Umushyikirano; an opportunity for the diaspora to learn, get involved

As  stated  in the Rwandan Constitution (Article 168), Umushyikirano is a forum for debate on issues pertaining to the state of our nation. I attended my first Umushyikirano in 2017 and this was a transformational experience that impacted the direction I have taken ever since.

As a member of the diaspora currently living in Sweden with my husband Petter Brodin, a pediatrician and researcher, I wanted to go home to contribute to the development of my country of birth.

We had an idea for elevating the quality of medical care in Rwanda and wanted to ensure that this aligned with the government’s priorities.

I met the Minister of Health multiple times who confirmed that the idea was excellent and much needed in our country. But despite this, the process of moving from idea to fruition remained unclear.

It is because of these challenges that my experience of Umushyikirano last year was so important.

Thankfully, I was chosen to make a comment at Umushyikirano 2017 and explained my idea of a knowledge sharing programme involving senior Swedish physicians that train Rwandan physicians and reduce the shortage of specialist physicians in the Rwandan healthcare system.

I also suggested that Rwanda builds a dedicated children’s hospital to serve as a centralized facility for diagnostics and advanced specialist medical care, currently not available within the country.

Before presenting the idea at Umushyikirano, I intended to speak English. But before me, another speaker urged the crowd to use Kinyarwanda. Although incredibly nervous and very insecure, I felt compelled to present my idea in my native language.

This experience has made me more confident and helped me reach Rwandans who do not speak English. This is a beautiful thing about Umushyikirano, it really is a dialogue among all Rwandans. Everyone is listening and people such as myself can present their ideas.

The most amazing experience for me during Umushyikirano 2017 was randomly being seated next to then senator Dr. Richard Sezibera, whom I had the chance to tell about myself and my ideas.

Dr. Sezibera who is now the Minister for Foreign Affairs, immediately understood the full concept of what I wanted to do and through his advice, I began for the first time, to understand how this idea of ours could become a reality. Dr. Sezibera has continued to meet with me and Petter, encourage us and mentor us.

Only in this forum would it be possible for me to meet such a key figure in our country, and develop such a valuable relationship.

Thanks to many volunteers and donors, we have now made meaningful progress with our plans.

Our organization, Little Hills, has been registered as a nonprofit organization in the United States and we have funds to begin establishing a sustainable knowledge-sharing programme for specialized doctors and nurses as well as a scholarship programme for medical students.

By attending the Umushyikirano 2018, I hope to find the support and commitment needed towards also building a first dedicated children’s hospital, diagnosis and research centre in Rwanda.

I am now excited to attend Umushyikirano 2018, and as I reflect on my past experiences, I want to offer a few points of advice to newcomers at this year’s event:

1) If you have a question to ask, don’t hesitate to ask. But ask your question clearly and directly. No one needs to hear all the ifs and buts – get to the point and you will get clear answers.

2) If you are able to speak Kinyarwanda - do it. Umushyikirano is a conversation for all Rwandans and Kinyarwanda is the language of our people.

3) Use the time in-between sessions to mingle, find the people you want to meet and take the opportunity to interact. Share your ideas. Our country needs all good ideas to be thrown around and discussed.

I also want to give some suggestions for the organizers of this amazing event;

1) Ideally, the dates for Umushyikirano should be communicated farther in advance to allow more people from outside Rwanda and in the diaspora to attend.

2) Finally, by physically mixing our leaders and people across professional disciplines and social strata, we can stimulate conversations between our leaders like Dr. Sezibera, and attendees like myself such that more novel ideas may be exchanged and developed.

I am grateful for Umushyikirano 2017 and for my opportunities that arose from it. It is my wish that others are able to enjoy the benefits of Umushyikirano this year.

The writer is a co-founder of Little Hills, an NGO that aims to contribute to the elevation of the Rwandan health care system by providing more specialist care..

The views expressed in this article are of the author.