“To me, Akilah means family. It’s a place where you can find yourself, discover your potential, a place where you can know your responsibilities and discover how to be responsible in your future.” -Irene Ingabire, Akilah Student
This personal account is one of many shared by the young women whose lives have forever changed as a result of the Akilah Institute located in Kigali, Rwanda. The Akilah Institute for Women was founded in 2009 with the vision to help young women in East Africa transform their lives by giving them the skills, knowledge, and confidence to become leaders and entrepreneurs.
In an event held at the Harvard Kennedy School on Wednesday, November 2nd hosted by the Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations and the Women’s Forum@the United Nations Association of Greater Boston, guests had the opportunity to hear from Elizabeth Dearborn Davis, Akilah’s Co-founder and CEO, and also current students Noella Abijuru and Allen Kazarwa who are touring the United States on a Metropolitan Safari for the first time to meet supporters and share their life-changing experiences at Akilah.
Dearborn Davis, inspired by the resilience of the Rwandan people after the devastating 1994 genocide, decided after finishing her education in the United States that she wanted to move to Rwanda and be a part of the reconciliation. On this journey, she found herself working to build a new model of education for young women. During Wednesday’s event she spoke about her passion to help women find meaningful career paths to lift themselves and their families from poverty. Her testimony was a powerful reminder that a moment of inspiration and selfless dedication can lead to life-changing results.
The Akilah Institute offers women a unique learning environment that fosters innovation and confidence. Currently Akilah offers a 2-year diploma in Hospitality Management and hopes to begin offering a Business Management and Entrepreneurship (BME) in 2012. At Akilah students develop their English language proficiency and gain the confidence to speak in front of others. Students learn how to become leaders in Rwanda’s booming hospitality industry while also developing their own individual strengths. Students express that Akilah is especially rare because it is not just a school, it is a family.
The Akilah students grew up as survivors, many without the guidance of elders or mentors. Today, in addition to attending school, many are also the providers for their households. These women have forged their own paths and overcome tremendous obstacles. Guests witnessed firsthand the influence Akilah has had when current students Noella and Allen captivated the room with their confidence and optimism for the future. They each briefly spoke of the struggles they have experienced but quickly changed the focus to the future and their responsibility to reclaim their country. They emphasized that Akilah has transformed their lives by empowering them with the ability to find meaningful employment, serve as leaders in their communities, and instill a powerful sense of pride.
The work that Akilah is doing directly addresses UN Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s) #2 which aim to provide universal education opportunities, regardless of gender, and and #3, which focuses on gender equality and empowerment. Although the UN has stated in a new report that Africa’s overall progress toward achieving the internationally agreed targets to eradicate extreme poverty and accelerate social development has been slow and insufficient to meet the 2015 deadline. According to the report, the continent’s efforts to achieve the MDGs have been mixed and characterized by substantial variations in access to basic social services across sub-regions and countries. Yet, while overall progress is slow, programs like Akilah show us that results are possible and are what give us hope for scalable, sustainable change.
As Dearborn Davis spoke, she became especially excited as she shared her goals for the future of Akilah which include moving to a new campus, largely increasing the incoming classes of women, growing their social enterprise and earned income initiatives, closing the gender gap of entrepreneurs in Rwanda, and also plans to replicate the model of Akilah to reach more of Rwanda and other African countries.
It is safe to say that this event was inspiring to all who were able to attend and hear the testimonies of these courageous women. UNA-GB’s Women’s Forum would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to the team at the Hauser Center for their partnership and especially to the women of Akilah who took the time to share their stories with us.
If you would like to donate to the Akilah Institute or learn about other ways you can support thier mission please do so! Remember each one of us has the ability to make a big change! I also encourage you to learn more about the Women’s Forum at UNA-GB and ways to get involved here.
-Katie Miles, UNA-GB Women’s Forum