Her journey is a fairy tale characterised by perseverance and patience. Zulfat Mukarubega the founder of Rwanda Tourism University College (RTUC) has changed the face of the hospitality industry. As the brain behind the first and only tourism university in the country, her story is not only inspiring but extra-ordinary.
She has touched the lives of many who have had a chance to pass through her gifted hands of entrepreneurship.
RTUC is an institution of higher learning that provides undergraduate programmes in travel and tourism management, hotel and restaurant management, business information technology and a number of vocational training courses.
At a time when women had limited opportunities and were confined to the kitchen, Mukarubega defied the odds and ventured into entrepreneurship; with only Rwf 5000 she opened up a restaurant which later opened doors for success.
The 56-year-old established RTUC in 2006 and though the journey wasn’t a bed of roses, she managed to build it from scratch into a recognised and prestigious institute it is today.
“Starting a business is full of ups and downs; things were tough in the beginning. Friends discouraged me not to start up something which has never even existed in the country but because I saw the need of what I intended to start, I never gave up. I started with twelve students of which seven dropped out and I remained with five. Getting lecturers wasn’t easy and making people understand the need to embrace the importance of hospitality was the hardest thing then,” Mukarubega says.
She travelled to South Africa and Kenya where she identified the customer care gap that existed within hotels and restaurants in comparison to Rwanda. This instantly sparked off her need to enhance hotel management and with all the challenges she faced, which of course being a woman and a mother was part of, Mukarubega never gave up, but rather strived for excellence.
Starting a business at the tender age of 19 was what shaped her into a powerful and extremely ambitious woman.
In January 2012, Mukarubega was honoured as the woman entrepreneur of the year by Rwanda Development Board (RDB). In addition, her business was recognised as the best Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) in the tourism sector. Since its inception, RTUC has blossomed into a successful college with over 3000 students and now has a second branch in Gisenyi which attracts students from as far as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi and Uganda. The college has had three graduations, and most of the graduates are employed while others have started their own businesses.
The love for her country is what drives her to give back to society. “Most young girls finish secondary school and fail to continue to university. Out of desperation they end up into prostitution. As a mother, I saw the need to save our children from such misfortunes by equipping them with skills that will enable them survive,” she says.
Besides RTUC, Mukarubega plans to open up a home care training centre where house maids will be trained on how to raise children.
“Women should believe in themselves; they should be innovative and think about the future because in Rwanda women have a high potential to realise their dreams and excel. The government has opened doors for us, we should use the opportunity,” she says.
Callixte Kamanzi, the rector of RTUC describes Mukarubega as a very hardworking lady. Kamanzi says Mukarubega has a virtual of patience, an attribute that has enabled her to excel.
“I started working with her way back in 1999 and I have worked with her for over seven years at the college. She is a talented woman with over 30 years experience in business. The fact that she had the courage to start a business at a time when women were just concentrating on being housewives makes her an extra ordinary woman. With very little capital she managed to set up a business at the age of 19. We all get inspiration from her and for the time we have been working together, she has set a great example for us. She believes that the future is bright and she is good at what she does,” Kamanzi says.