Alumna Spotlight: Noella Abijuru


After graduation, Akilah students embark on exciting entrepreneurial and professional pursuits — and have valuable successes, stories, and lessons to share. Follow our alumnae after they leave Akilah on Medium or here on our blog.

As a senior supervisor at the Grand Legacy Hotel in Kigali, Noella Abijuru is busy. She is responsible for service at the many conferences hosted at the hotel, oversees daily operations for the restaurants and room service, and directly manages 15 staff members. It is not easy to keep up with it all, but Noella loves her work:

When you are doing something and you are loving it and in the morning you feel like that is where you want to be, then no matter the difficulties, no matter the challenges, you know that yes, that is my thing. That is what I need to be working on.

Noella studied Hospitality Management as part of Akilah’s inaugural class. As a student, she worked part-time at Kigali’s Manor Hotel. After graduating in 2012, Noella moved to Dubai to participate in the rigorous management training program with Akilah’s partner, Marriott International. Noella describes Dubai as an exciting, “high-speed city where everything is moving so fast” and where she relished meeting people from all over the world. After 18 months however, it was time to return home.

I decided to come back to my country because I want to give back to my community. That was always my passion.

Less than a month later, she was hired at the new Grand Legacy where she has been working at the supervisory level since it opened in May 2014. She is in charge of reporting to hotel managers on restaurant and bar sales, nightly room service deliveries, and daily housekeeping. She organizes the weekly roster for 15 waiters, balancing their schedules to their different strengths and areas for improvement. She also has regular check-ins with the waitstaff to ensure they are growing in their roles.

“I wouldn’t have believed I could do this, I didn’t have the self-confidence to think that could be me. But at school I learned leadership skills, hospitality, and customer service.”

She sits on hiring committees, interviews new candidates and if that wasn’t enough, she also supervises conferences held at the hotel for institutions ranging from World Vision, the Rwanda Revenue Board, the US Embassy, and international banks. In fact, as Noella reflected on her various responsibilities, we were often interrupted so she could review staff and supplies for a conference cocktail that evening. For Noella, gracefully juggling her different roles is part of the fun:

According to what I have learned in school, according to the training I got, I can handle all that. I am happy because I am getting the chance to put all the things I learned into practice. And I love my job. I wouldn’t have believed I could do this, I didn’t have the self-confidence to think that could be me. But at school I learned leadership skills, hospitality, and customer service. I had been in the francophone system for twelve years, but at Akilah I learned English. And one of things I learned was to believe in yourself. You can make things happen no matter what. I’m so glad I found such a school.”

Now she is looking forward to moving up at the Grand Legacy:

I’m a senior supervisor today, but soon I feel like I need the next position to see how it works. In 15 years, my goal is to own my own hotel. Fifteen years is a long time and I still have so far to go, but that is my dream.”

She encourages other young people in the job market to consider joining the industry. She notes that lodging and tourism are currently the fastest growing sectors in her country, so rather than waiting years after graduation for a dream job, recent graduates should look into opportunities for hospitality work, which provides both challenges and rewards:

Hotels are so challenging because we are dealing with people. We are not dealing with laptops or building materials, or even the phone. We need to help real people, from so many different countries around the world. But when I meet those people, I am learning from them, and they are also learning from me.

And for anyone interested  in a role with Grand Legacy— remember it’s Noella doing the hiring!