Empower girls in Africa through higher education!

by These Numbers Have Faces

It was a long walk to school - down dirt roads, past bikers and cars, during rainstorms and under the hot sun.

For Berthine, the dozens of kilometers spent walking to school each week were worth it. She would have walked a dozen more each day, if she had to.

In fact, it was on these treks that she would daydream about building a school in her village.‘What if children didn’t have to spend hours walking to and from school? I wonder if more children would attend school if it was right outside their door?’

If Berthine wanted to realize her dreams, she would have to pursue her education. To make real change, she would need to become an engineer.

Not far away from where Berthine grew up was a girl named Samantha. Like Berthine, Samantha also had a vision of becoming an engineer.

It was an uncommon goal for girls in their communities: to create effective infrastructure, and be part of Rwanda’s rising economy. But it was a desire they couldn’t let go of. Holding fast to their dreams was a risk worth taking.

In 2015, Berthine and Samantha became These Numbers Have Faces scholars, studying Civil Engineering at Kigali Institute of Science and Technology.

Samantha and Berthine have excelled in their courses, but they still lack female engineering role models.

As it would happen, a team of role models was coming to them.

In February 2016, a group from Aspen Heights, an Austin-based real estate development company, and their non-profit, Aspen Heights Awake, traveled to Rwanda to meet with These Numbers Have Faces scholars and fellows.

Aspen Heights partnered with These Numbers Have Faces in 2015 to support the launch ofThe Accelerate Academy entrepreneurship program. Greg Vestri, Aspen Heights partner and executive advisor, had already envisioned a partnership in Rwanda years before.

As Greg describes it, Aspen Heights and Aspen Heights Awake are centered on human development in the U.S., and beyond. Seeing the drive and character of young Rwandans, Greg wondered if there might come a day when Rwandan students could travel to the U.S. to experience American culture and business, and for the Aspen Heights team to experience Rwandan culture through the students.

On the final day of Aspen Heights’ week in Rwanda, Greg and team made a special announcement: summer internships for two These Numbers Have Faces scholars, Samantha and Berthine.

“I was so emotional, with tears in my eyes, because I was surprised to hear that I would be an intern at Aspen Heights,” Berthine said. “My fellows were also surprised, and they reacted by clapping and giving me many hugs. My family congratulated me. They are all so proud.”

In June, Samantha and Berthine traveled to the U.S. -their first time on an airplane- beginning a chapter of their journey they didn’t know was possible. This summer they're part of team of engineers who will be teaching them skills and business practices that will make them highly competitive and competent engineers in Rwanda.

In the years to come, when the next generation of girls are looking for role models in the engineering world, they will be able to look to Samantha and Berthine.

“From this internship I hope to discover more about engineering from a country that’s so developed,” Samantha said. “I’m looking forward to learning about improvements I can bring back to my country and contribute to its development. I believe I will discover many things about myself from living so many miles away from home.”

Since Alice became a These Numbers Have Faces scholar in 2014, we’ve watched her rise to the top of her University classes, represent Rwanda at an international engineering conference in India, and develop her leadership skills at the Africa Youth Leadership Forum in Goma, DRC.

Looking at Alice’s resume, you’d assume her background provided her with every opportunity to succeed. 

In reality, Alice has spent nearly 20 years living in a refugee camp in Northern Rwanda. It would seem she has reason to complain, or lose hope; but that is the polar opposite of who Alice is -- brave, determined, faithful.

At a recent Leadership Training in Rwanda, our staff announced to Alice that she was chosen to be an intern at Allion USA Engineering Services in Oregon this summer! As the room filled with applause, and fellow scholars ran to hug her, Alice said she felt like she was in a dream.

But it’s real, Alice. You made it happen.

Regardless of circumstances, we believe all our scholars are capable of achieving their vision, and having a seat at the business meeting, the engineering lab, the University lecture hall.

As we get ready to welcome Alice to the USA in June 2016, we invited her to share a bit more of her story, and why her hope is an unstoppable force.

Who or what inspired your passion for engineering?

