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Graduate student links Purdue-based educational system to his Rwandan homeland

Purdue PhD student Aimable Mugabo single-handedly distributed more than 1,000 USB cards promoting Purdue-based Scientific Animations Without Borders (SAWBO) at Rwanda Day 2024, the largest event of its kind in the U.S. Mugabo’s efforts build on recent collaboration between SAWBO and the Rwanda Agriculture and Animal Resources Development Board (RAB) to support agriculture extension efforts in the East African nation.

Purdue-based SAWBO transforms extension information on a wide range of topics, including agriculture, health, women’s empowerment, and peace and justice, into free animations that are voice-overlaid in different languages. RAB is Rwanda’s provider of agricultural extension.

aimable-at-booth.jpgMugabo helped ensure SAWBO’s presence at Rwanda Day, which drew 6,000 Rwandans and friends of Rwanda from around the world to Washington, D.C., in February. The gathering celebrates Rwandan culture and fosters connections among the Rwandan diaspora and international allies, as well as offers professional networking opportunities with businesses and nongovernmental organizations, he says.

In addition to his own interest, Mugabo saw the event as an opportunity to promote Purdue and SAWBO. During his interviews, including with CNBC Africa, Mugabo emphasized the collaborative efforts between SAWBO and RAB, providing insight into SAWBO’s tangible results and global impact.

The president of the Republic of Rwanda and the minister of foreign affairs and international cooperation were among this year’s speakers. “Of particular relevance to SAWBO, the president emphasized the importance of collaboration and unity, values that align closely with SAWBO's mission of empowering communities through education and knowledge-sharing,” says SAWBO co-founder and co-director Julia Bello-Bravo, assistant professor of agricultural sciences, education, and communication at Purdue. “His call for Rwandans living abroad to stay connected to their homeland and contribute to its development resonated with SAWBO's commitment to reaching diverse communities worldwide with valuable educational resources in their local languages.”

Mugabo, who is proficient in English and French in addition to Rwanda’s national language of Kinyarwanda, earned a bachelor’s degree in agricultural economics and agribusiness at the University of Rwanda before completing a master’s in sustainable international development at Brandeis University. When he came to the Department of Agricultural Sciences, Education, and Communication at Purdue for doctoral work in 2022, he brought experience in conducting field-based research and working directly with rural farmers, as well as connections with Rwandan government agencies.

As his PhD advisor, Bello-Bravo introduced Mugabo to SAWBO.

“When I found SAWBO, I came up with the idea to reach out to my government so that they could benefit from it,” Mugabo says. “Back home, extension is a big challenge. It’s very expensive to pay an extension agent to reach out to smallholder farmers and time-consuming even to reach even a big audience.”

He helped facilitate a workshop with SAWBO and RAB staff in Kigali, Rwanda, in 2022. That initial collaboration has led to a joint website that provides SAWBO’s educational animations in Kinyarwanda. It features such topics as drip irrigation, post-harvest loss mitigation, integrated pest management solutions and others that the RAB has deemed essential to empower African farmers.

In addition to the website, two new WhatsApp groups bring together participants from across Rwanda and disseminate digital content. This brings the number of countries in SAWBO’s African WhatsApp network to 11 using digital content and social media to improve farm practices and crop management.

As he handed out USB cards at Rwanda Day, Mugabo explained what SAWBO does. The cards, which contain educational videos about the program and its mission translated into Kinyarwanda, explain to users how they can access SAWBO animations and easily share them with others.

“We have a big challenge in the agriculture sector back home,” Mugabo says. “However, using technology like educational animations for these extension materials, and by using digital media and digital devices, we reach out to many people to benefit from the information.”

He hopes that distributing cards to attendees who lead projects or own businesses will also help spread the word to users who need it most. “This distribution brings awareness and facilitates access to crucial agricultural knowledge among Rwandan communities, both domestically and abroad,” Bello-Bravo adds.

“I’m happy today that they’ve translated more than 34 videos into Kinyarwanda,” Mugabo adds. 

Now the cooperation is ongoing. I am very happy, because I will always have it in my heart to support developing countries.

- Aimable Mugabo, Purdue PhD student

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