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Focus on Rwanda: Building a New Future

'Bitter Past – Brilliant Future'

PhotoTumba graduate Marcel Mutsindashyaka discusses a new Web story with a colleague.

“The ‘old’ government used young people and the media to destroy the country,” said Marcel Mutsindashyaka. “We are using the same weapons to rebuild the country.”

Mutsindashyaka is a precocious rising star in Rwanda. He was orphaned at the age of 5 when most of his family were killed two decades ago in the country’s darkest moment.

The slim, bespectacled Rwandan is still only 25 years old, but from those terrible times he has built an IT and media company in the capital, Kigali, employs around 20 people and in 2011 launched the country’s second most popular website, Umuseke, which means “dawn.” The site focuses on social issues, advocacy and peace-building.

“It has been a bitter past, but a brilliant future,” is how Mutsindashyaka describes the situation.

Rwanda is one of the smallest, most densely populated countries in Africa. Its most precious resource is probably the almost 6 million young people under 20 who make up almost 50 percent of the population.

With few other natural resources, the government has concentrated on building a knowledge-based, service-orientated economy under its national policy Vision 2020.

The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) has been assisting at all levels of education — from primary and secondary to vocational, university and college — providing overseas and domestic training, financing, equipment, experts and volunteers and specifically targeting where possible women and the disabled.

Mutsindashyaka is a graduate of Tumba College of Technology, which is at the apex of Rwanda’s education system. Located two hours’ drive from the capital, up a long and winding mountain road, Tumba enjoys a spectacular location atop a narrow ridge.

Parallel ridgelines and valleys stretch into the distance. The tin roofs of thousands of village homes sparkle brightly in the sunlight, like a huge terrestrial Milky Way embedded in a dark green backdrop of tea and banana trees and willowy eucalyptus trees.

PhotoVolunteer Kazuyoshi Miyaji and a Rwandan colleague teach a Tumba class.

Vice Principal Emile Abayisenga and Japanese volunteer Kazuyoshi Miyaji argue jokingly that the college’s isolated position is responsible for the high grades most of its students attain in such fields as IT and alternative energy. The school has a 600 pupil capacity. Abayisenga said such subjects as solar and hydro power, and bio-gas are unique to Tumba and taught nowhere else in the country.

JICA has supported the college since it emerged from the devastation of “the troubles,” with its formal opening as a college in 2007, to its preeminent current position.

The college continues to develop. Miyaji has been in-country for nearly two years, teaching computer programming, but, together with Japanese experts, he is also helping to develop a concept known as the production unit in which the college will increasingly use its educational and technical expertise to work more closely with Rwandan businesses.

Miyaji has already helped to develop a distinctive package from local materials for tea grown on a nearby plantation.


PhotoJapanese volunteer Akira Sakiyama teaches a math class at the Gahini Secondary School.

“I was truly scared to come here,”

Akira Sakiyama is a volunteer at the Gahini Secondary School, a little further down the educational food chain.

“I was truly scared to come here,” he recalls, when he was told he would be a volunteer in Rwanda. “I had to check the Internet to know its location and history. I thought it was probably a horrible country.”

The Gahini campus, in fact, is in an idyllic rural setting, has an envious academic record and attracts students from a 200 kilometer radius, according to deputy head teacher Rene Bisimwa.

Sakiyama, an architect by training, teaches mathematics and physics and other sciences, subjects the government emphasizes in its drive to develop a highly educated and skilled workforce.

One day recently he was reviewing a complicated formula to a group of teenagers scheduled to take an examination the following day.

They are obviously absorbing their lessons well because the entire school’s pass rate is in the 90s.

“Initially, because of language problems and because education levels were already high, it was difficult for me,” he told a visitor recently. Now, things are “much more comfortable for me. In addition to classes, I also teach in the local science club and have helped to develop organic fertilizer from waste.”

Like much of Rwanda, the immediate area is crowded but beautiful. Local farmers cultivate maize, beans and bananas as well as livestock. There is a national park and huge lake nearby. Purple jacaranda trees are in blossom.

“I will come back here in a year’s time to see how my students are doing and play at being a tourist,” said Sakiyama.

PhotoVolunteer Noriko Yoshinaga teaches dressmaking to students, some with disabilities.

The yukata comes to Central Africa

Noriko Yoshinaga graduated with a home economics degree from Utsunomiya University and her passion was handicrafts and home crafts. This led her to become a volunteer (JOCV), and she is now teaching at the Rwabuye Vocational Training Center (VTC) in central Rwanda.

“In high school I began work with the handicapped and I wanted to transfer some of these skills to the less fortunate.”

On a recent visit she was helping her female students, including one pupil on crutches and others with hearing problems, to tailor the traditional Japanese yukata, a light summer kimono. She explained her seemingly strange choice of design by saying the yukata was particularly useful in teaching her students good basic design skills.

She is the second volunteer at the VTC, which has other classes in such subjects as masonry, cooking, carpentry and welding.

JICA also assisted students with transportation costs, education fees and helping to establish village cooperatives once they have finished their education here.

“I was surprised when I was chosen to come to Rwanda,” said Yoshinaga. “I didn’t know where it was. But it has been a wonderful experience with everyone here.”

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