Getting to know our team: Mireille Sekamana

As an award-winning debater, Mireille Umutoni Sekamana asks a lot of whys. Why do rates of unintended pregnancy remain stubbornly high in Rwanda? Why do shame and stigma limit conversations around sexual and reproductive health? Why are pharmacists surprised to see young people in the waiting room and why do they try to turn them away when they ask for contraception?

The search for answers to these questions might seem daunting enough, but Mireille isn’t just looking for answers - she’s looking for solutions. “I am a young, confident, Rwandan woman,” said Mireille. “And I want to use my voice to help educate other Rwandan youth.”

“Mireille is unflappable,” said Megan Bontempo, YLabs’ Design Researcher. “Whether she is facilitating an ideation session with domestic workers bouncing babies on their laps, or greeting Kigali’s most influential religious leader - she holds her own and puts people at ease.”

YLabs is thrilled to officially welcome Mireille to our team as a Technical Coordinator to help pilot and launch CyberRwanda, an interactive and inspirational Direct to Consumer (DTC) platform that seamlessly integrates employment skills with on-demand health information and products for Rwandan youth.

Born in Kigali, Rwanda, Mireille grew up supported and encouraged by her father, relatives, teachers, and friends. “My relatives have so much faith in me that sometimes I feel like they are exaggerating when they describe me to other people,” said Mireille modestly. “The way they envision my future has made me confident about my goals and encouraged me to take as many opportunities as possible.” When she’s not working, she spends time with friends who cheer her up and motivate her to be her best.

Mireille’s inquisitive nature led her to ask questions about sexual health at an early age. She recalled hearing a public service announcement about HIV on the radio and asking an adult family member about it. “I asked if you can [contract HIV] if you are HIV negative and have sex with a person who is also HIV negative - and her answer was yes! To me, it sounded unbelievable, but I couldn’t argue with her.” A few years later, Mireille attended SRHR training, where she was able to learn the truth about her body, sexual and reproductive health, and relationships. Now, armed with the facts, she was ready to help.

After finishing secondary school, Mireille worked as a Ni Nyampinga Ambassador for Girl Effect, where she visited schools, youth centers, and health centers to meet with young people. “During these visits, I helped to monitor how the program was going, explained the magazine, and acted as a positive role model to show how someone can plan for their future.”

Mireille and YLabs first joined forces in 2016. During the CyberRwanda design research phase, our team began collaborating with the Akilah Institute to recruit young people to help with prototyping. “An instructor told us that there was one student who we just had to meet, and the rest is history,” said YLabs co-founder Rebecca Hope. “When we met Mireille, we discovered that she had been working on a very similar project - so collaborating was a no brainer.”

“The CyberRwanda platform helps young people to know more about their own sexual and reproductive health and helps them to plan for their future,” said Mireille. “I wanted to be part of it because I want to see more young people in my region acquiring the knowledge necessary to decrease the rate of teenage pregnancy and have the resources to help them chase their dreams at an early age.”

Every step of the way, Mireille has been instrumental to the success of the project. "During prototyping, Mireille was able to push participants to think deeply about the material,” said Rebecca. “Sometimes it’s hard to know when we’re getting honest feedback and she’s always able to get young people to tell us what they really think.”

Mireille is also an accomplished youth leader and public speaker. “I am in awe her professionalism, her poise, and her ability to lead a room,” said Nicole Ippoliti, YLabs’ Technical Lead. Over the summer, Mireille served as a Youth Delegate at ICFP2018 and quickly became a shining star of the conference. She co-moderated a session on family planning, abortion, and post-abortion care among young people in humanitarian settings, collaborated on a flash presentation about CyberRwanda, presented at a QIC event, sat on a Facebook live panel hosted by the Packard Foundation, spoke on the Ethics Call-to-Action, and co-facilitated an HCD workshop with YLabs and YTH during the youth pre-conference. “All this kept me busy with the preparations but I still found time to attend some sessions,” said Mireille with a smile.

In the future, Mireille is considering a Master Degree in either Public Health or Project Management. We are so glad to have her as a part of our team as we enter the pilot phase of CyberRwanda!

“I am a young, confident, Rwandan woman, and I want to use my voice to help educate other Rwandan youth.”
Mireille speaks at ICFP2018 on the importance of involving young people in the design process
Happy and Mireille hard at work in Kigali, Rwanda, in 2016
YLabsRwanda, Team