Educate a Woman, Uplift a Nation

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“For me, I just wanted to go to school. I didn’t want anything else, whether I ate or not, whether I went without clothes, I wanted to go to school.”

– Ernestine Mukangeze, Alumna ‘12, Librarian at the Akilah Institute


This year, the Akilah Institute released its second book, Educate a Woman, Uplift a Nation: Stories of the Akilah Institute, in partnership with Annette Tryde Akman and Robert Stacy. It is a collection of portraits of the Akilah Institute: our students, our staff, and our stories.

This book is the culmination of more than 50 interviews, three trips to Rwanda, and thousands of photos. Photographers Annette Tryde Akman and Robert Stacy crisscrossed the country to meet Akilah students, graduates, and supporters. These are the people that make the Akilah Institute what we are.

Read an excerpt from the collection below:


Divine Mukantwari

Alumna ’15, Hostess at Hôtel des Mille Collines by Kempinski

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Divine Mukantwari. Photo by Robert Stacy.

“Before Akilah, I was very shy. I wouldn’t speak. People would always tell my parents that child is very quiet. But at Akilah, teachers made us speak in front of people. The first week was not easy for me. I used to cry, and I couldn’t say anything. But everyone at Akilah helps you. My character changed. I learned that now it is my time to speak. I started telling my story.

After graduation, I wanted to be a hostess. I talked to the food and beverage manager at the Mille Collines, but they didn’t have a hostess position. I told him the hotel needed one and explained how it would benefit the guests. That year, they created the position, and I became the first hostess.

I receive customers, give them information, and make sure they have a good experience. After my first three months, they named me Employee of the Month and wrote a story about me — about how I gave them the idea to create the position and how I’m hardworking and sociable.

I’m much more confident now. When some people see that you have changed — they saw you at a lower level and now you are at a higher level — they sometimes feel uncomfortable. But at Akilah, we learned how to approach them and show them that we are on the same level. I can make them feel comfortable, but I cannot lose my confidence.

I hang out with friends who graduated from other universities. When I am sharing my opinions and ideas, the boys sometimes think I talk too much for a girl or I’m arrogant and aggressive. It’s a little challenging, but I think confidence is a very important thing to have. One time, a boy approached me and advised me not to talk like that. He said I wouldn’t get married or have a boyfriend. I asked him, “Don’t you think the problem is with you and your friends, not me?”

When a girl gives ideas, it’s too much, but when a boy gives ideas, it’s okay. I’m not being arrogant. I’m trying to express myself because personally, I believe we all have the same right to talk. I don’t feel the need to keep quiet, and I don’t think I want to be simple and quiet. I actually advised him to help his sisters and to tell other boys not to think negatively about confident girls because if you keep making it uncomfortable for girls to talk, then they won’t, and that wouldn’t help our society.”


To purchase Education a Woman, Uplift a Nation or to learn more about supporting the Akilah Institute, please contact Maria Miracle at maria@akilahinstitute.org.

Follow our VoicesofAkilah publication to read more stories.