March workshop convened around thirty representatives from organizations in Rwanda with similar visions that support entrepreneurship in different ways. As I am the point person for entrepreneurship trainings here at Generation Rwanda, I attended along with our Program Director. Some of the other organizations/institutions represented were Bridge2Rwanda, Kigali School of Finance and Banking (university), Youth Employment SystemEducat, DOT Rwanda, and Rwanda Village Concept Project, to name a few.

In an effort to help foster the budding culture of entrepreneurship in Rwanda, the BREC leaders presented the four main challenges to entrepreneurship that they had identified through a recent survey of entrepreneurship resources in Kigali: lack of access to finance, cultural and mindset-related obstacles, lack of communication, and a weak culture of mentorship. Last week’s meeting was a follow-up to continue the discussion about mentorship.

There were several interesting conclusions from the initial mentorship brainstorming session. Here are some of the highlights:

– The culture of mentorship in Rwanda is weak because of a lack of commitment, time, or interest on the part of mentors; a lack of initiative on the part of potential mentees; and because many people simply don’t understand the meaning or value of mentoring.

– For organizations setting up formal mentoring programs, successful strategies to maintaining mentorship programs include setting clear expectations from the beginning, dipping into the “alumni” pool from organizations that build human capacity and train people, setting a schedule but being flexible,  and providing sufficient initiation and introduction to mentors.

– For individuals hoping to be mentored, successful strategies include being persistent, actively seeking out mentors, and keeping in touch with employers and professors.

At last week’s follow-up meeting, the working group discussed potential tangible projects that would improve the culture of professional mentorship in Rwanda. Some ideas were to hold focus groups to better understand the experiences and challenges for potential mentors (established businessmen and women) and mentees (young professionals), create a database of professional mentors in different fields, compile and share best practices for organizations working to establish sustainable mentoring programs, publicize existing resources and guidebooks for mentors, and facilitate awareness campaigns to add the term “mentorship” to the Rwandan vernacular.

BREC is planning to create an online portal where all of these projects and resources will be available for public access. Once it’s up and running I’ll post a link.

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I just peeked back at one of the first posts I wrote after arriving in Kigali in late August. In it, I listed the following non-work-related goals that I had set for this year: “become proficient in Kinyarwanda, make friends with local Rwandans, visit a few of the Great Lakes and nearby African countries (hopefully to see Meg in Uganda and Rachel in Kenya!), never feel too cut off from my friends and family back in the States and around the world, and if possible find or create some kind of community here.”

With the exception of visiting Rachel in Kenya (which I’m planning to do in early March!!), I can proudly say I’ve accomplished all those goals so far. I’ve even managed to find/create several different communities here.

Here are some of my personal goals for 2011:

– Do something new every day. New adventures can be as small as walking a different way to work or trying to bake cookies on my stove and as big as traveling to a new country or climbing a volcano (it’s possible in western Rwanda!).

– Get back into my healthy groove: go running more regularly, eat less salt (or just balance it out with more potassium), and take vitamins regularly.

– Take more photographs and, internet permitting, post more of them here.

As for my work at Generation Rwanda, I’m really excited about 2011. Since two new English language assistants are joining Generation Rwanda, I will no longer be in charge of teaching English – a welcome change, given that I have really enjoyed devoting my energy to other programmatic planning and coordinating. I just finished writing my workplan through June and there will be a number of interesting projects and initiatives under my supervision – some of which I was assigned and others that I proposed myself. Here are some of the 2011 highlights that I’m looking forward to working on:

– Coordinate and implement another iteration of the entrepreneurship training in May.

– Create, develop, and implement a social entrepreneurship training workshop for students who have completed entrepreneurship training. I’ve been gathering materials from Ashoka, Schwab Foundation, and Change.org. For any social entrepreneurs reading, please feel free to share any other resources that would be helpful.

– Work with Junior Chamber International – Rwanda Chapter (the organization whose members volunteered to run the November entrepreneurship training) to incorporate a JCI Rwanda sub-chapter made up of Generation Rwanda students.

– Conduct research at our 10 partner universities to assess the programming and opportunities offered. Analyze how Generation Rwanda’s programming may be filling in gaps, duplicating, or offering superior programming that institutions can learn from (in areas like career development, counseling, critical thinking, clubs, debate, English, leadership, library, and research).

