Yale alum and Rwandan community leader Chaste Niwe

Chaste NiweIn an interview with the Office of International Affairs, Rwandan alumnus Chaste Niwe ‘19 shares how his Yale education equipped him to participate in efforts to build the next generation of leaders in Rwanda. 

Will you share a little about your background? 

I grew up in Bushoki, maybe 30 Km from Kigali to the north on your way to the beautiful volcanic cities of Musanze and Rubavu. I attended local schools and had never left Rwanda until I got into Yale in late 2015. Before that, I didn’t know of Yale or really speak much English. What happened was, I got into Bridge2Rwanda, an American college-preparatory program that selected top high school students to get into schools like, well Yale!  

In 2019, wrapping up my time at Yale, I was hired by Bridge2Rwanda as a teacher. I was the organization’s first full-time African teacher. I work there now, leading our Isomo project.  

How did your experience at Yale impact you? 

I think it was at Yale that I most appreciated the act of thinking deeply about things. I was very young and very curious and hungry for ideas – and Yale provided me with plenty!  

I was interested in human development. I spent two summers as a teacher with Yale Young Global Scholars and Yale Young African Scholars. I loved learning with Africa’s brilliant young minds. 

As I work in Africa now, similar ideas from my time at Yale tend to re-emerge: how to think about inclusion, how to imagine education, how to build communities, how to get economies to prosper. Didn’t we say that Yale is “a tradition, a community of scholars, a society of friends”? I believe such communities become the backbone of societies, and I hope our work is contributing, in its own small way, to building such a community for Rwanda and the region. 

Can you tell us about your work with Bridge2Rwanda and how you hope it will impact your country? 

I specifically work for a Bridge2Rwanda program called Isomo. Through this program, we recruit Rwanda’s brightest and most promising 120 high school sophomores, with an intentional focus on refugee students. Almost all of our students are HALI (High Achieving Low Income). Our first class is college-bound this fall, and almost half of the class earned full-rides to world class universities, including two who are coming to Yale!  

Isomo’s dream is to help not only a few dozen Africans secure four-hundred-thousand dollar scholarships to America’s top schools, but also build a model of excellence within a country’s high school system. 

How has your vision of change evolved since you graduated from Yale? 

At Yale, I got very fascinated by ideas of hegemonic power structures, the possibility of resistance, the key ideas that underlie the world structure. I think African countries, and many other developing nations, have lessons to teach and wisdom to share. Our people are our wealth. We gotta make the best of ourselves. 

I have learned the necessity of practical approaches and the need for consistent effort and commitment. 

How do you maintain resilience when you face challenges while serving your community? 

I come from a place where people have been through so much worse, and yet they prevailed. Rwanda and Rwandans have that light to share. Africans have that light to share. In the face of adversity, you remember to lean on your community, because it’s really about the community.