Students Spend Spring Break Working on Sustainable Development Projects in Rwanda
This semester, the Undergraduate Program in Sustainable Development offered a new course, Sustainable Development in Sub-Saharan Africa: Exploring Rwanda. Satisfying the capstone requirement for majors in the program, this course gives students the opportunity to explore what sustainable development means in the context of sub-Saharan Africa.
Ahead of traveling to Rwanda, students learned about the history and current sustainable development efforts in sub-Saharan Africa. They partnered with University of Rwanda students to begin work on two local projects: one that expands access to electronic waste (e-waste) recycling, and one that supports the creation of improved cookstoves for use in rural areas.
During spring break, the class traveled to Rwanda. Based in the capital city of Kigali, the combined group — 10 Columbia students and 10 University of Rwanda students — spent some days studying on campus and some traveling outside of the urban core to learn more about their projects and develop recommendations for local partners. One of the days was reserved for a full day visit to Akagera National Park, where the class enjoyed a guided wildlife driving tour. Not only did the class get to observe rural life while driving through remote areas of the country, the safari also gave students an opportunity to see elephants, zebras, hippos, rhinos, antelopes, and many species of birds.
On Friday, the last day of the travel week, both project teams presented their work to one another and their clients. The e-waste recycling team had forged valuable contacts at four different universities in Kigali, each of which is a potential location for new e-waste collection sites. The cookstoves team had begun to quantify the many benefits of the new cookstoves, including reduced emissions and higher efficiency, a calculation that can be used to market and sell the new products.
Student Matthew Capuano-Rizzo explained, “One of the aspects I liked most was that the program was in partnership with the University of Rwanda. All of the students were doing very interesting thesis projects such as mapping urbanization in Kigali using ArcGIS, developing an app to screen for diabetes, and developing a website to connect young entrepreneurs to government resources. Connecting with the University of Rwanda students allowed us to really see what sustainable development looks like on the ground and what students our age are doing to make real change. The trip also served as a hub for Columbia students from many different programs, as students from the Business School and Human Rights department were also in Kigali at the same time as us. Meeting them at various spots throughout the city and exchanging based on what we learned was also a valuable aspect of the trip. I am extremely grateful to the Sustainable Development department for funding this program and making these unique experiences accessible to all students.”