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How Mastercard Foundation Scholar, Gaju, Is Contributing to Telling the African Story

Born in Kigali, Rwanda, Gaju Benita Rutagarama has always loved books, but one quote constantly left her troubled: “When you want to hide something from the Black man, put it in a book.” And as Gaju explained, “the rhetoric of that quote lies in the belief that Africans or people of Black descent are not intellectually curious. I believe that it is not an individual choice that Africans do not often pick up books to enhance their knowledge. It is mostly because of the inaccessibility of books on the continent or even the accessibility of books in which the Black man is not present. Books that are not relevant in the African context.”

Currently a Junior in the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program at SciencesPo in France, studying Economics & Society, Gaju has set out to increase access to books and literacy through her social media blog, Fullybookedminded. “As nations went into lockdown because of the coronavirus pandemic, more and more people were spending their time online. I decided to review books written by Africans and Black people on the themes of feminism, imperialism and racial relations on my social media blog in order to encourage a reading culture. While social media gives the impression that we are learning about different crucial topics and ongoing issues, the information provided is never really developed. I was hoping that my social media blog would help people dive deeper into these topics because books provide exhaustive information and knowledge,” Gaju said.

With an eye for the future and power of conversations, Gaju is working with iDebate Rwanda to train children back home in Rwanda to improve their cognitive abilities and public speaking skills through debate. For Gaju, iDebate is almost like a second home to her as she has been a member of iDebate for almost 6 years. In the words of Gaju, “Debating allowed me to discover my leadership potential and my ability to influence others. That is why I am convinced that debate is a valuable and life-changing experience for the post-genocide generation of Rwanda to rise and create a better country.” As part of her volunteering experience with iDebate, Gaju will support fundraising activities for the organization as they seek to build a communication center in Kigali, Rwanda.

Like most college students, Gaju is still discovering her passions, values, and abilities in order to determine a clear career path. Although it is ever changing, she is hoping to work in the field of human rights protection and humanitarian intervention. She’s following the Europe-Africa track at SciencesPo where she’s learning social sciences and humanities focused on the African continent and its major challenges.  “By 2035 Africa will have the world’s largest workforce thus Africa’s youth must be at the frontline of creating and coming up with solutions to problems facing the continent. If the youth are actively involved in political decisions and work collaboratively, we can trigger an African renaissance.” Gaju, added.