Jean Opsomer writes:

In January 2014, Statistics Without Borders (SWB) emailed its members about a request from the Rwanda Biomedical Center. There was a need for training in survey data analysis, and the R programming language. The classes would be in English, and the students would have some statistics background. Together with my colleague Mary Meyer and Brian Fannin, an actuary with a passion for R, I decided to give it a try.

On May 5, we found ourselves in the meeting room of a modest hotel on the outskirts of Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, to begin teaching a short course on linear regression and survey estimation using R to a group of 15 young public health professionals. Our course was the last of three, spread over a two-month period.

During the ensuing week, we spent each day alternating sessions on basic R data manipulations, sampling, survey estimation, linear and logistic regression, and making plots and maps in R. The students were eager to learn, and asked frequent questions, especially about how to implement the methods on some of the Rwanda health and demographics datasets in their charge. The participants brought their own laptops, and we interspersed the lectures with hands-on exercises during which they gained more familiarity working in R. At the end of the week, the participants and the instructors were exhausted, but everyone was happy with the new knowledge and skills that were imparted.

For Mary, Brian and me, this was our first visit to central Africa. We were stunned by the natural beauty of Rwanda, with lush green hills and the impressive mountains on the borders of Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and we were impressed by the spirit of its people, moving forward from the tragic events of 20 years ago. We ended our visit in Volcanoes National Park, hanging out with a gorilla family and observing the golden monkeys and colorful birds.

Above: three instructors and 13 of the enthusiastic participants learning about R

Rwanda’s stunning scenery

Golden monkey in Volcanoes National Park