I had a teacher in primary school who told me that I am bright and capable. When I reached secondary school, I became inspired by historical scientists like Einstein and Newton. At that moment, I wished to be part of the women who would participate in the advancement of science. 

By the time I reached high school, I had analyzed my community and found the need for electricity was paramount. I believe electricity is the backbone of development. I wish to be part of the great work that will develop my community.

Did your childhood influence your desire to pursue a college education? 

My childhood has absolutely influenced my desire to pursue a college education. I was motivated by my parents, grandparents and teachers. They believe in me and have always told me that I can make it.

There have been many challenges to pursue a University degree, however, because refugees do not have access to government tuition assistance. As a refugee, I had no way to afford college. Despite this challenge, I worked hard and was determined, because I believe that the best inheritance is your knowledge. No one can take away what you learn. I never lost my belief that one day I would be a University student. 

Tell us about your role as a leader in your community?

I was the first female math teacher at Hope School in the Gihembe Refugee Camp (a volunteer-based school). Teaching gave me confidence in what I am capable of doing. It was hard work, but I was serving my community and I knew that was important.

I became an example to other girls, showing them that they can study, work hard, and become something, like their brothers. I grew to be a leader and saw that I could positively influence the youth in Gihembe. My hope is that they will keep working hard, be determined and never lose their vision. That is what I tell them and show them through my own example.

What was your reaction when you heard Allion was offering you an internship?

When I heard about the opportunity of becoming an intern at Allion, I was so excited. Allion is a big company and I know I will learn so much from them - with electronics, engineering and leadership. This internship will influence my future.

Final thoughts?

I would like to thank Allion for this amazing opportunity. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I can't wait to see you soon!

If you were to ask people across the globe about their top fears, statistics show that 50-percent would respond “Public Speaking.” Pascaline would have answered the same.

Pascaline is one of our Computer Science scholars in Rwanda. While she was ready to tackle the world of technology, stepping out from behind a screen and onto a stage was something she never thought she’d do.

When she was selected by her school to participate in a Entrepreneurship & Leadership Summit organized by Babson College, she doubted that she was truly qualified.

“I was not very confident about my speaking and listening skills,” Pascaline admitted. “I was also from a French background and feared expressing my ideas in English to a group of Americans.”

Despite her fears, she decided to attend the summit.

On the final day of the event, her group chose her to present their business pitch in front of a panel of investors, along with an audience of all the summit attendees. Her heart was racing, but she accepted their nomination. She didn’t want let her team down.

To her surprise, she won her group third place!

The next year Pascaline was invited to the Rwandan National Youth Entrepreneurship Debate. Even though she was successful in the business pitch competition the previous year, when she stood before the judges, she said she felt like she was about to cry.

“Luckily, my colleagues built me up in confidence and we won that round,” Pascaline recalled. “We even got a chance to attend a debate camp where we met very good coaches and mentors.”

As Pascaline became further involved in public speaking, she saw how it was helping her to develop valuable leadership skills: critical analysis, quick thinking, managing emotions, and forming and accepting constructive criticism.

Pascaline was invited to work with the IMBUTO Foundation and PAJER (Parlement des Jeunes Rwandais) in Rwanda, organizations that provide speech and leadership trainings to children who aren’t in school.

“I was so glad to work with these organizations,” Pascaline said. “It amazed me because I knew how much it hurt to have words in your heart you cannot utter. These non-schooling youth have different challenges. Teaching them debate, leadership, and public speaking is a great way to help them work for their future career and complement their knowledge with different skills.”

As she watched the children grow in their confidence, Pascaline felt proud of their success.

“In my life, I have a strong wish of helping people to know and understand their voice,” Pascaline said. “I plan to continue volunteering in secondary schools, and one day I hope to become a University lecturer.”

In 2015, Pascaline served as a judge in the National Universities Female Speech Championship, and represented Rwanda in the Pan-African Universities Debate Competition in Ghana, where her team finished 36th out of 92 groups from 13 countries.

Worldwide, culture has not always supported women in leadership positions, or standing up to use their voice. Pascaline, however, wants that to change.

