July 21, 2010
On the final day of the US Delegates’ stay in Rwanda, we were able to arrange a meeting with the forty four young women (and their teachers) of the inaugural class of the Akilah Institute! What a privilege it was to visit with these dynamic individuals in a classroom on the beautiful campus in Kigali, where Akilah is housed while the school in Bugesera is being finished (GYC visited the new school grounds in Bugesera in Summer 2009 – see the program report for more info).
During the meeting, the students introduced themselves individually and told us about their school. They were passionate about their program at AKILAH, which provides high school graduates with key skills for success in Rwanda (hospitality skills and English, leadership/self-discovery in a foundational year followed by two years in a diploma program).
The students mentioned that some of them are already interning at local tourism establishments, such as the Manor Hotel in Nyarutarama.
We also learned that two of the students recently won the opportunity to go to the United States to speak with the donor networks for Akilah, and to encourage more fundraising for the building of the school and the granting of school fees or at least partial scholarships to all of Akilah’s young students, as they move from their foundational year to their diploma program.
Question Posed by Akilah student for Discussion in the Meeting: What is the root of conflict in the world?
Responses from GYC Youth included: Lack of Acceptance, Poverty, Ignorance
Responses from Akilah Student: Discrimination Against and Lack of Empowerment of Women
Question from GYC: What is the best hospitality experience you have had in Rwanda?
Response: I love Shokola, because they care so much about you from the time you enter the gate until the time you leave.
During the hour-long meeting, we were also able to tell the students about the GYC Learning and Action Community, and specifically about some of the main issues that we have been engaging on, such as the rights of historically marginalized groups/Potter communities, LGBTI rights, detained youth and children.
Question from AKILAH Student: Can you tell us what kind of research you have done on LGBTI issues in Rwanda, especially since it is illegal here?
Technically it is not illegal to act upon one’s homosexuality in Rwanda (there was a law proposed last year to criminalize it, but it did not succeed in passing because local rwandan NGOs and others joined together to fight the bill), however, culturally it is still not acceptable so yes the organizations with which we are working on this issue are proceeding carefully so as to not offend people and to make as much progress as possible, while advancing the rights that are so necessary for both individual and public happiness and health.
It was heartening to see that the students were intrigued by the idea of the Learning and Action Community and look forward to applying to the next round of applications for the December/January LAC (and wanted to know more about what we look for in an applicant, so as to better prepare themselves for the essay writing). They also wanted to know how to get involved in volunteering for human rights organizations independent of the LAC, and we discussed how there are many ways to show interest in an organization and its mission and to get started in an internship/volunteering (go to a press conference or event, introduce yourself, go to the office to introduce yourself, check out their websites and try to email).
While we were enjoying our conversation with the students and their teachers, other Akilah staff, including Akilah co-founder and CEO Elizabeth Davis — who we are also proud to say is an alumnus of GYC Rwanda Summer 2006 — were busily working on their accreditation papers for the Rwandan Ministry of Education. According to what we saw during our short visit, they shouldn’t have any trouble gaining that accreditation! Good luck Akilah and we hope to see you again soon!