Organised by Gatera Fiston Kitema (2018 Scholar from Rwanda, MSc Public Health for Eye Care, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine)

On Friday 6 March 2020 recently returned Commonwealth Scholar, Gatera Fiston Kitema, organised an event titled ‘Commonwealth Awareness for Youth’. to mark this year’s Commonwealth Day and  promote the 2020 Commonwealth theme, ‘Delivering A Common Future: Connecting, Innovating, Transforming’ amongst university students  in Rwanda. The event took place at Nyarugenge Campus, University of Rwanda, and was attended by over 300 participants who were mainly students from various universities in Rwanda and final year students from high schools located near the University of Rwanda.

Rwanda joined the Commonwealth in 2009, and English language as a medium of education was introduced only one year prior to that. According to the British High Commission in Rwanda, there is low awareness level about the Commonwealth amongst the people, especially the youth. According to the Rwanda National Institute of Statistics, 40% of the population is between 14 – 35 years and 53% of city habitants are from the same age group, a pattern seen in other Commonwealth countries. Therefore, it is vital for the youth in Rwanda, especially those at university, to connect with each other and with fellow youth from other Commonwealth countries to work collectively to solve shared global challenges and problems.

Special guests and speakers

The half-day event included a keynote speech, a presentation by a CSC alumnus, and a panel discussion. The special guests and speakers at the event included:

  • Dr Charles Muligande, Deputy Vice Chancellor in charge of Institutional Advancement, University of Rwanda
  • Ben Snowdon, Deputy High Commissioner, British High Commission, Kigali
  • Emerance Umurerwa, Judicial Strengthening Officer, USAID/Dutezelmbere Ubutabera project (2016 Distance Learning Scholar, MSc International Human Rights Law, University of Oxford)

Ben Snowdon delivered the keynote speech in which he highlighted the significance of celebrating Commonwealth Day alongside a brief history of the Commonwealth. He stated that Rwanda is the last country to join the Commonwealth, but the efforts and contribution of the country are tangible and vital. He called out to the youth to be problem solvers and engage with other youth in Commonwealth to work towards achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Commonwealth Alumnus, Emerance Umererwa gave a testimony about her life before, during, and after her Commonwealth Scholarship. She shared the ways in which her Scholarship and time at the University of Oxford had impacted and  shaped her career. She promised to help others achieve their goals and reminded those in attendance to focus on the SDGs  to direct their  efforts and support the transformation of our societies. Emerance finished her talk by stating that Commonwealth Alumni would be available to share information about applying for scholarships and provide mentorship.

Following the two talks, a panel discussion was organised between Dr Charles Muligande and Ben Snowdon. They shared information about the role of universities in supporting youth to connect and innovate to help solve both national and global problems. Through the panel discussion, attendees were enlightened about the Commonwealth and its background, the work and role of the British High Commission in Kigali, and the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission (CSC). The panelists also discussed key points on the upcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), due to take place in Rwanda in June 2020. The panelists urged attendees to participate in CHOGM 2020 and discussed the role and contribution of higher institutions of learning in preparing youths towards delivering a common future as per Commonwealth goals.

At the end of the panel discussion, attendees had the opportunity to ask questions to the panelists about the Commonwealth, with many curios to learn more about Commonwealth Scholarships and Fellowships.

Plans to Deliver a Common Future

Following the event, student attendees agreed that youth are the drivers of all sectors of development in Rwanda, with many feeling that there was an urgent need to increase the awareness and engagement about and across the Commonwealth community. The Deputy Vice Chancellor, Dr Charles Muligande added, ‘The University of Rwanda, in partnership with Commonwealth Alumni, will be organising more events like this twice a year for it to become a periodic activity. We shall also support debate competitions led by Commonwealth Alumni as judges, to enhance awareness and engagement of our students about the Commonwealth ahead of the CHOGM 2020’.

Commonwealth Alumni in Rwanda will continue engagement as CSC ambassadors and mentor the youth in Rwanda, through which they hope to increase awareness about different ways to connect and work to achieve goals and solve problems. The presence of final year High School students from the local area suggested that youth were interested in learning more about the Commonwealth and the opportunities to connect. It is hoped attendees will seek for further enlightenment by pursuing higher studies, engaging in discussions with fellow youth from other Commonwealth countries, and work in unison to develop the nation.