First Scholar in The Family – Barambonye Solange


I got to know Solange through a mutual friend called Anthony. We connected on LinkedIn for a different reason, but her being in STEM, I asked for an interview and here we are. May you enjoy her inspirational journey:

Hi Solange, thank you for accepting to do this with me
Hi Winnie, it is my pleasure.

Who is Solange?
My name is Barambonye Solange, I am an Oil and Gas Engineer with Rwanda Mines, Petroleum and Gas Board. I am pleased to share my life journey as I think it can help one or more people who may be in a situation that is similar to mine. I was born on 10th August 1991 in the Northern province of Rwanda, Burera district, Ruhunde sector. The size of my family is big, compared to European families, but average considering an African setting. It is made up of 3 parents (2 mothers and one father) and 7children.

Coming from a rural place, it was unlikely for a girl-child to attend school! Most parents believed that it wasn’t important for a girl to be educated. For example, in my family, no other girl had ever completed secondary school. They usually go for primary education and get married after few years. I grew up seeing that my father was not happy because he wanted to have at least one child of his continue his or her studies to upper levels. This made me develop a zeal to study until I attain my PhD.

My dream as a child was to be an Ophthalmologist, or a Veterinary Doctor and to become a Soldier. My father instead wanted me to become an Engineer, while other family members used to encourage me to study medicine. Their point was that I could specialise in Ophthalmology and be able to treat people with eye problem including my grandmother. So I grew up thinking I would become a Medical Doctor but my school path and career guidance led me to becoming an Oil and Gas Engineer like my father wanted.

Since I started school in 1998, mathematics was my favourite subject and I was good at it. When I was in Primary Four, my father used to see my performance report and tell me that it would have been better if I wasn’t a girl. He believed that the profession I wanted was more suitable for boys. I was not happy about that but he didn’t know. Based on my National Examination results of Primary Six, I got a chance to continue my studies in secondary education. In Rwanda, secondary education has two levels; Ordinary and Advanced. From primary to secondary education (O’Level) you have to choose a school then pass National Exams. From O’Level to A’Level you have to choose a school and options (section, combination) then pass the National Exam. From secondary to tertiary education you have to choose a university and faculty then pass National Exams.

After my O’Level, my father asked what options I was willing to choose for my A’Level. I told him I would either go for Mathematics-Physics or Biology-Chemistry. He said that wasn’t a good option for a girl; all girls were suitable for Economics, Finance, Teaching, etc. I was very sad about this and stopped talking to him for some time. But being the father that he was, he realised that he broke my heart and apologised, He encouraged me to do what I love and I am capable of doing. I also asked my best friend’s brother for another opinion but he still confirmed my desire because I had the best scores in Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry and Biology among all subjects I had taken. I was given the Biology-chemistry option for my A’Level.

In the middle of my A’Level there was a national reform on options to be called combinations. In my school, the Biology-chemistry option was changed into Mathematics-Chemistry-Biology (MCB) combination. At the end of my National Examinations, I was among the best performing students for 2010. as a result, I was awarded by the First Lady of the Republic of Rwanda (Mrs. Jeanette Kagame) for being one of the best performing girls in that academic year. This inspired me to aim for more academic excellence in my studies. You can’t imagine how proud and happy my father was! He praised me everywhere he was and was finally proud of me because I made a good choice. I was also awarded a scholarship to study Oil and Gas Engineering in Russia by the government of Rwanda.

While in my foundation year in Russia, there was a Scientific Caucus between universities and I asked my Mathematics Lecturer to allow me participate in it. I later realised that I was the only girl who requested to participate in this Olympiad. Although I didn’t win, my lecturer gave me excellent results called automatic performance (it means that a lecturer believes that you can get a high performance in his course during exam) any time.

In my last year of bachelor’s program, I was chosen to be among the students to represent my department in a conference based on my CGPA. I continued my studies in a master’s program and finished with a first class honours based on examinations, masters report and published papers. I later returned to my country but I unfortunately did not get a job directly. So I continued to use my mind by writing books and participating in different Hackathons, conference and meeting, workshops, training etc.

What has been your biggest challenge so far?
I struggled a lot in my studies because of the local mindset on a girl’s education. Likewise, since I was the first to study secondary education in my family, it was not easy to get study material. The good thing, my hard working ability made me become a role model of some young girls and boys in my village. I got to be respected by many people because I was not afraid of being different from others. It is inspiring when you have someone to guide; someone who looks up to you. I used to be mentored by different people, mentally and socially.

What do you enjoy doing outside work?
I enjoy visiting the zoo or animal park, reading and writing.

What is your favourite quote?
My best quotes are in French;La ponctualite est la base de la politesse et la politesse est la base de l’ education mais Le comportement de l’homme est le miroir de son education”. “Il ne faut pas avoir l’ingratitude à ton bienfait”, which mean;

The basis of discipline is punctuality and the basis of education is discipline but a person’s behaviors is the mirror of his education” ~ My O’Level Director

Never be ingrate to your kind-hearted person” ~ My Late Father

Please give a young girl in STEM a word of encouragement
If you are lucky enough to be different don’t be ashamed or afraid. Your hard work equals to your performance.

Thank you Solange for the prompt response to my request. Thank you once again.

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