Christine Halleluya Rubera, also known by the mononym Halle, is currently a rising senior in Wellesley College, Boston. The United States is thousands of miles away from the two countries she knows as home. Halle, whose family is from Rwanda, grew up and studied in Kenya, making it to the newspapers for her excellent performance in KCPE and KCSE. Being that she was one of the top students in the country, she received a scholarship from the MasterCard Foundation to study abroad. This summer, Halle made a trip to Rwanda as she usually does during the holiday but for a different reason. This time around, she was there to run a project - her brainchild - that she had won a grant for. Meet Halle, in her own words.
What year are you in at Wellesley and what major are you taking?
I’m a senior - 4th year - and I’m studying political science and Africana studies.
What made you decide on that major?
I wanted to study something that interests me so I settled on this major.
How would you describe studying in Wellesley?
Wellesley is an all women’s college so it encourages us to pursue anything and everything. Gender is no limitation to what we can achieve. I love that about being at the college. It empowers you to be confident in any space.
And how would you say the current political climate in the U. S. has affected you and/or your studies?
Can I pass on this question? Just because I’m still in the US. 😂
No problem. Any advice you would give incoming international students?
Yeah. They should always know they can/ should reach out for help if things become overwhelming. And should enjoy the new experience with people from all walks of life
Your project in Rwanda. Was it part of the school curriculum?
No. It was an independent project I undertook after receiving the Davis Projects for Peace grant.
What is the Davis Projects for Peace exactly?
Projects for Peace is an initiative for undergraduate students to design grassroots projects for the Summer of 2018. The project can be anywhere in the world and is supposed to address conflict and promote peace. To participate, you must be an undergraduate in one of the Davis United World Scholars partner schools or another listed institution. You apply for a grant and, if your project is selected, you get a funding of $10,000.
What made you want to apply for the grant? And how easy/hard would you say it was?
I wanted to contribute to my community. It’s a grant open to students studying in the US only. It was pretty straightforward. I think what’s hard about it is coming up with a meaningful project.
And how did you land on building icyumba cy'umukobwa amongst all the projects you could have come up with?
Initially, I was interested in building toilets. I was basing my project on research regarding the shortage of toilets in schools. The shortage of toilets serves as a disincentive to girls especially when they’re on their periods: they’d rather not go to school. So I identified some under-resourced schools and set out to build the toilets. However, when I got to this specific school they preferred the room, and so that is what we ended up building.
Tell us more about your project.
My project was building icyumba cy'umukobwa, which are basically 'Girl's Rooms' that offer a safe place for girls who have unexpectedly had their period or who are having menstruation-related issues. Icyumba cy'umukobwa was a local government initiative by the Ministry of Education in conjunction with the Ministry of Health to address the issue of girls being unable to attend school due to period-related issues. The room usually has sanitary pads, towels, painkillers, a bed, water, and soap, and for the girls who cannot afford to buy sanitary pads, the respective school provides them for the duration of the period, free of charge. For my project, I was going to build icyumba cy'umukobwa for Groupe Scolaire de Gahini in the Eastern Province of Rwanda which is a mixed school. I teamed up with two young women - Aviel Rubera (19) and Rodham Gakwaya (22) - to run the project. Aviel was our communications manager while Rodham was our project manager and translator. We hired local workers to carry out the construction work. Imagine We Rwanda donated to us 52 books for the icyumba cy'umukobwa. We also partnered with the local Anglican church to renovate 8 public toilets at their new youth center which holds a public library, sewing school, and soon, a public lecture hall. Additionally, I decided to hold career workshops to help the students at the school get to know more about higher learning and opportunities to study locally and abroad. With the help of Jonathan Iyandemye (Harvard '18) and Irene Ingabire (Wellesley 22'), both previously local students in Rwanda, I was able to pique the students' interest in post-high school opportunities.
Did your Rwandan language skills improve while you were there? Which Rwandan language is it?
In Rwanda, the ethnicities are not ethnicities in a strict sense of the word; we have a similar culture and our language is Kinyarwanda. It's different from, say Kenya, where each ethnic group has its own language. Here it's just Kinyarwanda. My Kinyarwanda definitely improved because I was in situations where I had to speak the language, like getting motorcycles and asking for directions and generally just communicating.
You recently attended a MasterCard Foundation event. What was it?
Oh, that was a scholars convening. Different scholars from different schools come together to hear from African leaders. It’s to inspire us.
How would you say the MasterCard Foundation has helped you settle in college and advance your education?
Aside from the full tuition scholarship, it also opens up opportunities to meet accomplished Africans plus fellow scholars working to make a difference on the continent. We also have a mentor ship program where incoming first years get paired with upper class students where you’re basically like the school mum/dad. Plus we have a coordinator who helps with everything. And for me, as a Wellesley student, I can access Wellesley resources as well like mental health services and such. We can see school counselors and so on. And student leaders like the residence hall staff are helpful too.
