Jessica Thornley, a native of New Zealand, thinks Rwanda is a unique place. “Something about Rwanda reminds me of New Zealand,” she says. “The people, culture, landscape and even language. In New Zealand we treasure our cultural heritage. Rwanda’s pride in its culture is something I respect and can relate to.”
Making sure that culture is alive and vibrant is part of Jessica’s job as the Creative Development Lead for Girlhub Rwanda, a division of the Nike Foundation. Ni Nyampinga, Rwanda’s first girl centered media platform, was launched by Jessica and her team last year. Producing a bimonthly national magazine and a weekly radio show, the Ni Nyampinga campaign is nothing short of a great success.
“Ni Nyampinga aims to inspire and enable Rwanda’s adolescent girls to reach their full potential,” says Thornley. “I’m constantly amazed and surprised by the creative and entrepreneurial instincts of Rwandan girls - many of whom live in challenging circumstances.”
Growing up with four sisters in a musical family, her house was often busy and noisy. She studied Philosophy and English Literature in Auckland before working for a New Zealand fashion designer, and then an advertising agency in London.
“I can honestly say that in all of my years of working in the creative industry, I’ve never been more stimulated or obsessed by a project,” she remarks cheerfully.
Regardless of the joy this project bring her, it is a very real challenge. “Producing and distributing 90,000 magazines across the country is no small feat. We were determined to create something entirely Rwandan; homegrown… something that was also super creative and of high production value.”
She recalls when she sat in the office late at night with the editors of Ni Nyampinga, with no writers, no stories, no photographs. A year later, the team has produced 6 full issues and 45 radio shows with a complete staff of girl writers, producers, and radio hosts. “Rwandan girls are so committed to their families, their community and their country,” she says.
When asked what she’s most proud of, she quickly responds, “Words can’t express just how proud I am of my Rwandan team and what they’ve created and achieved.”
Thornley’s passion for her job is evident, particularly when asked about what she does outside of work. “Outside of work? I’m pretty much always working,” she laughs. “But, I’ve made some good friends here,” she says. “I hang out whenever possible.”
Arriving in Rwanda a year and a half ago, this Kiwi would love to stay, but “The project is well in its way, and soon, I won’t be needed anymore,” she adds wistfully.