My HeHelabs Fellowship Experience

This blog takes you on a journey of our annual fellowship program through the lens of our 2016 graduate Vanessa Teta:

The way I see it, now is a good time to be a youth! Now is an even better time to be a youth that is passionate about technology. I know that, Africa knows that, HeHelabs knows that too! HeHelabs is a leading research and innovation lab located in Kigali, Rwanda with a special drive to unlocking the youth’s potential to think and create.

HeHelabs holds an annual fellowship program for high school graduates in their transitional gap year, an exciting six-month journey. A competitive merit-based program, that only a few of us selected after a series of interview and written applications are eligible; I like to call them the lucky few! During the selection process, the team looks out for creativity in an individual, character, level of commitment, and a hands-on attitude. The fellows are young people who manage to stand out from the rest of their colleagues who apply. Therefore it is fair to say that getting into the program is a victory on its own.

The 2016 fellowship induction day “Get to Know you” time with Teta

Once in the program, we work full-time from Monday to Friday all day. For some it was our first time at a real job; a taste of the corporate world. This goes without saying that the beginning is quite exciting! We pick up a number of skills and values during the program and as much as there are a number of activities lined up for the fellowship, all the learning that can be effectively done is really self-based. We are taught how to code, develop a book-reading culture; the slight edge, Think and grow rich, to mention but a few, and hold monthly book labs to discuss them; great minds do discuss philosophy after all! As fellows, we are also expected to make weekly presentations on whatever projects we are given to work on during the week. This really helps with public speaking and improves greatly the command of the English language; as it is the language of instruction throughout the program. Leadership and critical thinking are two very important skills that we pick up while in the program. As a team, we would have a leadership committee that is reshuffled on a monthly basis. At the end of the program fellows learn to think on their feet and also to take responsibility for the team.

Elie, a 2016 fellow pitching an idea to his peers

Another very important feature is the kind of exposure that we get; the kind of people we meet and get to be associated with. The places we are privileged to go to and the things we learn that are not taught in school. We got to interact directly with major players in the private sector, IT sector, even the policy makers themselves. In addition to that, we also get to visit their places of work giving them a better feel of what is done and how it is done. This year specifically, we got to visit the offices of the Government’s spokesperson and the ladies among the fellows participated in the Global Women summit held on the International women’s day.

The Rwandan Minister of Youth and ICT, Hon. Jean Philbert Nsengimana speaking to the fellows

The fellows also teach upcoming innovators in different high schools across the country where HeHelabs has established labs in partnership with the school authority. At these schools, interested students who meet the criteria are selected and teamed up to form what we call code clubs. Here the fellows interact physically with the code clubbers sharing with them programming, critical thinking, and leadership skills in a fun learning environment. The code clubbers eventually graduate and stand a good chance of becoming the next HeHelabs fellows. One would call it a cycle of knowledge sharing; every other year the fellows pass on the baton to the code clubbers and through this, HeHelabs trains a team of youth that are with no doubt going to grow the local, regional and continental tech ecosystem as the next thought leaders and inventors who can take on the challenges of our context and capitalize them into solutions for the benefit of all.

Pepperdine University students posing with the fellows during an exchange visit at HeHelabs

Like every good thing, the fellowship program too, has an end. The team holds a graduation event known as the “hack out loud” where the fellows bring an original product to the rest of the world; one they create while in the program. Here we are awarded certificates and go forth to chase our dreams with more clarity!