Virginia Ciangherotti, International Business (Arabic) BA student at Westminster Business School, tells about her experience in Kigali. Virginia travelled to Rwanda with a group of 20 Westminster students, as part of the Social Entrepreneurship collaborative programme between the University of Westminster and the University of Rwanda.
The Beautiful Kigali…
“Yes, Kigali is beautiful, too bad I only get to stay here for one night”, said the Chief of Staff of the Telecommunications Ministry of Madagascar. He also said he was there for the summit of the African Tennis Confederation as we queued to get some fried plantain (delicious local food) at the buffet at the Hotel des Mille Collines. Yes, the same hotel featured in the award-winning drama film Hotel Rwanda.
And he was right, Kigali is an almost idyllic city and, luckily, the world is starting to acknowledge it. It has been twenty-four years after the bloodshed of the genocide perpetrated against Tutsis in 1994, an event that left an indelible scar in the soul of the so-called country of a thousand hills. The life of every Rwandan has been immensely affected by the 1994 events that killed above one million people. Entire families have been killed, children have lost their mothers, husbands have lost their wives. It is difficult to picture a thriving future rising from the ashes of such a hopeless scenario. But Rwanda is a brave country; ranked as the 7th safest country globally and the 2nd in Africa, its vibrant cafes and bars, its bustling streets and head-spinning rooftops seem to promise a prosperous future, and I like to think that I have played an important role in shaping it.
The Hotel des Mille Collines
The Hotel des Mille Collines is the one place in Kigali that best embodies the history and the hopes of Rwanda. It stands majestically on a hill, and it seems to be guarding the city as it stretches across the hills. Ever since the horrors of 1994, the Hotel has epitomised courage and hope to be it the place where the former house manager, Paul Rusesabagina, hid and protected 1,268 Tutsi and Hutu refugees during the genocide. Today, Kigali’s most exclusive hotel – with its lush gardens and breath-taking rooftop views – embodies Rwanda’s promising future as both a business and conference hub and a headquarters capital for multinational companies.
So back to square one, to that buffet, Mr Chief of Staff and I were queueing for on the last day of our retreat, when we pitched the business models for our social enterprise projects to a jury panel. What a journey it has been, the one that has taken us from the first shy encounter between us Westminster students back in October to pitching our projects alongside our Rwandan colleagues in the most symbolic of all places in Kigali. Our 9-month journey has been a tough and joyful one, from the moment the teams were formed to when we finally met our fellow colleagues from the University of Rwanda.
Throughout our stay, we first-hand witnessed the social problems that Rwanda still faces today and through this Social Enterprise project I, alongside my colleagues from both the University of Westminster and the University of Rwanda, was given the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to design innovative businesses that would empower and help the Rwandan community. Our stay in the cities of Kigali, the capital, and Gisenyi, a small rural town on the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo, has opened our eyes on the real challenges and problems the country is facing today, being unemployment and illiteracy two of them.
For seven intense days we worked relentlessly and on indefatigable rhythms to transform our visions for a more empowered society into real business plans. We learnt about compassion, teamwork and compromising. But most of all, friendship. The people we met, the connections we made, the knots we tied, are the most precious souvenir we carried with us back to London.
Thanks, Virginia for taking the time to write this blog. Find out more about Virginia’s course in International Business (Arabic) BA Honours. You can also find out more about The Rwanda Project on our website.
Read more successful stories on Westminster Business School Blog.
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