Scientist returns home with event designed to inspire Rwanda’s young
A University of Sussex scientist has returned to her homeland to inspire a new generation to follow in her footsteps.
Dr Marie-Fabrice Gasasira Uwamahoro, a research technician at the University’s world-renowned Genome Damage and Stability Centre, organised a one-day science festival for school pupils and teachers in Rwanda on Friday (23 March).
The event, held in the southern city of Nyanza, saw dozens of secondary school pupils and teachers take part in activities teaching them about DNA and genome instability – the research specialism of Dr Gasasira.
Dr Gasasira said: “I was inspired by similar events that have been run across Africa because I think they can be a great opportunity to inspire students and teachers as well as demystify science. Science festivals are not very common in Rwanda so I really wanted to go some way to meeting the demand and need for such an event.
"Hopefully the teachers and students who attended will have seen that science can be fun and hopefully it will encourage students to consider a career in science and for teachers to make new connections to increase collaboration between schools.”
Dr Gasasira grew up in Nyanza, where she attended primary school and first circle of secondary school. Shortly after the civil war that ravaged the country, her family left Rwanda and settled in Belgium, where she continued her studies.
After a BSc in biomedical sciences obtained in Belgium, an MSc in genetic manipulation from the University of Sussex and a PhD from Bangor University studying DNA damage and repair, she joined the team of Professor Anthony Carr at the Genome Damage and Stability Centre.
She said: “Science studies have always been an obvious choice for me as I was a very curious child. I always wanted to understand the very essence of things. Despite growing up in a country where resources are scarce for science studies, my interest in the subject never ceased.
"This is particularly why this programme is important for me, to encourage young generation in Rwanda who aspire to pursue their science career ambitions. I wish to show them that there are opportunities for them to grow and shape their future as scientists.”
Since the horrific genocide of 1994, the Rwandan government under President Paul Kagame has targeted science, technology and innovation as a means of delivering sustainable development to the country.
Dr Gasasira said: “I really hope that those ambitions can become a reality and that the authorities can find the level of investment needed for biological sciences to really flourish. It would be fantastic if the current generation of Rwandan pupils felt that their future lay in science; and can find increasing opportunities to pursue a scientific career in Rwanda.”
Dr Gasasira hopes that the festival will not leave a fleeting impression but could have a more long-lasting impact.
She said: “It was wonderful to be back in Rwanda and to see the enthusiasm for science from the pupils. I really hope that the festival will not be a one-off but could be something we could repeat and potentially grow into something bigger and more impactful.
"I'm really grateful for the support from Dr Katy Petherick [public engagement coordinator for the School of Life Sciences at the University of Sussex], Dr Mahmoud Maina [a neuroscientist at the University of Sussex and founder of the TReND in Africa outreach programme] and Mr Vital Rwandekwe [ESPANYA director of studies in Rwanda] in helping to organise the festival.”
Dr Uwamahoro’s project was supported with £750 from the University of Sussex’s Public Engagement Fund and £1,000 from the Wellcome Trust Institutional Strategic Support Fund.