– Plan and implement Life after Generation Rwanda workshop for our graduating students.

– Plan and implement a series of workshops on leadership.

– Spearhead a Generation Rwanda Debate Club and become the club’s adviser.

– Assist the Country Director and Program Director in selecting our next batch of scholarship students. For any Rwandan students interested in applying for our university scholarship program, feel free to e-mail me at helaina@generationrwanda.org. The application process begins in April.

– Continue to be the in-house photographer for all Generation Rwanda events, workshops, and student profiles.

2011 promises to be quite a busy and fulfilling year. It’s off to a tasty start – I’ve been experimenting with new restaurants and home-made recipes/concoctions. One of my proudest moments has been successfully frying and flipping a Rolex (a scrumptious chapati cooked into an omelette with sauteed onions and cabbage, invented at Makerere University in Uganda).

Another omen that this year will be stimulating and fulfilling is that earlier this week, I attended an incredible reception and photo exhibit put on by Through the Eyes of Children: The Rwanda Project. 19 students at the Imbabazi Orphanage in western Rwanda were given the chance to study photography for 10 years. The stunning exhibit is the culmination of their talented work. The award-wining photo on the website’s home page was taken with a disposable camera by Jacqueline, a student who was 8 at the time.

One more link to check out: The New York Times compiled 2010: The Year in Pictures, a breathtaking and informative photo essay of the major events and disasters of 2010.

Today’s new adventure: I’m heading out to pick up my first order of bagels from a Rwandan woman who makes the only bagels available in Kigali (and probably all of Rwanda). I almost ordered some Everything bagels until I learned that they actually include every possible ingredient: onion, garlic, salt, cinnamon, raisins, and seasoning. I might have to give in to my curiosity and taste one some day this year…

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One of my favorite parts of working at Generation Rwanda is coordinating workshops and trainings for students. Not only do the students enjoy them and get a lot out of them, but I also find the content interesting and enjoy the opportunity to hone my skills of organization, coordination, management, networking, public speaking, and more. Throughout the academic year and during vacation, Generation Rwanda offers students a variety of workshops led by professionals, staff, volunteers, trainers, other students, or some combination of the above. The majority of the workshops are mandatory and a few are optional; the mandatory ones are offered several times throughout the year.

My first opportunity to coordinate a workshop was during September’s new student orientation, when I helped organize one on conflict resolution. It delved into theories of macro- and micro-level conflict, examples of conflict from daily life and from Rwanda’s history (there are unfortunately a lot there), and tools for conflict management and transformation. The workshop was led by a professional conflict resolution trainer and also featured older student leaders who shared their experiences resolving conflicts in their daily lives. A few weeks ago I organized and led a workshop on “How to be a Mentor” for WE SHARE, a student community service group dedicated to sharing their skills and experiences with younger students in need. WE SHARE is planning to start a type of “big brother / big sister” mentoring program between Generation Rwanda WE SHARE students and students in secondary schools who are also orphans and have experienced similar hardships. Mary, my friend and colleague here who is getting her Masters in social work, helped develop the curriculum and led the training with me. It was well-attended and the students all said that they found it very valuable and were now comfortable becoming mentors for younger students. I realized how much I enjoy leading workshops, facilitating discussions, and speaking in front of a group – it’s really quite fun and rewarding.

I’m currently organizing what I think will be one of the most exciting workshops yet: a series of entrepreneurship trainings led by high-power Rwandan entrepreneurs. The training will take place over 5 days and will cover topics like opportunity recognition, SWOT analysis (strength, weakness, opportunity, threat), competitive advantage, cost/benefit analysis, market research, product development, advertising and publicity, negotiations, record keeping, budgeting, taxes, government regulations, business plan writing, and more. Those of you who know me well know that, being a bit averse to economics and finance, I couldn’t have developed the curriculum myself. However I have been in charge of singlehandedly connecting with Rwandan entrepreneurs and convincing them of why they should donate a day of their busy lives to share their skills and experience with our students.

