Changing Lives One Life at a Time
After the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, the social fabric of the nation shifted dramatically, with women having to take lead economic roles to fend for their families. According to the Global Fund for Women, in the wake of the genocide, women now constitute approximately 70 percent of Rwanda’s population, and 50 percent of these women are widows. Rwanda Ministry of Gender has helped many women acquire skills, identify markets, and start small businesses. The ministry encourages workers to identify and acquire new skills to assist women to improve their economic well-being. Cisco Networking Academy played a role in one such effort to disseminate technical know-how in Rwanda.
Beth Murora, a program officer at the National Rwandan Ministry of Women’s Affairs, received a scholarship to attend the Networking Academy Program. The program was being offered in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, nearly 1000 miles from her home in Kigali, Rwanda. Beth had been accepted into a Networking Academy Program pilot project sponsored by Cisco Systems, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), and the World Bank’s Information for Development Program (InfoDev). The Networking Academy Program in Ethiopia was part of the Least Developed Countries (LDC) initiative, which has brought the Networking Academy Program to 31 of the world’s 49 LDCs. The program was delivered through a blended-learning solution, where the instructors receive content and assessment tools through an e-learning component but deliver classes in person to students attending the program.
To participate in the Networking Academy Program, Beth had to leave her family for six months, during which time she became a mother of twin boys. “It was one of the most difficult decisions of my life,” recalls Beth. “But, too often women lose opportunities to advance themselves because of family obligations. I could not pass up this opportunity, which would help me to help other women in Rwanda. I had a vision and the willingness to make it a reality.”
“I wanted to be part of this program,” says Beth. “It bridged both gender and digital divides—issues that are of concern to me. And it had the potential to empower women with information technology skills that lead to economic opportunities. Such empowerment is critical for Rwandan women.” With the assurances that nutritional, medical, and transportation needs would be met and the guarded support of her husband and family, Beth embarked on her journey to Ethiopia accompanied by her mother-in-law. “I knew my babies would be in good hands while I attended classes,” recalls Beth.
Participation in the Academy Program was fully supported by the National Rwandan Ministry of Women’s Affairs. The minister of the Rwandan Ministry of Women’s Affairs worked with the Rwandan embassy in Addis Ababa to ensure that Beth’s medical and housing needs would be taken care of while she attended the Academy Program.
With a bachelor degree in public administration from the National University of Rwanda, Beth had but a few computer-related courses under her belt. She knew that the Networking Academy Program, which follows the 280-hour, 6-month Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) curriculum, would pose a challenge. In addition, through the UNECA African Center for Women, Academy Program participants were trained in gender and development, entrepreneurship, and management skills.
“Some days it was very hard for me,” says Beth. “But the Networking Academy instructors were very helpful. They kept me going and encouraged me to succeed. I set out of my country with a goal to achieve. Despite the pains I felt some mornings, by sheer force of will I got out of bed and to my classes because of my goal. By accomplishing what I set out to do, I knew I could look forward to much happiness when I returned to my home—mission accomplished, and with my new babies.”
Achieve her missions she did. In October 2001, Beth gave birth to two healthy boys, and in February 2002, Beth completed her CCNA coursework. Upon her joyous return to Rwanda, Beth possessed a networking and IT skill set enabling her to pursue the development and implementation of technology programs championed by the Rwandan Ministry of Gender.
“The genocide left a country in need of rebuilding, both physically and emotionally,” says Beth. “The majority of Rwandan women are single mothers and very, very poor. These women must be able to earn a living and support their children. And I intend to use the knowledge gained through the Networking Academy to help raise women out of poverty with the technical training to run organizations and develop businesses, and a communications network that enables information sharing among women forums.”