As Imbuto Foundation celebrates 20 years of existence, stories from the lives it has touched have been spanning far and wide. In an effort to amplify one of the many voices, Esther met with one of Imbuto Foundation’s beneficiaries, Josiane Ishimwe, and felt compelled to write about her story. Born and raised in Gisenyi – currently Rubavu District – by two parents who were teachers, Josiane Ishimwe kept to her books as she was always reminded of the importance of education. This same importance is what eventually led to her being awarded by Imbuto Foundation as one of the Best Performing Girls. Ishimwe is one of the Best Performing Girls, also known as ‘Inkubito z’Icyeza’ that was awarded in 2010, by Imbuto Foundation. She is now married and works as the Science Centre Coordinator at the Agahozo Shalom Youth Village. Here is her story as retold to Esther Favour. My first encounter with Imbuto Foundation was during the first term of my final year of secondary school. A school assembly was called, and we were told that a fellow student in Senior 4 was going to be awarded by Imbuto Foundation for her excellent academic performance. They explained to us that Imbuto Foundation is the First Lady’s initiative to support quality education and especially for young women. Ishimwe (4th from right) with some of her friends during a Car Free Day activity. Courtesy Later on, the young woman was handed her Laptop by Her Excellency with an emotional hug; that image stuck in my mind. From that moment, my determination to study hard and excel grew tenfold, with a goal to also be awarded by the First Lady one day, though the Physics Chemistry and Math combination I had chosen was not an easy one. That one image of a student being rewarded as a Best Performing Girl impacted my life beyond her academic exploits. I remember this one time, meeting a young girl in my neighborhood, who had been sent back home from school because she did not have enough school books. I decided to share mine with her and committed to continue supporting her with my pocket money. Since then, my family gave me the nickname “Imbuto”. However, when the national exams finally came, I did well but at that time, my family was going through tough times and my morale was down. I had stopped seeing my friends and kept myself locked indoors. To my surprise, I received a call from my former school administration informing me that Imbuto Foundation was looking for my contacts and that I should expect a call from them. I was so excited but also not believing what I was told. Days later, I eventually received the greatly awaited call from Imbuto Foundation. Immediately I picked up the call, I heard ‘Congratulations!’ on the other end. I had been selected among the Best Performing Girls that would be awarded in a ceremony, in Karongi District. This great news came at the right time and brought so much joy and hope to my entire family. When I felt hopeless, not loved, and unvalued, the First Lady proved me wrong. I started feeling important, regained hope and my social life. My dream of becoming a Best Performing Girl became a reality and I was able to join University with a more optimistic view of life. I knew I had to always excel – failing was not an option. The laptop I had received from Her Excellency was of great help when I was in University. It helped a lot with assignments for myself and my classmates and each time they would always ask me how I managed to get myself a laptop, with pride I would always tell them my journey with Imbuto Foundation as Inkubito y’Icyeza. The award I was given allowed me to discover all the potential I had and through Imbuto Foundation, I was given even more opportunities to learn from my peers and mentor the younger ones. Walking this journey with my young sisters and getting to give back what I have been given is so empowering to me, and I hope that their lives can be touched like mine did some time ago. Becoming an “Inkubito y’Icyeza” was a life-changing moment and it remains such an honour, that I even mention it on my CV. Now that I work in an environment where every day I interact with young people as the Science Centre coordinator at Agahozo Shalom Youth Village, I am even more conscious about the importance of having a role model and the responsibility each one of us has to become one. Having a beautiful home we call Rwanda where girls and women feel valued and are given the same opportunities as their brothers, is all because we have a First Lady who believes in women and is very passionate about seeing them rise and excel. I wouldn’t be the person I am today if it was not for Imbuto Foundation and for that I am forever grateful to Her Excellency Mrs Jeannette Kagame.