Starting out a few weeks ago with little more than the curriculum materials and the assignment from my supervisor to set up a workshop series for mid-November, I contacted the Generation Rwanda Entrepreneurship Club. They proved to be extremely proactive and had already compiled a list of local Rwandan trainers and organizations to contact for entrepreneurship training. I got in touch with the first contact on the list, who is the current president of Junior Chamber International – Rwanda Chapter. It was almost too easy: he and I set up a meeting, he invited other JCI members who are certified trainers with relevant experience and fairly flexible schedules, and all four were very enthusiastic and committed to leading one day of the workshop each. The trainers include the CEO of the largest medical supplier in Rwanda, the managing director of a large bookstore in Kigali, a management and development consultant at a global consulting group, and a finance and management consultant certified by the International Finance Corporation.

Meeting with these entrepreneurs from diverse fields and facilitating a surprisingly productive meeting made me realize that when I set my mind to something, I can actually be pretty effective. It was especially rewarding to see such generosity and excitement from these businesspeople at the chance to impart their skills to university students from vulnerable and underprivileged backgrounds. I’m excited that the workshop will be entirely Rwandan-owned and Rwandan-run because I believe one of the most important aspects of international development work is that it is locally owned and locally resonant. I’m sure it’s going to be rewarding for the students – and maybe I’ll even learn a thing or two myself.

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Generation Rwanda

It occurred to me that I haven’t yet explained in detail what Generation Rwanda does. Here goes:

To refer to the organization’s mission, Generation Rwanda is “dedicated to helping orphans and other socially vulnerable young people in Rwanda pursue a university education and ultimately become leaders in fostering economic development and social reconciliation. Generation Rwanda’s scholarship and leadership education program provides comprehensive support – including tuition, housing, healthcare, and a wide range of supplemental training programs – that empowers our students to become Rwanda’s next dynamic professionals and leaders in their fields.”

The supplemental programs include English training (where I come in), computer skills training, workshops on CV writing and interview techniques, career development resources, seminars on leadership and entrepreneurship, and more. Generation Rwanda also encourages students to participate in extracurricular activities like the Student Government Association, WE SHARE Community Service Club, Entrepreneurship Club, Computer Studies Club, Student Newsletter, and the incipient Health Club. I am acting as an adviser to the first three clubs listed.

Of the university scholarships available to Rwandan students, Generation Rwanda’s is by far the best. The holistic support package is truly unique and the organization really fosters a sense of community and even of family among all the students, who all attend different universities around Rwanda. Generation Rwanda also makes a concerted effort to focus on women; more than half of the current 196 students are women. Each year there is a new class of about 26-28 students. This year the acceptance rate was 1%, which is crazy. Needless to say, I am incredibly impressed and inspired by all of the students I’ve met so far.

I wear a few different hats at Generation Rwanda, primarily English programming and coordinating general student services. The week of September 13th was New Student Orientation, during which I helped coordinate and facilitate different workshops like Study Skills, Time and Financial Management, Conflict Resolution, Introduction to Leadership, Sexual and Reproductive Health, and more. I was the professional photographer/documenter of the week, I presented an overview of Generation Rwanda’s training programs, and led a session on Plagiarism in the Study Skills Workshop. (Plagiarism was an unfortunately common problem among the applications that Generation Rwanda received this year and among some assignments during last year’s English class.)

Last week was the first week of the new students’ intensive English training. For the next nine weeks, I am in charge of leading bi-weekly afternoon discussion sessions in which the students have a chance to freely practice their speaking. The students spend the mornings in a language center with structured instruction and the other three afternoons learning computer skills like MS Word, Excel, and Powerpoint.

Although I have experience tutoring and leading workshops, teaching in front of a class isn’t something I’m too familiar with. It’s not easy! It requires patience, communication skills, comfort with public speaking, management ability, composure, and more. (I’m sure any teachers reading this can add on to the list.) I already have an immense amount of respect for teachers and I’m sure after this year it will double. Luckily there’s a curriculum framework for me to follow, but it’s up to me to plan and prepare the details of the lessons.

During classes this past week, I took the students through pronunciation practice (starting with an R vs. L exercise), guided them through a discussion about Rwandan culture, introduced the topic of astrology and discussed personality traits, and organized an activity of identifying and describing physical traits of people using magazines. It was definitely challenging but I’m looking forward to seeing them grow and improve over the next ten weeks – I have no doubt it will be really rewarding.

