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Julian Kankunda and the Akilah Institute

October 25, 2013

By Talia Whyte

Julian Kankunda and fellow student Cecile Musanase were speakers at the Akilah Institute’s Metropolitan Safari fundraiser held at the Museum of African American History Oct. 10.  I was very impressed with
both young ladies and the work of the Institute.  Kankunda and Musanase are both from Rwanda, a country that has come a long way since the genocide that plagued it 20 years ago.  During the Rwandan
genocide, women were targets for rape, mutilation of reproductive capabilities and other forms of sexual violence.

Fast forward to today, women now hold some of the most important roles in Rwandan political life.  As a matter of fact, in 2008 Rwanda elected the world’s first women-dominated legislature.  Women now have
the right to own land and property, and have a say in family inheritance.  Sexual violence is viewed as a serious crime and perpetrators are sentenced accordingly.  Rwandan women also have access to contraception and are given the right to stop getting pregnant.

And this revolution is not just happening in Rwanda.  I have worked in international development for the last ten years.  Specifically, I’ve worked on technical assistance projects related to media development.
Over the years, it has been exciting to see African women taking charge of their lives and communities.  Just this year I worked on women’s projects in Benin, Togo and the Democratic Republic of Congo,
and all of the women I have worked with saw themselves as changeagents.

Specifically, the group in the DRC I am currently working with is training women to become solar engineers in their communities.  The leader of the group told me recently that women in the DRC don’t want to be known only as victims of sexual violence, as is generally projected in Western media.

So it is not surprising to feel the energy Kankunda projects when she speaks.  Kankunda comes from a family of seven.  A friend told her about the Akilah Institute and she applied and got accepted.  Kankunda
is now enthusiastically pursuing hospitality management.  Kankunda and other African women don’t want to be known as victims, but as leaders.

“Everything I have achieved is because of Akilah,” Kankunda said.  “I want to open a youth center and be a role model for other youth.  I want them to believe in themselves as Akilah believed in me.”