Is there any groundwork for how you progress after you're done?
We have a network of alums around the world that we can access. Additionally, we have our own social media platform where we can reach out to scholars and mentors from all over the world.
What do you plan on doing once you're done with university?
I'm not sure yet. Maybe grad school, a job. I haven't settled into a career choice yet.
Read more about Halle's project here.
Learn more about the Davis Projects for Peace Grant here.
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Girl's Generation, GG in short, also known as SNSD (Sonyeo Sidae, stylised as 소녀시대 in the Korean alphabet) is a South Korean girl group that has been active since 2007. The group quickly gained the title 'Nation's Girl Group' but their journey has not been without its ups and downs. Yesterday was GG's 11th anniversary and I celebrated by talking a walk down memory lane. Here are 5 things I've learnt from Girl's Generation.
The road to success is a long and winded one.
GG started out at a time when boy groups were the norm and yet they managed to carve a name out for themselves. It didn't come in an instant though, they released their first song in 2007 - Into The New World - but the song that rose them through the charts was Gee which they released in 2009. And even before their debut, the various members were trainees for several years as is the norm in the South Korean entertainment industry. Some can even train for 10+ years before they get a chance to debut! And, because of this training system, the people seeking to be in the entertainment industry practically start out when they are wee children so that they can debut by the time they are getting into late teenagehood or thereabout. I remember watching a GG documentary of the Into The New World era: they would practise that one song for hours and hours on end until every single thing was perfect. At that time, they were opening for Super Junior. People hardly knew who GG were; they had close to no fans. And yet, slowly, through the years, their popularity soared up to the point where they were being put in Korean textbooks as one of Korea's attractions!
Not everyone's going to like you, and you're going to need to be okay with that.
Given what I've led with, you'd think that GG was liked by everyone, and, well, relatively so, but they received their fair share of hate. There's this phenomenon called K-Netz, and they're basically Koreans on the internets who seem to specialize in hate. There's also this other phenomenon called sasaeng, which is an obsessive fan on steroids (figuratively). K-Netz and sasaengs can get very wild. Very, very wild. K-Netz have called for the death penalty for Korean celebrities simply because the celebrity did something the K-Netz didn't like. Sasaengs have directly caused the physical harm of celebrities and other people in the vicinity. Let's just say that things get ugly. But back to GG. GG has had it's fair share of hate. When they started out, Hyoyeon got labelled ugly for her nose. Yuri was attacked for her tan. The girls had to constantly watch their weight otherwise any misstep and they were done for. Then Jessica left and people took it out on Taeyeon who is the group's leader. The poor girl got depression so bad. In fact, she was recently attacked for mourning her friend's death who also happened to be suffering from depression and who ended up committing suicide due to depression. GG as a collective went through a period of time where they tried changing themselves to suit everyone else but as they grew, they grew into themselves and became more and more comfortable with themselves and slowly stopped changing themselves for everyone else's pleasure. Liberation.
Sometimes you're going to have to step out of your comfort zone.
A sizeable amount of entertainers state that they are, as a matter of fact, introverts. Then how are they entertainers? Such is the performer's paradox. GG also has introverts in its midst. Taeyeon is perhaps the most introverted amongst them, yet she has a budding singing career. How? She simply steps out of her comfort zone whenever she has to and steps back into it after she's done. Did you also know that Beyoncé states that she's an introvert? That boggles my mind. What is this life?
You're going to make mistakes.
The most recent mistake by GG was by Tiffany when she put the Imperial Japanese flag on her Instagram on South Korea's Independence Day. Japan's Imperial flag is considered the 'Confederate flag of the East', so you get the idea. And to put it up on Independence Day, oof! Tiffany's defense was that she had simply mistaken the flags and she had meant to put Japan's flag because she was in Tokyo and the the rising sun flag came up after she typed Tokyo and she didn't know any better because it wasn't taboo in Japan or anywhere else in the world plus she's American...she didn't know, in short. She apologized, but it was a really big scandal. HUGE scandal. In her defense, Japan's imperialism isn't discussed outside of East Asia mostly. The rising sun flag of Japan is in display in lots of places and people just think it's just another symbol of Japan, which it is, but they have no idea that it actually stands for war, destruction and hate. The point is, you're going to make mistakes. Apologize and make it right, otherwise you're just an asshole. The world doesn't need any more assholes, there's already plenty of those.
Friends are just family you choose.
GG is a tight-knit family. They're always there for each other. Even now, when they're in different countries, they still make time for each other. They get together when they miss each other and even during member's birthdays whenever they can. When one of them comes up with a project, the rest of them throw their weight behind her and support her fully. Get you friends like those.