The National University of Rwanda/ School of Public Health, in partnership with Tulane University, churned out the fourth cohort of fellows of the Rwanda HIV/AIDS Public Interest Fellowship Programme. At a function held at Lemigo Hotel, and attended by a representative of the Rector of the National University of Rwanda, Dr. Jonas Barayandema and the head of CDC Rwanda, Dr. Pratima L. Raghunathan, graduates were encouraged to improve service delivery in the health sector.
Funded by the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) through PEPFAR, seventeen graduates were able to complete a two-year mentored placement in different host agencies where they are working and training to become knowledgeable HIV/AIDS programme managers.
These fellows were chosen following a competitive selection process from among a pool of nearly 600 applications from university graduates holding diplomas in relevant academic fields such as social sciences, management, law, and public administration.
Peace Kinani, the Fellowship Program Coordinator, the idea to start the programme was birthed in 2004 after a series of consultations were made within an executive committee that included National AIDS Control Commission (CNLS), Trac Plus, Mninistry of Public Service and labour (MIFOTRA), Ministry of Education (MINEDUC) and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Kinani said the programme’s aim was to address the large human resource gap that Rwanda faces vis-a-vis having well qualified managers for HIV/AIDS programmes.
“Graduates will infuse new energy to participating institutions and organizations by giving young graduates an opportunity to attain market relevant skills,” she said.
Since 2006, the programme has graduated 50 fellows, many of whom are currently working in the health sector as programme coordinators, program officers, Monitoring and Evaluation specialists, health financing experts and researchers in institutions across Rwanda.
Oscar Nzirera, a former fellow of the 3rd cohort, class of 2009, works at Rwanda Association of Local Government Authorities (RALGA), said the fellowship programme equipped him with relevant and useful skills that assisted him to perform impressively.
“I recently earned a promotion, and the training I received from the fellowship is what enabled this to happen. The programme gave me the chance to start a professional life,” Nzirera said.
Charles Rukikanshuro, Country Director of Generation Rwanda (former Orphans of Rwanda), said his was a case of getting well equipped and competitive on the job market.
“When I graduated, I lacked both experience and skills that were very essential for employment. Some of the skills I gained from the fellowship included computer training, communication and management skills,” Rukikanshuro said.
“At the end of the fellowship, I was very competitive on the job market and had no trouble getting a job. I was equipped with all the basics that are required to perform well and I was able to help my colleagues perform well too,” said Rukikanshuro, a graduate of the 1st cohort, class of 2007.
Due to the strong foundation received from the participation, many Fellows have continued to build their careers by enrolling in post-graduate programs in Public Health, Epidemiology and among other programmes in and out of Rwanda.
One of the supervisors of the programme, Jean Providence Nzabonimpa, at Population Service International (PSI) Rwanda, lauded the program for providing an exemplary high performing pool of fellows who he said always distinguished themselves in their host agencies by their performance.
“The graduates are unique, an offspring of a new outlook and pillar of a new dawn for the public health sector, especially in the field of HIV interventions,” Nzabonimpa said.
The fellows were encouraged to be the much needed agents of change in their pursued professions. They were reminded that it was going to be their responsibility to look beyond the current practices and to ‘not accept what is’ but to ‘lead towards what should be’.