On 9 April 2019, the Governor General of Canada, Her Excellency the Right Honorable Julie Payette visited AIMS Rwanda and interacted with AIMS students as part of activities during her official visit to Rwanda to participate in the 25thCommemoration of the Genocide of the Tutsi.
The Governor General, who was accompanied by a team of high-profile Canadian officials, was received by AIMS President and CEO, Thierry Zomahoun, who acknowledged the support that has been extended to the institution by the Canadian government over the last eight years.
“I am happy to welcome you to AIMS Rwanda which I am happy to report is one of the centres we have been able to open, with support from your government.We are very proud of the partnership between AIMS and the Government of Canada to advance science on the African continent,” he said.
Drawing from her own illustrious career as an engineer and astronaut, she delivered an inspirational message, and answered questions from students that sought to know how they too, can lead successful careers in science, and how they could have an impact on their various countries development.
“I am happy to be here with you today and would like to appreciate the work you’re doing across Africa, training and empowering the next generation of African scientists,” she said.
Image: AIMS Rwanda students and staff pose for a photo after the interactive session with the Governor General.
In an interactive session with students, Abigail Annkah, a Ghanaian scholar pursuing the Africa Master’s in Machine Intelligence (AMMI) asked the Governor General how, with all the gender barriers against women in science, she managed to lead a highly successful career in a male dominated field.
In response, the Governor General said, when girls are empowered with more skills, they gain professional confidence in themselves and gradually, their gender matters less as people focus on their abilities; she cited the experience of her first space mission in 1999 aboard the Discovery STS-96.
“There were seven people on board of which three were women,” noting that all the crew members regarded themselves as equals, and gender was never an issue.
She pointed out that, in life, the barriers to success are not only about gender but also about where one comes from and their culture, all of which may impede success.
“The way to address that, is to work on your confidence by gaining knowledge on your subject of interest, because we cannot change who we are or where we are from, but we can influence our skills, competence and with that, there is no discrimination that can stand in your way,” she said.
You are a role model
The Governor General also addressed the role models in inspiring determination and passion in pursuing big dreams.
“When I was about ten years old, I watched on television, an astronaut going to the moon. I was inspired to want to do the same when I was older, in spite of not knowing how, at the time,” she said adding that, anyone has the capacity to be a role model and inspire others in their own career dreams.
The fight against climate change needs everybody
Faustina Ndikumana, an AIMS Alumni (2017), asked the Governor General what role Canada is playing to mitigate the dangers posed by climate change.
In response, she said that the Canadian government is committed to playing an active role in global efforts to tackle and avert dangers posed by climate change. She then asked a member of her delegation, Honorable David Christopherson, Member of Parliament of Canada, to weigh-in.
He said, “mitigating dangers posed by climate change requires strong partnership between the politically elected people and those who know what they are talking about [scientists] and our ability to build policy that the people will understand and accept to support to make a difference.”
Through the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Canada is supporting AIMS Mathematical Sciences for Climate Resilience Programaimed at building Africa’s capacity to respond to the global problem of climate change through research.
“At AIMS, we are doing everything we can, to positively impact the world, through our programs,” said Prof. Neil Turok,Founder of AIMS.
Since 2011, the Canadian government has provided financial support totaling to 46.46 million Canadian dollars which has in part, helped to expand the AIMS network into six African countries currently, including the Rwandan centre opened in 2016, as well as streamlining gender equality.