To young Rwandans, you are the future

Dr Agnes Binagwaho
Jean Rene Shema

The future of our country does not belong to us. Although between us we have worked for decades to contribute toward shaping Rwanda, the future of Rwanda does not belong to us – it belongs to young Rwandans.

Under the leadership of President Paul Kagame, we have worked to support the country’s efforts to emerge from such a dark period and transform into a country with bright future. This economic and health progress is a testament to Rwanda’s leadership of today. The work of everyone in all sectors has contributed. Yet with this progress, comes a great responsibility, for the next generation to maintain the momentum driving our current hope. The work has only begun. Now it is the turn of the younger generations.

Young generations are poised to do great, bold things.

Now is the time to harness the capability, imagination and work ethic contained within each and every one of our young Rwandans. It is time to bolster our investments in our young people to ensure a healthy and prosperous tomorrow. This generation contains in its midst the next leaders not only of Rwanda, but also those who will shape tomorrow’s world. Its among them where we will get our future Ministers for Health, Secretary-General of the United Nations, or Executive Director of Global Fund.

There are critical roles for our young people to play in the national and global health sphere.

Tackling issues of health inequities, continuing to combat major illnesses such as HIV and malaria, ensuring adequate maternal and child health programmes and ending childhood malnutrition all remain health priorities as our population in Rwanda grows. However, simply shepherding our large young adult population into medical and health careers will not be enough to solve the largest and most complex problems in national and global health.

Today, as our world becomes more connected, our solutions to national and global health problems must become more innovative. No longer is it only the role of a doctor, nurse or epidemiologist. We all have a role to play: architects for better health facilities, software developers for better health management, supply chain managers and engineers for better care with the right medicines at the right time. Programmes such as Global Health Corps (GHC) are already working to develop a cadre of diverse, young professionals working to improve the way global health solutions are designed, conceptualized and delivered. GHC has worked in Rwanda since 2009 to train and motivate young Rwandan talent to become the next generation of leaders; these experiences have given them the skills to be effective advocates for change and growth.

Since 2009, over 60 young Rwandans have participated in the GHC, learning and working with other young leaders from around the world to address health inequities. These young leaders are people like Caroline Numuhire, whose work in agriculture and gender has already made a meaningful impact on her community; or Marie Amelie who graduated at the top of Rwanda’s first class of architects and whose work with MASS Design Group to redesign health centres to prevent the spread of disease is ensuring a healthier and happier life for so many. GHC Fellows in Rwanda are also making a tangible impact.

These leaders represent the powerful notion that young people can make an impact now, while gaining the skills they need to be leaders in whatever vocation they choose. They have the skills to share their time and talents with their colleagues at work and with members of their community. And, this is just the beginning. In 15 years, these incredible leaders will follow in the footsteps of the best among us, continuing to think in a fundamentally different way about systems while contributing toward a worldwide sphere of innovative idea exchange and constant network-building.

Our richness is our people, we need to invest in them – just as we continue to invest in our businesses and economy. We hope that more young people in our great nation will choose to join the health equity movement and lead us into a healthier tomorrow. After all, you are the future, and everyone has a role to play.

Dr Agnes Binagwaho, MD, M(Ped), PhD is the Minister for Health and a former Mentor for Global Health Corps.

Jean Rene Shema is the Rwanda Country Director for Global Health Corps.