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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