As 2014 comes to an end, some women have risen to the forefront by shredding stereotypes and having influence in various fields such as policy making, culture, activism and technology among others. The women on this list are not pioneers in their field per se but they have influenced the news, people’s lives, and embodied what was important about the year 2014, writes Dean Karemera. Anne Heyman – Humanitarian The Hebrew words tikkun halev, (repairing the heart) and tikkun olam, (repairing the world) best describe Anne Heyman’s philosophy on creating a better place for orphans of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. She is the founder of Agahozo Shalom Youth Village, a family based structure that helps the youth heal through provision of education and life skills in order to create socially responsible citizens in Rwanda and around the world. Through Heyman’s efforts, more than $12 million (Rwf 8.5 billion) was raised to start the village and so far the village caters for more than 500 children. Heyman, who died in a horse riding accident on January 31 at the age of 52, was widely seen as a “second mother” to the orphans at the village. Throughout her humanitarian work, Heyman had the support of her husband and family and they have taken up the mantle of realising her dream. Although she’s gone, her legacy lives on, her dream is still alive and her work will have a positive impact on generations to come. May she rest in peace. Philippa Kibugu Decuir – Activist Philippa Kibugu Decuir. After a deadly encounter with breast cancer which claimed the life of her sister, Philippa Kibugu Decuir is at the forefront in the fight against breast cancer. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1994 while living in the United States of America where she underwent treatment and a double mastectomy. After surviving the disease, she got involved in breast cancer awareness activities and upon returning to Rwanda, she founded Breast Cancer Initiative East Africa Inc (BCIEA) that raises awareness about breast cancer and organises the annual Ulinzi breast cancer walk. Currently, the initiative has had direct contact with over 7,000 Rwandan women who are empowered through awareness, education and early detection workshops that encourage participants to utilise lessons learned. Colombe Akiwacu – Miss Rwanda 2014-15 Colombe Akiwacu In February, Colombe was crowned Miss Rwanda after the pageant had been on hold for two years. For the young girl, her reign didn’t get off to a good start; her post coronation days were full of frustration. Before she could breathe, she was ridiculed for not conducting herself in a manner fit for Miss Rwanda when she appeared on an Airtel billboard together with former Miss Rwanda Aurore Mutesi Kayibanda simultaneously pecking musician King James on the cheek. The billboard caused uproar and it was pulled down. However, she overcame all that and conducted various charity projects for orphans and genocide widows. Last month she participated in the annual cultural show Mavuno Yetu in Uganda. Her tour in Europe was successful as she managed to clinch deals with OE cosmetics in France and Bruno Vassari in Spain. Isabelle Kamariza – Philanthropist Isabelle Kamariza “You only need will and passion. You will not make excuses when you are passionate about something or have room to fear failure or challenges.” That was the answer Kamariza gave when she was interviewed about her work. She is the founder of Solid Africa, a foundation that caters for the welfare of vulnerable patients in public hospitals. She started her work in 2010 by distributing as little as five litres of milk to a few patients but slowly channeled it into other issues beyond food security. So far, she caters for 300 patients daily by providing medicine that is not covered in basic expenses, hygienic products and assists in paying medical bills that trouble patients. Christine Mercy Mbabazi – Fashion designer Christine Mercy Mbabazi Christine’s story is one of dedication, passion and following a dream that has slowly seen her emerge as one of Rwanda’s most sought after designers. After successfully launching her fashion house in March this year, her unique designs continue to hit. The young entrepreneur started designing clothes in her bedroom and has since turned her dream into the fashion house, Christine Creative Collections. Her strong presence on social media and distinctive brand attracted the attention of international media, CNN, which featured her in their programme, African Start-up. Christine is not just a fashion designer; she is also a seasoned radio presenter at Radio 10’s where she presents the Overdrive show. Gashora Girls Academy debate team – National secondary schools debate champions Gashora Girls Academy debate team made history by being the first all-girls school to win the annual National Youth Entrepreneurs Debate Competition after trumping Green Hills Academy in a heated finale. Gashora Girls Debate Team This year’s debate competition brought together 49 schools from across the country and after making it into the top 16 schools for the national level pre-selection, the team, made up of Stella Ituze, Belise Bwiza, Angela Uwase Rangira and Cleo Munyangabo, fought hard and made it to the finals, seeing off Greenhills Academy. The all girls’ school is a result of Rwanda Girls Initiative that provides high quality secondary school education for girls in Rwanda, supporting the ‘Whole Girl’ through a boarding school environment. Diana Teta – Musician Few musicians have been able to make an instant impact in the music industry like Diana Teta. Diana Teta The budding musician is popularly known for doing music renditions of music legend Kamariza (RIP) at public events. The talented songstress is the only female in Gakondo Music group and it is her love for traditional music that has seen her stand on the same stage with traditional music legends such as Cecile Kayirebwa and Massamba Intore. In the two years she has been in the music industry, she premiered in the annual Primus Guma Guma Competition, and was among the final four contestants for Big Brother Africa season 9. Besides Maria Yohana, she was the only female to perform at Rwanda Day 2014. She was the voice behind the hit single, Fata Fata and has since gone to record other songs that are doing well. Grace Nyinawumuntu – Football coach Grace Nyinawumuntu In a sport that has been dominated by men since time immemorial, one woman stepped out of the box and embraced the sport. Grace Nyinawumutu is the women’s national team coach and coach of AS Kigali women’s team. The enthusiastic football coach has won the women’s football league six consecutive times with AS Kigali in the seven years she has been in charge. In the 2012/2013 season, she won the trophy with an unprecedented unbeaten record. She also helped GS Kabusunzu win the girl’s football trophy in the Federation of East Africa Secondary Schools Sports Associations (FEASSSA) Games in Dar es Salaam, it was the only trophy that came to Rwanda out of 20 trophies that were at stake. She also helped the women’s national team proceed to the second round of the 2014 African Women’s Championship after defeating Kenya but later lost to Nigeria. Lilian Uwintwali – Mobile and data applications developer Lilian Uwintwali Inspired by Facebook, Twitter and Whatsapp, Lilian Uwintwali grew her ICT business from experiments of her class work. The 26-year-old graduate of the then Kigali Institute of Science and Technology (College of Science and Technology) is the CEO and founder of M-Ahwiii Ltd, a software development firm. Her company designed an application for Rwanda Military hospital that enables patients to access their medical information on their mobile phones without necessarily visiting the hospital. In October, her application Agro-FIBA won the “40 Chances” competition and was awarded prize money amounting to $150,000 by Howard G. Buffet Foundation, Tony Blair Governance Initiative (AGI) and World Food Prize Foundation. Her application aims at improving the lives of farmers and increasing food security in Rwanda. She has also won ICT awards such as the 2012 Broadband Commission Award. Nancy Sibo – Miss Geek Nancy Sibo The youngster was voted as the first ever Miss Geek in March after she developed a Mobile Cow application that helps livestock farmers to get information on how to monitor the estrous cycle of their cows. A fourth year student in animal production at the University of Rwanda, Sibo proved that girls too can contribute to the development of the agricultural sector through ICT. Her mobile application will have a big impact on the Girinka programme; which the government of Rwanda has been implementing with a lot of success; to help poor Rwandan families get out of poverty and increase their income.