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Revealing the real Rwanda

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Neysa Sanghavi’s The Study Rwanda Project aims to transform common misconceptions associated with the country and lift refugees out of poverty

When IB Diploma Programme (DP) student Neysa Sanghavi first heard about Rwanda in her history and literature class at Singapore International School in Mumbai, India, she thought it was a very traditional and underdeveloped country.

But when Neysa travelled to Rwanda last September with her motherDr Sejal Sanghaviher perceptions quickly changed. She saw for herself that the opposite was true. She created The Study Rwanda Project, as a result, which focuses on the different aspects of Rwanda that are widely misunderstood.

“The Rwandan genocide casts a deep shadow over everything Rwanda has to offer to the world. For many people, the genocide is the beginning and the end of their knowledge on Rwanda”, says Neysa.

“My misconceptions got me thinking about questions like – ‘how can we overcome the great challenges facing our planet and our species when we treat such a large portion of our world’s population as second-class citizens?”.

The Study Rwanda Project aims to understand local conditions; identify opportunities for transformative improvements in healthcare and business; and trigger effective growth.

“When I first arrived in Rwanda, my intention was to help the Rwandan people forget their past”, says Neysa. “To my surprise, I came across something heroic— their pasts had made them stronger, it made them value life more deeply and gave each one of them the drive to enjoy, develop and share the zest of life. It has made the Rwandan people powerful, it motivates them to work towards change, and most of all it has made them a source of inspiration for me.

“At the end of my first trip, I knew that there was no way I was not coming back to this wonderful country.”

Since her first trip, Neysa returned to celebrate World Refugee Day at the Kiziba Refugee Camp, in June 2017, where she spoke in front of 17,500 refugees and several other dignitaries. She also traveled to Mahama Refugee Camp and started her research on malaria—a life-threatening disease, typically transmitted through mosquitoes. Around 50 per cent of refugees in the camp are regularly diagnosed with malaria.

“Spreading prevention awareness is the best way to fight back. The power of education is our most effective tool used to reduce mortality and morbidity cases due to malaria in the long run”, says Neysa.

Helping refugees out of poverty

Neysa and Dr Sejal Sanghavi conducted research on the possible business ideas—based on the country’s natural resources—that would help lift refugees out of poverty and make them self-reliant.

“My mother and I decided to do something with the red soil in Rwanda, which is rich in iron oxide, silica magnesium, calcium, sodium and other minerals”, says Neysa. “It is also rich in kaolinite, which is used by firms in the cosmetic industries around the world. This means that it has an international market”.

Neysa has since met with Seraphine Mukantabana, the Minister of Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs (MIDIMAR), Saber Azam from United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and a number of US government officials to discuss economic inclusion in Rwanda.

To improve the local standard of living and explore opportunities for creating new export industries, Neysa proposed the development of a cosmetic industry, organic fertilizer industry, fragrance industry and pottery industry; as well as the improvement of the tourism industry to help generate jobs for refugees.

“The presentation was well received by the attendees and we spent a lot of time afterwards discussing more practical details on how to best execute these ideas in the real world”, she says.

Neysa has also made great strides in changing her schoolmates’ perspective on Rwanda, and has encouraged them to visit the country. As a result, Neysa and 25 classmates will be going to Rwanda to begin the projects she proposed, with assistance from UNHCR and MIDIMAR.

This article is part of a series of stories from IB World magazine that bring to life the wonderful initiatives undertaken by IB students and educators from around the globe. Follow these stories on Twitter @IBorganization #IBcommunitystories. Share your great stories and experiences: email