Another Positive African Woman we celebrate on this day can’t be mentioned without her brother, Sylvain Muzungu Uhirwa;which only goes to show the role of men in empowering women. She is none other than Sylvie Uhirwa-the one you have been hearing about all this while . And if you have not heard about her, where have you been?
Well, the more reason why you should read this interview.
1-Miss Sylvie Uhirwa and Mr. Sylvain Muzungu Uhirwa, you are twins, you are Rwandan medical students and you are the dynamic duo which established the life-saving Tantine app which aims to inform youths on sexual and reproductive health. What more do you both have in common and what differentiates you?
First of all, I thank you for the opportunity.And a little clarification we’re mistaken as twins but we aren’t. We are siblings ; MUZUNGU HIRWA Sylvain, 23 years old and UHIRWA Sylvie, 21 years old. Both of us are now fifth year medical student at university of Rwanda(same class). We think most of things unite us because we have the same passion of serving the population. Our main difference I think, is more in our daily tasks in the running of our organisation. Sylvain is more involved in business and administration and I,Sylvie is more interested in generating the content and services.
2- You have bagged several recognitions and awards for your efforts at promoting sexual health.How do these tokens of appreciation make you feel?
These are really the most happy moments in our career and it is a daily motivation to know that people recognize and appreciate what we do for the community. We can’t find words to express gratitude and what we feel for the above mentioned achievements and people who support us.
3-Why and when did you decide to develop the Tantine mobile and web application?
We started working on this project in 2015 when we realized the gap between the demand and access to sexual and reproductive health information in Rwanda. We started by using a facebook group and a page with which we could connect with people. Our website was launched officially in 2016 and the App followed in 2017 after we won the iAccelerator competition.
4-What challenges have you faced so far?
At the beginning people weren’t used to our way of teaching sexual and reproductive health using ICT. So we struggled to tell them how this can be a really good and confidential way of learning and we think progress is being made. Another big challenge is that in Rwanda people are used to getting information for free and that’s what we do and it’s fine by us, but looking at the sustainability of the startup you need money to continue operating. I think this is still a big challenge for us as well as our users , and we are still figuring out how we can raise funds and be sustainable.
5-What keeps you positively going?
The main motivation for us is from the population we serve, when we hear a success story from a young person we helped, it’s really motivating. Those thousands of lives we save by just sexual education and youth mentorship is the main drive. Additionally our friends, family, lecturers keep motivating as well as inspiring us to the feeling that we are making the world better. Last but not the least comes organizations like yours which recognize and appreciate our work; your contribution to our work is invaluable.
6-Tell us a bit more about the Tantine App .How does it work?
Our app has three main parts:
Articles similar to those from websites which are divided into sexual education and youth mentorship and cover trending topics in those areas.
Discussion forums where we discuss on different topics based on question asked by young people and give online answers and explanations.
Pages where everyone who wants to help us in this movement of bringing positive change in the world is welcome to create his/her own page and put some posts
Three tools: period and ovulation tracker with which we help young girls and women track their menstrual cycles and give advices accordingly, EDD(Estimated Date of Delivery) tool which helps pregnant women to countdown to their delivery dates and give advice regarding pregnancy and delivery and the BMI tool as a bonus which helps people to monitor their weight to make sure it is proportional to their height.
7-What are your greatest expectations with regards to this App?
Our greatest expectation is that our app, besides providing reliable sexual and reproductive health information should impact people’s lives positively and score a victory for humanity. We hope that one day every young person will be having access to SRH education and equipped knowledge to run their lives successfully.
8-You have been referred to as “remarkable digital citizens.” How relevant is the concept of digital citizenship to the Rwandan and especially, the African context.
Although ICT are known as the fastest, most innovative and best way in service delivery, they are not efficiently used in Africa. So I think we were referred to as” digital citizens” because we use ICT to provide our services. It’s really a great description and we think we are going to work harder to prove the merit.
9-List five people/Institutions to whom you are deeply thankful for the realization of the Tantine project and state why?
UNFPA: UNFPA-Rwanda really supported our work and provided funds to start the App. Beyond financially, they have always been there for us, giving advice and guidance.
Imbuto Foundation: along with UNFPA: Rwanda’s first lady’s organization”Imbuto foundation” provided funding throughout the iAccelerator competition and they are still monitoring, advising and encouraging us.
Resilient Africa Network believed in our project and gave us the initial motivation and funds to start the website. They played an important role and we realize that we can do great things as long as we have people’s support.
Israel embassy: During the transform Africa summit, after we presented our project, the Ambassador of Israel in Rwanda gave us a chance to follow Mashav Course where our CEO spent 15 days in Israel taking the course (September this year). This course was a big help to the marketing and management of our project.
They University of Rwanda has armed us with the knowledge which we use.
10-Any advice to the youths? Especially those who think information on HIV/AIDS, sexual and reproductive health is stale or taboo?
Young people must give up to the old beliefs that HIV/AIDS and SRH education is a taboo. First because we face many repercussions from disregarding such issues; and avoiding to talk about it doesn’t remove the fact that we need to know about our bodies. Also, youths as the backbone of society need to be free of HIV?AIDS to fulfill their tasks.
Nowadays adolescent girls face the challenge of unwanted pregnancy, and if nothing is done to prevent that,the prevalence would continue to rise. Seriously we need to talk more about sexual health before it becomes too late.