Vuga App: Using technology to ease self-learning

It’s no secret that most job advertisements today carry a line suggesting that knowledge of certain languages is an added advantage.

It’s no secret that most job advertisements today carry a line suggesting that knowledge of certain
languages is an added advantage. This aside, anyone who has travelled beyond their country’s borders will attest to the benefits of being able to speak many languages.

One such opportunity has been grasped by Gilbert Munyemana, a budding tech entrepreneur who founded the Vuga Application that helps people, especially students, to advance their knowledge of the English language. The App provides a platform through Google that translates words from Kinyarwanda to English.

He believes that through his company’s innovation Rwandans and many other people will be able to
communicate more fluently in English, Kinyarwanda, Kiswahili and French in the near future. “This will
also ease and boost transactions across the East African region easy,” he says.

The 31-year old entrepreneur says his childhood of becoming self-employed in the field of technology was what prompted him to pursue a Masters in Educational Technology from University of Witwatersrand in South-Africa.

Munyemana left behind a palatable monthly cheque in a reputable organisation where he was acting as
Project Manager of the Teacher Self Learning Academy at Plan International Rwanda to invest in the
innovation.

He says bridging the knowledge gaps and building a knowledge-based society through efficient use of ICT and digitalising education in Rwanda is what he hopes to achieve.

Starting

Munyemana started his business with Rwf3million, most of which went into renting office space.

“This was from savings I had made from my former job. I used the money to rent and in installation of the
production of the VUGA Application that has 2,200 word and phrases used in Kinyarwanda to English. The phrases cover how to express courtesy and other vocabularies. These are translated from Kinyarwanda to English with proper Kinyarwanda- English pronunciations,” he explains.

Inspiration

The youthful entrepreneur says he was inspired by the need to contribute to the building of a knowledge-
based society through learning and interaction aided by modern technology.

“If you want to compete at the international level, you need to have good language skills. Rwanda is
moving steadily on the international level, and therefore, ability to communicate with different kinds of
people in more than one language is very necessary,” he says.

Social impact

“VUGA Application is used and accessible to many people. It’s not only students who use it but also
different kinds of people in Uganda, Burundi and Kenya,” says Munyemana.

He says since we are in an era where possessing a smart phone is not a challenge, he hopes that as many clients as possible will use the chance to explore the benefits of using VUGA Application. Currently, it can be accessed after a payment of only Rwf3,000.

“So far, the Applications has been downloaded by 1,700 people in Rwanda, 1,000 in Kenya, 501 in USA, 305 in Uganda and 198 in Mozambique,” he adds.

Vuga Application can particularly help students access education during emergency and crisis situations
like wars, where attending class would be impossible. Munyemana, says his target will be reached as the
children in emergency situations will access this kind of education in refugee camps or other crisis
situation using the App easily.

He says besides the App, he earns a living through offering IT consultancy for various local and
international agencies.

Challenges

Munyemana says awareness of the VUGA Application is a challenge since the primary beneficiaries like
Rwanda Education Board and local communities have not yet already understood its significance to the
students.

“And because the community doesn’t understand the potential of this Application, we still have few local
clients, which is a big setback,” he says.

Munyemana says inappropriate payment systems are another big challenge since the technological avenues for money transaction in different neighbouring countries are not well-integrated, especially pertaining to receiving payments from the clients.

“For instance, getting payments from DR Congo or Burundi through mobile money from the person who want to down load VUGA Application is not as easy as for clients living USA because payments platforms and technological integration are not well-integrated,” he says.

Prospects

Munyemana says since his tech company is still ‘young’, it will need partnerships with institutions like
the Ministry of Education to be able to sustain the growth, especially in fostering e-Learning and
integration in the curriculum where teachers can use it as teaching toolkit.

He says he is looking at how the ‘Ongea’ Kiswahili Application that translates Kiswahili into English and
Kinyarwanda can be introduced in order to train Rwandans how to speak Kiswahili better.

“I am also looking forward to take this App to refugee camps to help students living in those camps
access digital education easily,” says Munyemana.

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