As a young girl, Diane Akimana Mukundwa loved school, but she feared she might not be able to finish her education.
Mukundwa, the middle child of five, grew up in the Nyamagabe district of southern Rwanda, where her parents sometimes struggled to support her family. Life became even more challenging when her parents took in other young family members whose parents had died.
“I was worried I could be chased out of school at any time if we couldn’t pay tuition on time," Mukundwa told Global Citizen. "I was stressed out and it sometimes affected my academic performance."
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Still, Mukundwa persisted. She worked hard to keep her grades up despite obstacles, and as her final year of school neared, she heard about an organization that provides scholarships to promising young women called the Same Sky Foundation, the charitable arm of Same Sky, a US-based trade initiative that empowers collectives of female artisans who make jewelry in Rwanda.
The foundation aims to empower women and girls around the world through education and economic opportunities, and focuses on supporting female survivors of the Rwandan genocide. Mukundwa is one of 20 girls the program has sponsored since it began in 2015.
The scholarship that Mukandwa earned took care of her school fees and provided her with a stipend for the things she needed to succeed in school and life, including books, clothing, and shoes.
“With the scholarship, I had nothing to worry about,” Mukundwa said. “I didn’t have to worry about tuition or expenses for my family. All I had to do was focus on studying and that made it easier. It really helped me improve my studies.”
Today, the 20-year-old is a freshman at Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas, where she plans to major in engineering.
“Rwanda is a developing country and there are many things that still need to be fixed — like electricity. That’s why I want to be an electrical engineer,” she said. “Not having electricity in many parts of Rwanda, especially rural areas, affects children because they can’t study in the evening or at night. And I want to do something about that. I want to put my hand in and help out.”
Mukundwa said she got more than just an education with the help of the Same Sky Foundation. She also got a life lesson.
“I’m so grateful to the Same Sky team for their work and so I felt like I had to start something or help others because I received help from Same Sky,” she shared.
With the scholarship from the Same Sky Foundation and other programs, Mukundwa said she was able to go to finish school, improve her own life, and help empower other young girls and women in small ways.
When she had extra money, she would use it to support and invest in girls and women in her community who were making and selling small, traditional crafts. But ultimately, education is what she believes gives people the most opportunities.
“I think what makes education really important is that there is no way you can keep up with the world if you can’t read and write because it’s changing and improving. Without education, you’ll get left behind and have a harder time finding a job,” she said.
Just one year into her college program in Texas, Mukundwa said she’s still adjusting, but is enjoying the experience so far and is looking forward to applying what she’s learning to the real world.