"I loved it!" That is how Ashley Umulisa Kalimba describes her experience at the just-concluded Indangamirwa series of Itorero.
The graduation ceremony was broadcast live on public television and one of the most memorable moments for those who watched the show or attended the event was how Umulisa commanded the graduates.
During the ceremony, she confidently stood in front of the country's top leadership, elegantly leading her contingent past the VIP pavilion in a manner that would make her pass for a fully professionally trained military officer.
The audience was awestruck - going by their reaction. They enjoyed it too, with nods of approval from President Paul Kagame.
Umulisa is only 18. She recently graduated from Excella High School and will be joining university this September.
She was one of the over 500 young Rwandans who have just completed a 5-week leadership and civic course at the RDF Combat Training Centre, Gabiro.
Umulisa wore the mock rank of Staff Sargent as she led her team in the parade.
During an exclusive interview with The New Times, Umulisa said the Itorero experience meant the world to her and her family.
"I am not actually a Staff Sargent because I am not in the army. It was just a one-off moment. But I loved it." Umulisa said.
"My dad was really proud of me, I could see it. Normally, when he is happy he usually shows his joy in a quiet way but this time he couldn't keep it to himself," she added.
"He told me he was really proud of me," Umulisa said.
Handling the nervousness
When I was selected to lead the parade, Umulisa says, "I first became nervous."
She added that she was worried about making mistakes during the parade.
But thanks to her team and one piece of advice from the trainer, she kept cool even before the Commander In Chief.
"During the training, there's one instructor who kept on telling me that they trust me and I would do great. So, when I was standing in front of all those important people, that voice of assurance kept ringing in my mind and kept me moving.
Umulisa further attributes her success to her comrades in Itorero.
"It was also due to teamwork. Those guys did a great job and that is one other element they taught us during the training. Working together to perfection," she said.
Kenny Kabibi Ingabire, who also took part in the Itorero, described Umulisa as focused, disciplined and determined.
"Personally, the way she commanded the parade did not surprise. She always gives her best in everything she does. It made me prouder to see her mesmerise everyone, including the generals who were there," Ingabire who also took part in the Itorero said.
The 11th edition of Indangamirwa series of Itorero comprised 560 trainees.
They included Rwandan diaspora students from 20 countries across Asia, Europe, America and Africa. Best performers from national A-Level exams also took part in the training.
The next step
At the close of the training, the young participants return home and prepare for school.
But there is also a provision for those who wish to join the military as a career. And for those who only want to enrol in the reserve force, the doors are open too.
Umulisa says she opted for the reserve force.
"I signed up for the reserve force. Anytime the country needs me I will be there. I am going to have to take a course for it too. I signed up willingly," she said. "Our bodies, our souls, our being is for our country."
With youth who think like Umulisa, the country is without a doubt in safe hands. Patriotism is one value every country yearns for.
Training to join the reserve force is one-year. Umulisa says she will take the course at a later stage when she is ready.
Umulisa is set to pursue her University degree in Global Challenges and International Business and Trade at the African Leadership University.
"I haven't zeroed down on what my dream career is but I know what I want to be; I want to be an independent and influential person in my community, family and in my country".
Umulisa's take away
"Since Rwanda is a developing country, I need to be part of that development. I need to be part of those people who will get my country where it needs to be.
"Our parents have done what they have to do and that is why we are here. Now it is up to us to take it to another level. With that training and the package will help us take the country to where it is supposed to be.
"I highly recommend everyone to go there (Itorero), whether you are old or young because that is where you learn about your country. Now, we know where Rwanda came from, where it is and where it is heading. We know everything about our country.
"This programme is really helpful. I think that if Rwanda increases the time for this training and makes it compulsory for everyone, we will develop at a faster rate.
Umulisa says she already misses the morning runs, military drills and the evening conversations around a campfire. But she also regrets not being allowed to leave with her military fatigue that she had developed a strong bond with during the camp.