I was not the only one using technology to reinforce critical thinking; local entrepreneurs have started holding high school technology competitions, and there are two burgeoning technology hubs in Kigali that organize events, lectures, and classes. Rwanda also recently hosted Transform Africa, a technology summit that included a youth component.
Furthermore, Peace Corps volunteers are especially well positioned to bridge an important gap: the divide between where most of the IT is happening (in cities) and where most of the population lives (in rural communities). This challenge of reaching the rural population was the idea behind my largest Peace Corps project, TechKobwa. TechKobwa is a girl's computer camp where students from disadvantaged backgrounds are exposed to and, hopefully, inspired by technology. Participants programmed games, created their own blogs, and attended panel discussions. Most classes were taught by local IT professionals.
Organizing the TechKobwa project was one of the defining parts of my Peace Corps experience and was made possible by the sheer excitement both Rwandans and the Peace Corps community had for technology projects.
The week before I returned to the United States, I contemplated how the Peace Corps affected me, and if it was worth it. I had been away from home for 30 months. From the start, Peace Corps trainers tout the invaluable soft skills learned during service, including adaptability, independence, cross-cultural communication, and a drastic lowering of standards as to what qualifies as a toilet.
They were right. As promised, I had to pull from all of these skills during my time in Rwanda. Thinking about my friends and coworkers, I realized that I also have a burgeoning networking of worldwide contacts that will come in handy if I decide to work in technology and development.
But, I was also immensely touched by the sincerity and humor of the other Peace Corps volunteers and Rwandans I worked with during my service, as well as the unimaginable kindness of my neighbors and, most poignantly, of my students. Their sheer drive, intelligence, and compassion were contagious.
The night before school ended, one of my brightest students talked about how she hadn't been interested in her computer studies, but after my class discovered she had a passion for programming. Others spoke about their ambitions for university and technology degrees. I left the classroom reeling with emotion.
Ultimately, the Peace Corps volunteer experience gives Americans the opportunity to invest in people — sometimes people who are dramatically different than them. The perspective, admiration, and inspiration you gain from service is more valuable than a fancy title or bullet point on a resume. It's something I will carry with me as I continue on to whatever comes next.