Two students from Rwanda’s Akilah Institute for Women recently visited the Rosen College of Hospitality Management. Noella Abijuru, 26, and Allen Kazarwa, 20, took part in Akilah’s “Metropolitan Safari,” a tour that encompasses 14 cities in 12 weeks for the purposes of meeting supporters and sharing personal experiences. Both young ladies were impacted by the 1994 Rwandan genocide that resulted in the murder of an estimated 1 million people in 100 days.
“Akilah” means “wisdom” in Swahili and the Institute empowers young women in East Africa to transform their lives by equipping them with the skills, knowledge and confidence to become leaders and entrepreneurs. The young women of the Akilah Institute are pursuing degrees in hospitality management, as it is the fastest growing sector of the Rwandan economy.
Elizabeth Dearborn Davis, co-founder and CEO of the Akilah Institute, hoped that her education experience could turn these survivors into community leaders and role models for the next generation. “When you teach a woman, you empower a nation,” said Davis. By 2020, Akilah plans to graduate 1,780 young women who are working and serving as leaders in their communities.
The Rosen College of Hospitality Management became connected with the Akilah Institute through Dr. Kimberly Severt. When she learned of the school, she was inspired to immediately get involved with this valuable cause. She attended Akilah’s annual fundraiser in Tampa and created an assignment that involved her students designing hospitality and guest service-themed webinars to donate to the young women attending the Akilah Institute. She explains, “I hope that we realize how fortunate and blessed we are, and I hope that Allen and Noella’s stories empower us to make a difference.”
Dr. Severt helped coordinate the recent visit by Allen, Noella and Jen DiSimone, Development Associate with the Akilah Institute. The day included a tour of Rosen College, a meet and greet with students in Dr. Manuel Rivera’s Event Management class, a tour of Disney’s Contemporary Resort and an afternoon at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom.
Dr. Rivera was honored to assign his students the task of event planning from a service angle. His students pitched fundraising event ideas to Allen and Noella including a technology drive, a women’s empowerment weekend seminar, a fun run at Lake Eola, a book drive and a school supply drive. Allen thanked the students for their ideas and said, “We have very much to learn from you and we hope you have a bit to learn from us.”
Noella shared with the class how she wakes up at 5 a.m. most mornings and walks 45 minutes to the bus, and then another 15 minutes from the bus to her school. After classes, she works in a restaurant until late at night, often getting only three hours of sleep. She then told the class, “Today, I’ve come to learn many things to take back to school. I am committed to studying and finishing school because life is so hard. We would like for you to give us advice to improve our skills.”
After the presentations, Dr. Rivera’s students treated Noella, Allen and Jen to a reception in the Hall of Fame lobby where they were able to interact one-on-one. Allen shared about the experience, “Your students have so much heart. I am deeply touched.”
After enjoying a traditional American lunch of chicken fingers and hamburgers at T.G.I. Friday’s, the guests journeyed to Disney and received a behind-the-scenes tour of Disney’s Contemporary Resort. The visit focused on the convention and conference industry and included guest rooms, ballrooms, The Wave Restaurant and the California Grill. The executive chef even provided Allen and Noella with their first taste of lobster.
Dr. Severt and Rosen College Coordinator of Academic Relations, Mr. Joshua Johnson, accompanied the Akilah Institute guests during the Disney portion of their visit. “It was such a joyful experience to see the excitement in the young ladies’ eyes,” shares Johnson.
Noella and Allen rode their first attractions including Pirates of Caribbean, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Haunted Mansion and It’s A Small World. They additionally enjoyed a parade, the nighttime Wishes show and fireworks. No trip to Disney would be complete without personalized mouse ears – Allen and Noella chose the princess ones.
Allen and Noella are remarkable women with an immense amount of strength and promise. They are in pursuit for a better future for their friends, family and country. Rosen College was fortunate enough to be part of their journey. For more, please visit http://www.akilahinstitute.org/ .
About Noella and Allen
Noella is a survivor of the 1994 genocide. After Hutu neighbors killed her father, her family went into hiding for several months, safeguarded by a sympathetic Hutu. Noella and her family later returned to their community and found the path to the future was through reconciliation. Overcoming incredible adversity, she studied primary school in the Southern Province and attended Mukingi secondary school. She was honored to be selected by MTV Africa to interview President Kagame and, after receiving a scholarship from an Akilah donor, to travel to Hong Kong for an internship as part of her studies. “Since I have joined Akilah, my life has totally changed in a very positive way. I have started to have dreams for my future. In 10 years, my goal is to own and operate my own hotel.”
Allen was born in Uganda to Hutu and Tutsi parents but orphaned at an early age when her family returned to Rwanda in 1994. Allen diligently studied at FAWE Girls’ primary school and Kiziguro secondary school, where she excelled at physics, math, chemistry and history. Since enrolling at Akilah, Allen has become the secretary of her political youth group in Kigali and is one of many Akilah students employed in the emerging hospitality industry in Rwanda. “I have no siblings or parents, but I have hope for my future. I want to become an independent woman and start my own business. Akilah is giving me the skills to reach my goals.”