The Online Course that Shaped My Career

Jean Marie Mbonyintwali (ELP 2021) | Parliamentary Advocacy and Partnership Advisor, IntraHealth International/USAID-Rwanda Health Services Delivery Activity, Rwanda

When I first began my career in 2007, it was inevitable to join the institution which was related to my educational background and former experience. As a young graduate in Clinical Psychology, I felt I would fit into counselling, and psychotherapy more specifically, as there were many cases of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD). My one-year internship at Handicap International, a France-Based humanitarian International Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) which was supporting disabled people and orphans in different walks of life was my preferred destination. I was assigned as a group psychotherapist and had the opportunity to talk with orphans and their foster mothers.

As an intern I was familiar with all the organization's business. Any time I could temporarily replace staff on leave or occupy a vacant job before recruiting a suitable candidate as I was not yet qualified to apply to the position. This exposed me to other roles including administration, clerk, custom care, study coordination, and office management,  to name a few.

When I concluded my internship, the organization promised to put me on the waiting list so that when I graduated I could join them when there was a position which fit my qualifications.  I was really a blessed graduate to have this opportunity and connections to international NGOs as it was a dream of every ambitious graduate because of their working environment and staff benefits compared to the public servants. I had another big advantage: having worked with Handicap International, members of its management team could easily accept being my referees as it was required in our job application.

I graduated in March 2008, and began aggressively searching for a permanent job, especially in International NGOs, as I thought my internship experience was an added value to be shortlisted because of my familiarity with INGOs and projects.

I was shortlisted by IntraHealth International for the position of Program Officer seconded to the Rwandan Parliamentarians’ Network on Population and Development. The two organizations had a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to collaborate in the implementation of a William and Flora Hewlett Foundation funded project: “Expanding Rwanda’s Commitment to the Population, Family Planning, and Reproductive Health Program”. I successfully passed the written test and job interview and had been offered the job to begin by July 1st, 2008. July 1st is Rwanda’s Independence Day and I was very excited to become financially independent the same day. The position was very impressive, with many more benefits than what I was expecting if I stayed at Handicap International. But there was a very big challenge. I had no background in Population, Family Planning, and Reproductive Issues. I was a fresh clinical psychologist graduate who won the job due to my familiarity with the INGO working environment and my good command of both French and English. I had only worked with high level policy makers from university and never with other lower public institutions. But I thought I was able and not ready to quit.

I had a very big interest in knowing the goals and mission of my organization, its partners, and donors. In all searches these words came up: Population, Family Planning, Development. I was convinced that the more I understood these concepts the more I was beginning to fit into my position. 

Career development and growth towards mastering the concepts of Population and Development became professional development goals. When I sat with a colleague, who was my senior and very dependable, we discussed my career path and challenges. She gave me a link: USAID Global Health eLearning Center.

I was excited when I logged in to this website. There were many courses which could  help me in realizing my professional development goals.

Group of people planting a tree seedling.

Members of Parliament (MPs) showing Young people how to clean trees after a two day training on the impact of population growth on the environment.

This photo is owned by RPRPD/Parliament of Rwanda and was taken by Jean Marie Mbonyintwali

The first-choice course was: Population, Health, and Environment. This course shaped my career! According to the course introduction it reads “The Population, Health, and Environment (PHE) approach to community development aims to simultaneously improve access and equity to primary health care services, particularly family planning and reproductive health, while also helping communities conserve biodiversity, manage natural resources, and develop sustainable livelihoods.” I completed the course and was offered the completion certificate. For the certification for each course I had to develop an action plan for putting the knowledge and skills gained into practice. As someone who was also in charge of my organization's resource mobilization, I found that many organizations working in the environment sector were better-off. I now had only one task: continue to commit myself to better understanding the environment so that my proposals could receive funding. People were very interested in how I linked Population, Health, and Family Planning with environmental issues and I got lots of support from Member of Parliaments (MPs) who, through their outreach field activities  witnessed some soil degradation due to erosion and infrastructure destruction in unprotected mountains with frequent landslides. All that has a direct correlation to population growth, where people put pressure on the environment and natural resources for their “temporal survival”. 

I organized more field visits and consultative meetings which involved Members of Parliament (MPs), ministers, other government officials, religious leaders, and universities to discuss issues of Population, Environment and Development (PED) and receive recommendations for the drafting of policies and strategies to address PED issues. I invested in forums at both national and international levels which discussed PED issues and met friends who were more involved in the environment. They shared more resources which were very useful, but more importantly I made many friends who were making an impact all over the word. Some of them introduced me to the Beahrs Environmental Leadership Program. It was a very long journey to get admitted to the course and find sufficient funds to pay for the course. But more importantly, I am sure I will not be the same. As a committed PHE champion, I felt I was missing a strong background in the environment. The Beahrs ELP course is bridging the gap.  Beahrs ELP is also shaping my career!