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First week of work

Although I’ve only been here in Kigali for 11 days and working at Generation Rwanda for 5 days, I already feel like I have a routine – which I like! It’s a nice way to balance the excitement of living in a completely foreign place that excites and bewilders me every day. My routine this past week was essentially: wake up between 7 and 8, walk the 2 miles to work, start work between 8:30 and 9:30, have lunch at 12:30 at one of the various delicious buffet-style restaurants near the office, leave work between 6 and 7, then walk or bus home to either relax or go out for a drink or a movie with Tim and other new friends.

As for what I did for the 8 hours of work each day…In the beginning of the week, I spent time finishing up training and meeting with my supervisor, Michelle, to discuss my work plan for the next three months. Now I have a much clearer idea of what I’ll be doing here. As the Student Services Assistant, I’m going to spend the next three months advising three student organizations (the community service club, the student government association, and the entrepreneurship club), helping to coordinate training workshops for new student orientation in two weeks, gathering highlights and writing a report on the new student orientation, leading workshops on leadership, monitoring the student library, helping to refine GR’s monitoring and evaluation mechanisms that help us define success, teaching English to the new class of students before they enter university, and perhaps even doing some research to gather statistics on language trends, scores, and educational outcomes around Rwanda. At the same time, I’m taking over the English language program from Tim, who is sadly on his way home to the UK at this very moment (actually he’s still on a 30-hour bus ride to Tanzania, followed by a trip to Zanzibar, a bus to Mombasa, a bus to Nairobi, and finally a flight to the UK – he definitely takes the scenic route). The English language program is wrapping up so what’s left is grading exams and tying up loose ends. Later in the year, I will be one of two English language teachers for the semester from January to August, which is a new challenge I’m looking forward to.

I spent the rest of the week meeting new students, transitioning into my position of adviser for the three student organizations, helping Tim wrap up a project in which students write letters thanking GR donors, and grading English exams. The most entertaining parts of the week were definitely when I was grading the essays – particularly reading the responses that students wrote for the prompt “It is better to stay single than get married. Discuss.” (Examples: “Getting married is like running into a burning building that everyone else is running out of” and “I don’t like marriage because I don’t like children and I like sleeping around.”) In all seriousness, though, reading students’ answers to prompts like that one as well as ones about foreign aid, the role of the media, and street children in Rwanda gave me a very interesting lens to consider the country’s culture and politics.

Last night the students orchestrated an amazing surprise farewell party for Tim, which was replete with heartfelt goodbye speeches and, of course, lots of singing and dancing. I really enjoy contemporary Rwandan and East African music, which happens to be mostly rap and hip-hop. Some of my favorite songs at the moment are: “You” by Kitoko, “Inkoramutima” by Meddy, and “Jujju” by Radio & Weasel. At the party there was an incredibly adorable and superhumanly energetic 3-year-old boy seriously breaking it down – he put all of us to shame. If I ever find an internet connection that allows me to upload my photos, I’ll definitely put up the gems of him.

This morning after Tim left I decided, after much internal debate, that I would change rooms and take over his. Although mine did have a great energy, his has a great master bathroom and is twice the size of my original one. So I’m all moved in and spread out and I think I’ve recreated the energy here – as long as I have some natural light and hot pink sheets (they’ve really grown on me) I’m happy. In a few minutes I’m heading to the airport to greet a new volunteer and housemate, Caitlin. She’ll be here for 6 months working on the career development side of GR. I’m looking forward to having a housemate – I couldn’t live in or manage this huge palace myself.

Tomorrow Mary and I (and perhaps Caitlin if she’s up for it) are heading to the town of Kibuye, a beautifully lush town on Lake Kivu. It’s known as one of the less-touristy vacation spots in the country and my Rwanda guide describes it as “the most conventionally pretty of the lake ports…sprawling across a series of hills interwoven with the lagoon-like arms of the lake.” Very intriguing. Sadly it was also the prefecture of Rwanda that experienced the most devastating slaughter of Tutsis during the genocide. We’re staying over one night because Monday is a national holiday for Paul Kagame’s official inauguration.

I’m sure I’ll have an eventful weekend to recount, so stay posted. Happy Labor Day!

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