World: Look to Rwanda!

When I told people I was going to Rwanda their first -- and often only -- association with the country was the 1994 genocide. Too often in the West our image of Africa is simple and ill-informed.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

By Rara Williams, WiSci STEAM Camp participant

When I told people I was going to Rwanda their first--and often only--association with the country was the 1994 genocide. Too often in the West our image of Africa is simple and ill-informed. The continent is not given its fair due in our formal education system, and the news media is overwhelmingly negative in its portrayal of African stories. It is time for a shift of mindset and understanding. It is to our detriment if we do not recognize and appreciate the multiplicities and complexities of the African continent. In recent years it seems the U.S. Department of State is recognizing this fact and has created programs to benefit emerging leaders throughout Africa, the WiSci camp included. While at camp we met the incredible Rwandan participants of the TechWomen program of the U.S. Department of State. These women are starting their own tech companies and are also setting up mentoring programs to encourage young girls in Rwanda to enter the STEM fields. The women from HeHe Labs in Kigali are also an inspiration.

Rwanda sets an example for the world: the country is becoming the technology hub of Africa, has more women represented in the government than any other country, and is incredibly clean. Rwanda has achieved incredible success in so many areas, yet many in the West do not look to Rwanda as a model to learn and grow from, though they should. When we lump nations into single stories, we all suffer. By not appreciating the intricacies of the nation of Rwanda, how can we learn from the country and become better ourselves? We all benefit when we approach others with mutual understanding.

In short, WiSci 2015 represents an investment in the African continent and an investment in women and girls. The very idea of the WiSci camp came from two men: Thomas Debass at the State Department and Joseph Nsengimana at Intel. WiSci thus encapsulates the idea that to move women and girls forward, men have to be included. The WiSci camp also shows the strength of public-private partnerships, for the experience was so enriching because so many different kinds of organizations were involved in creating it.

Ten years ago, Girl Up did not exist. Initiatives like ANNpower, a partnership between Ann Taylor LOFT and the NGO Vital Voices that works to empower young girls, did not exist. During my lifetime I have seen these opportunities, like WiSci, come to life and I can't imagine what opportunities will exist for young girls in the next ten years. It feels like this wave of female empowerment is becoming a surge. I know that the girls I met at WiSci will become leaders of their countries. The future is in good hands.

Rara Williams is 17 years old and lives in Athens, GA. She is a 2014 ANNpower Fellow and Grantee, and founder of Athens Art Project, an arts program for youth in Athens' federal housing projects. She loves roots reggae music and is interested in pursuing a career in international affairs and economics.