“As a girl, participating in debate helps you to be useful for your society. You do not fear to give your opinions in a meeting, and you discuss together with men solutions to your community, nation and the world as a whole. Simply put, it’s a powerful tool to help people think and speak about a better world.”

This summer, five of our scholars were invited to attend the Africa Youth Leadership Forum (AYLF) in DR Congo! AYLF is an organization that aims to nurture the next generation of African leaders through trainings on leadership qualities, values and principles. This year's theme was "Leadership and Relationship - Peace and Reconciliation." 

The event had a big impact on our students. For one, however, her greatest takeaway was a renewed sense of hope.

For, Alice, one of our electrical engineering scholars in Rwanda, it was her first time back to DR Congo since her family fled due to conflict 18 years ago.
At first, Alice said her family was worried about her going to the conference, still scarred by the trauma of the past. But they also sensed this was an opportunity for Alice to return to her home as a rising young leader with the potential to bring positive change there in the future.

When Alice arrived to DR Congo, she was struck by the range of people who surrounded her -- youth who, like herself, were striving for higher excellence, who were choosing to pursue their education, and use their voice to speak about freedom, peace and justice.

Listening to the main speakers, and during discussion groups with fellow attendees, the message was clear to Alice: to be an effective leader, you need to be proactive, accept change with integrity, and make sacrifices to serve others.

"We have to see the invisible to believe the incredible," Alice said. "Sometimes it will seem impossible, but we must do it to serve our community. From my side, I have chosen to be a servant leader. I now have hope that one day I will return to my home and empower my country."

Alice was able to attend the Africa Youth Leadership Forum in DR Congo thanks to the supporters of These Numbers Have Faces - thanks to you!

She wrapped her fingers around the plastic handle of a green rolling bag.

Alice had never owned a suitcase before. And until then, she had no need for one. For 18 years, Alice and her family have been living in a mud hut in the Gihembe Refugee. After violence forced them to flee their home in the DR Congo, seeking safety in the refugee camps in Rwanda was the last time she had crossed borders.

Rolling the suitcase through the rock-covered courtyard, Alice looked up and smiled. A new journey was before her, and this time, crossing borders would not be a matter of escape, but a matter of adventure.

At the end of January, Alice, a freshman engineering student at the Kigali Institute of Science and Technology, took first place at the university’s science competition. 

While Alice believed in the value of her hard work, she was stunned. Just a year earlier, she wasn’t sure if she would be able to attend university. When These Numbers Have Faces heard of the brilliant students in the Gihembe Refugee Camp, Leadership Loans were offered to 12 of Gibehmbe’s brightest students — Alice was one of them.

Being supported through her time at university was a victory unto itself, but winning the science competition was beyond her wildest dreams. Things became more unbelievable when she discovered her prize for winning the competition — an all-expenses-paid trip to India to represent her university at an International Information and Computer Technology Conference!

Alice went to visit Tina, These Numbers Have Faces International Programs Director, to share the incredible news. Together, the two rejoiced.

“Do you need anything?” Tina asked.

“A bag and a suit.”

Tina reached for a green suitcase, which had been given to her by a friend, hoping Tina could find some use for it. Handing it to Alice, Tina realized this green bag had been meant for Alice all along.

The journey from Kigali to India was a long day of travel — but Alice said the six-hour plane ride was one of her favorite parts of her journey!

While in India, Alice attended various workshops and meet other engineering students from around the globe. She was immediately impressed by how engineering is changing India. It gave her hope for what she will one day be able to do for her community in Africa.

Now that she is back in Rwanda, Alice said she sees her university classes in a new light.

“The trip inspired my studies, and now I have a connection to other students who I can share ideas about engineering. I’ve learned that with hard work you can dream big, because everything is possible!”


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Organization Information

These Numbers Have Faces

Location: Portland, OR - USA
Website: http:/​/​www.thesenumbers.org
Project Leader:
Lauren Eads
Director of Development
Portland, OR United States
$8,741 raised of $20,000 goal
185 donations
$11,259 to go
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