28 December 2017

Rwanda: The Women Who Made a Difference in 2017


Rwandan women have over the years made progress in various sectors, taking on male-dominated fields with zeal and confidence. As the year comes to an end, Sharon Kantengwa looks at some of the women who made commendable strides in 2017 in no particular order.

Jolly Mutesi

Despite having handed over the crown early this year, Miss Rwanda 2016, Jolly Umutesi, spearheaded the inter-generation dialogue which she initiated to sensitise the youth on the values and norms of Rwandans in a campaign dubbed AgaciroKanjye or My Dignity, urging the youth to be patriotic. Furthermore, drawing lessons from Rwanda, the beauty queen made a strong case on the role of peace in development during her speech at a global forum organised recently by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization- (UNESCO) in Gabon.

Alice Umuhoza

24-year-old Alice Umuhoza, a medical student at University of Rwanda (UR), was awarded for her study on 'clinical care perspectives and knowledge on women cancers.

Umuhoza received the award at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO)-Merck Africa Research Summit (MARS) in Mauritius.She is the only person from East Africa who scooped an award in this year's event.

The summit aimed at bringing together researchers from across Africa to discuss the generation, sharing and dissemination of research data and to contribute to building research capacity in the African research community.

It is during this summit that different people, including Umuhoza, showcased innovative research projects, programmes and initiatives across African universities and the wider African research community.

Vanessa Bahati

On December 9, the 37-year-old mother of four was awarded by the First Lady at the YouthConnekt Champions and Celebrating Young Rwandan Achievers (CYRWA) Awards ceremony for establishing a charity foundation, Jordan Foundation. The initiative was founded in 2015 to help children with visual impairment, and was named after Bahati's last born son who was born visually impaired. "I realised the problems that children in Jordan's situation go through and I was propelled to help other visually impaired children from poor families," Bahati said in a previous interview with The New Times.

The foundation is currently home to 21 visually impaired children between the ages of 2 and 10 years. Bahati recently organised a sports activism event that attracted hundreds of Kigali residents and was able to raise Rwf2, 050,000 for the welfare of the children.

Aimee Laetitia Umubyeyi and Malaika Uwamahoro

Umubyeyi and Uwamahoro were also awarded by the First Lady at Imbuto Foundation's YouthConnekt Champions and Celebrating Young Rwandan Achievers Awards (CYRWA) this year. Aimee Laetitia Umubyeyi, a young electrical engineer was awarded for having supported Kirehe community by providing electricity to her village, and Malaika Uwamahoro, a young poet, actress and dancer was awarded for using art to represent the identity and culture of the country.

Beth Gatonye

Beth Gatonye, an aesthetician and massage therapist, recently adopted a social enterprise model to train eight vulnerable visually impaired people with limited employment opportunities as massage therapists. Using her 15 years of experience, she offered visually impaired people from Rwanda Union of the Blind advanced training and other tactics of therapy and offered them jobs in some of the hotels and spas around Kigali. Her dreams are to see every visually impaired person employed and working in different spas around the country.

Yvette Ishimwe and Kellia Uwiragiye

Yvette Ishimwe and Kellia Uwiragiye, were the two lucky winners from Rwanda selected to receive the 'Queen's Young Leaders' award at Buckingham Palace in London on June 29. The award celebrates inspiring young people from all over the Commonwealth that are dedicated to driving change in their communities and beyond. 22-year-old Ishimwe was recognised by the Queen for her work that involves reducing the burden on women and children through improving access to safe water. 26-year-old Uwiragiye was awarded for bridging the gap between the media and Rwanda's hearing impaired community. Using her passion for journalism, Uwiragiye established a media organisation that advocates for the deaf and she is the brain behind the campaign "Sign Your Name #SUN" which aims at raising awareness on Rwandan sign language. The campaign had participants signing their names and giving messages in Rwandan Sign Language.

Elsa Iradukunda

The reigning Miss Rwanda who represented the Western Province was the country's second beauty queen to represent Rwanda in the Miss World beauty pageant.Even though she didn't win, Iradukunda made a good impression at the international beauty pageant held in Sanya, China. She gave fellow contestants a lesson or two about Rwanda and its cherished traditions. Prior to the global contest, Iradukunda toured Sweden, France and Germany where she promoted the'Made in Rwanda' campaign, including some of her own personal projects.

Sonia Mugabo

She is young and relatively new to the fashion Industry but the founder and chief executive officer of the fashion label Sonia Mugabo, named after her, began the year on a high note by opening her new outlet at the Kigali Mariott Hotel.Mugabo was this year also on Forbes' most promising young entrepreneurs list and was among the magazine's 100 Most Influential Young Africans in 2017. She has also appeared on different high profile entrepreneurship panels, local and international.

Hope Azeda

The founder and director of Mashirika Performing Arts is still soaring as an arts and drama queen since 2004. This year, Mashirika Performing Arts, for all the years it has staged productions at the gorilla naming ceremony, KwitaIzina, had a large cast and were the main performers at the ceremony.The group chose to portray community inclusivity through their 15-minute dance-theatre piece at the annual ceremony. To their credit, Mashirika staged a multi-layered performance that blended visuals, nature and music.

Azeda's Mashirika Performing Arts and Media Company staged a production Can You Hear Me Now? featuring young people from three cities- Kigali (Rwanda), Kampala (Uganda), and Bristol (UK). It addressed the mental health issues of teenagers regarding social media and the dark sides of Internet.

Charly & Nina

They are not just Rwanda's only female pop group; they are Rwanda's 'dynamic duo'. Charlotte Rulinda and Nina Umuhoza, better known by their stage name Charly& Nina, have made it to the top of the country's music industry in a span of five years. Their meteoric rise to fame has been credited to hard work, good management and their tenacity in the competitive industry. Early this year, they made their first trip to Europe where they held successful live shows in Belgium, France and Switzerland. Furthermore, this month, they staged their first album launch, the Imbaraga concert, which was arguably one of the most successful musical concerts staged by local artistes this year.

Charly& Nina in February this year also scooped the 'Song of the Year' accolade for their song Indoro that featured Burundi's Big Fizzo at the fifth edition of the prestigious Hipipo Music Awards that were held in Kampala.


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