University of Global Health Equity and Stanford Center for Health Education team up to transform the classroom experience in Rwanda.

By Erfan Mojaddam

I landed in Kigali on a Saturday evening. It was my first trip to Rwanda and on the shuttle ride to the hotel I was surprised by the calm atmosphere of the capital city. I was visiting Rwanda on behalf of Stanford to assist a new health sciences school on their educational technology strategy and to recommend Audio/Visual solutions to enable remote teaching and learning in their classrooms.

Rwanda, the land of 1,000 hills.

University of Global Health Equity (UGHE) has offices and classrooms in Kigali, but it recently built a new residential campus on the beautiful hills of Butaro district in the northern part of the country. Since 2015, they have trained four cohorts of master’s students. The first cohort of medical students from throughout Rwanda is expected on campus in July, and as mentioned in a recent Politico Article, their aim is to “transform medical education and medical care for the rural poor in central Africa and to serve as a model for more equitable health care around the globe.”
I had one day to explore Kigali before heading north to Butaro. I first visited the Kigali Genocide Memorial, the resting place of more than 250,000 victims of the genocide in 1994 and a “place of remembrance and learning.”

Kigali Genocide Memorial

The most astonishing part of my visit was learning about the colonial history and events that directly led to the atrocities 25 years ago. As I walked through the exhibits at the museum, listening to recorded interviews with victims and watching footage of the violence, it was difficult to comprehend how those same peaceful streets that I had just walked along were lined with dead bodies less than three decades ago.

After spending three hours at the memorial, I caught a taxi to Hôtel des Mille Collines, the setting for the movie Hotel Rwanda. The hotel was renovated and reopened a few years after the genocide. I grabbed lunch at the poolside cafe while local Rwandans and European tourists enjoyed a swim on a warm Kigali day. My final stop for the day was at the Inema Arts Center, housing a collection of artwork from around the African continent.

On Monday morning I met Dr. Marshall Thomas, Director of the Division of Basic Sciences at UGHE, outside my hotel and we walked to their Kigali offices through the cool morning air. I met members of their impressive team, including their IT Specialist, Clement Muhire. Marshall and Clement gave me an extensive tour of their meeting and classroom spaces. After lunch, a group of us crammed in an SUV and headed on a scenic 3-hour drive through the “thousand hills” of Rwanda. The final hour of the journey is on bumpy dirt roads, alongside farmers tending to their crops of cassava, potatoes, tea, and coffee. Immediately after the village of Rusumo, we climbed up a hill to the entrance of UGHE, a beautifully constructed campus with views that parallel those of any university in the world.

University of Global Health Equity, Butaro, Rwanda
Dining hall area at University of Global Health Equity, Butaro, Rwanda

I received an initial tour of campus: the classrooms, labs, library, basketball court, offices, student and faculty housing, and the dining hall where everyone gathers for three meals a day.  
During my week on campus, I assessed the learning spaces, met with faculty and staff, observed a class for the Master of Science in Global Health Delivery program, and conducted a training for instructors on the use of the Canvas learning management system.

UGHE instructors participating in a Canvas LMS training.

Each day I enjoyed meals of local Rwandan cuisine in the dining hall as I chatted with my counterparts to learn more about them, about UGHE, and Rwandan history and culture. It had only been a couple of months since the campus opened, but the sense of community had already developed among the faculty, staff, and the few master’s students who were already on campus.

By the end of the week, I had a better understanding of their educational technology needs. The campus already has impressive infrastructure for such a remote location, and they have a capable team onsite to help move their program forward. We collaboratively combined our experiences to put together a proposal that equips their spaces with the necessary tools to become a regional leader in distance teaching and learning, and to help build the next generation of global health professionals in Rwanda.

“UGHE is so grateful to have an amazing partnership with Stanford University in technology and medical education, “ said Dr. Marshall Thomas after my trip. “Erfan’s expertise and collaborative approach ensured that we’ll have AV technology solutions that are robust and easy to use. This trip was an important step forward towards delivering a world class medical education in Butaro.”

I, too, am grateful for the continued collaboration between Stanford and the UGHE team, and for more visits to the beautiful country of Rwanda.

Left to right: Dr. Marshall Thomas, UGHE Director and Assistant Professor – Division of Basic Sciences UGHE, Erfan Mojaddam, Stanford Center for Health Education Technology Lead, Clement Muhire, UGHE IT Specialist