In Rwanda, an engineer wants to convince girls to get into science

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Girls on the benches of Muyunzwe primary school, Rwanda.

Alice Mukashyaka, long dreadlocks pulled up in a ponytail and fitted pink jacket, drinks her hot chocolate in small sips. The young woman has made an appointment in a trendy cafe in Kigali, where expatriates and young wealthy Rwandans meet to chat and work on their laptops. Since the coronavirus crisis has come to put a brake on her projects, it is from here, or from her home, in the district of Kacyiru, that this 26-year-old engineer passionate about education manages her start-up , Starlight.

Presentation of our series Science is changing the lives of African women

Launched in 2016, the company aims to inspire young Rwandans to engage in STEM fields, an acronym for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. In a country where more than 70% of the population works in the agricultural sector and where social standards still have a hard time, few of them take these paths, which are essential to the development of the country, according to Alice Mukashyaka.


The young woman knows what she is talking about. Originally from a rural family in northern Rwanda, she was one of the few girls in her class to pursue engineering studies after high school. “The boys said it was too hard for us and that it wouldn’t help since we were going to get married and do something else anyway. Today, that has not really changed, it is still a challenge for young girls ”, she explains.

Alice remembers several of her classmates abandoning these subjects to turn to the humanities, considered more “Feminine”. For almost five years now, she has struggled on a daily basis to embody within Starlight a model for young Rwandans and to show them that other women, before her, have followed the same path.

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In 2017, her start-up partnered with the American NGO Career Girls to design an educational program made up of examples of careers in STEM and videos of recognized women in these sectors. “Until then, there was no this type of guidance assistance in Rwanda”, Alice breathes. However, “Often, the pupils like these subjects but do not know exactly what are the outlets”.

To date, Starlight Africa has delivered its workshops to around 4,000 students across the country and raised 100,000 euros in funds. A great springboard, even if its activity has been put on hold since early 2020, when schools across the country closed their doors because of the coronavirus. A bit long sleep for her taste, but since the students have recently returned to class, Alice plans to resume her programs in December.

Succeed everything

In parallel with its new number one goal of 2022: the commercialization of the product which, Alice hopes, will make her company a producer of educational solar kits. “We wanted to introduce a fun and attractive STEM teaching method”, she explains. These kits, accompanied by a manual, allow students to build a solar torch in a few hours and put into practice the theoretical lessons given by the teachers.

After using them during workshops in the classroom, Starlight hopes to be able to sell them to schools around the country. “In Rwanda, equipping students with skills useful for the world of work remains a challenge, even though the government is making efforts in this direction. Here we sometimes still study engineering in a purely theoretical way, without really having the opportunity to go into the field ”, she regrets.

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Starlight now hopes to be able to raise new funds. A difficult task in the current context, admits the young entrepreneur, who remains optimistic despite everything. In the meantime, and as she does not let go, Alice Mukashyaka continues to devote herself to her passion, education, as an advocacy leader in a research project on education of the future as part of a report commissioned by the NGO Restless Development, which will be presented in December at the Rewired Education Summit in Dubai. Scientist, financial and educator… do it all at the same time. And succeeding in everything is his challenge.

This series was produced in partnership with the L’Oréal Foundation.

Summary of our series “Science changes the lives of African women”

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In Rwanda, an engineer wants to convince girls to get into science