(Editor’s Note: Helaina is a member of Princeton University’s Fellows in Africa Program.)
Muraho from Kigali, Rwanda! I have been here since August 2010, working as the Program Assistant at Generation Rwanda.
A unique scholarship program, Generation Rwanda supports the most disadvantaged and motivated students to pursue higher education in Rwanda. It offers them a holistic support package, complete with not only university tuition but also housing; healthcare; monthly living stipends; trainings in English, computer skills, entrepreneurship, and leadership; career development services, counseling, and more. As this is the best university scholarship available in the country, it is extremely competitive and recent years have seen acceptance rates of only one to two percent.
My daily tasks are to oversee and implement a variety of programming, essentially making sure that everything runs smoothly and that students receive the support they need to excel at university. At the moment, I am organizing entrepreneurship training, conducting a program evaluation, and overseeing the 2011 new student selection process. It fulfills me to reflect that in the big picture, I am making a tangible difference in the lives of vulnerable students who will likely go on to change their communities and be the future leaders of Rwanda.
Every day here is an adventure in which I learn more and fall more in love with Rwanda.
Top 10 List: Best Things About Rwanda
1) I live at the base of Mount Kigali, a mountain whose peak offers a breathtaking 360-degree vista of Kigali and a view of the twinkling Nyabarongo river snaking through southern valleys.
2) A huge, delicious avocado in my neighborhood costs $.16.
3) In less than three hours on a bus, I can find myself over the border on a visit to neighboring Uganda, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, or Tanzania.
4) Every day at work I support, interact with, and learn from bright and motivated university students whose painful histories encourage them to work hard and inspire me to overcome and find enjoyment in my own challenges.
5) When I trip or fall in public, instead of laughing or pointing, people shout “Sorry!” and rush to help.
6) I live across the street from a lively Congolese bar where a very large bottle of beer costs $1.25.
7) On Sundays, I visit the local market, 10 minutes from my house, and stock up on fresh passion fruit, mangoes, onions, and tomatoes. When there’s something I can’t find at the market, I put an order in with Etienne, a kind vegetable man who comes by my office each week.
8) A frequent evening activity for my housemate and me is to visit our Rwandan “aunt” up the street and inevitably stay for a delicious dinner feast.
9) The country abounds with natural wonder: known as the “Land of a Thousand Hills,” tiny Rwanda is home to five volcanoes, 23 lakes and rivers (including the most remote source of the Nile), vegetation ranging from dense rainforest to tropical savannah, beautiful beaches, and world-famous mountain gorillas.
10) When schoolchildren in my neighborhood see me returning after a day at work, they run to me at full speed and throw their arms around my waist to welcome me home.