blog posts from GYC's participants, alumni, & staff
By Timothee Mwizihire
I didn’t fully grasp what it means to live like a refugee before I met the youth living in refugee camps in Rwanda: Kiziba and Gihembe. Listening to these refugees talking about their camp life experience brought some mixed emotions in me. They have fled the conflicts in Congo and have been living temporarily in Rwanda for 18 years.
The first group we met was from the Kiziba camp in Karongi and Moses, Ernest, Christian and Oscar share with us about the struggle of living a hopeless and difficult life inside their refugee camp. The four young men told us that they survive on donations of corn and beans provided by UNHCR and that they suffer from unemployment since they cannot get paid work inside or outside the camp. Three of them have graduated university and they do not have anything to do with their degrees apart from volunteering at an unaccredited school named Kiziba High School as teachers or other school staff. According to Moses from the Kiziba camp, “Life at the Gihembe camp is a little better because they receive money for food instead of the corn and beans from UNHCR.”
I was therefore curious to see the difference in lifestyle when we went to visit the Gihembe camp on Monday August, 18th. But when we talked to some representatives of the youth in that camp, it seems that their life experience is not any better. They have difficulties with nutrition, the monthly stipend they receive for food is very small, and the health center is small and lacks equipment. There is only one doctor for a community of around 17,000 people and waiting for transfers to go to bigger hospitals takes a toll on the patients.
Education is the common big challenge in both camps. Students can only study up to three years of secondary school and they can’t continue unless they have private sponsorship. Even though the intellectuals of the camps tried to create informal schools, they are still not accredited by the government and it takes a lot of money for students to enroll to do national examinations. Giving the students inside the refugee camp access to proper education is an ongoing struggle and the youth of Gihembe refugee camp have put their efforts together to try and find a solution, although it is still a long way to go.
During our time at Gihembe Refugee Camp, we split into three groups, touring different locations and facilities in the camp. Our tours visited the Health Center, some IGPs, or Income Generating Projects, and the Hope Secondary School. We were very interested in visiting Hope School because our discussions had focused largely on equal access to education for refugees and the myriad issues that refugee students face. In visiting the secondary school, we would see the real life implication of what we had discussed and learn about several additional problems.
Hope Secondary School includes grades Senior 4 through Senior 6. Because it does not meet building requirements, though, it is not accredited. Lack of accreditation causes problems for students: it is impossible to take the national exam at the end of their education to receive their diplomas and continue on to university. Most importantly, there is no funding to pay the teachers or to buy supplies. Lacking supplies, the students have to provide their own notebooks and pens. The school did not have any textbooks or a library, either, sharing two textbooks between the teacher and upwards of 300 students.
Textbooks, to the GYC participants, seemed like such a simple, inexpensive barrier to a fruitful education. This seemingly simple obstruction, though, is something that they have no power to overcome and would make a huge difference in the students’ educations. We believed that we could collaborate to create a solution.
Out of our post-visit reflections and discussions, and with the encouragement of UNHCR (whose representative has been using his own personal funds to try to help the youth at the camp because the budget does not allow for him to purchase, for example, a satellite), the idea to raise funds for textbooks and basic school supplies arose. We created a plan: we would email the headmaster of Hope School to figure out a concise list of textbooks and school supplies that were needed; create a budget for all of the need supplies; raise funds through our personal and professional networks, crowd funding, and possibly media exposure, and then work with local Rwandan GYC participants and possibly the Ministry of Education to purchase and deliver the books and supplies.
Although Human Rights are ideally universal, in reality their application can exclude underprivileged and marginalized groups. While Rwanda has 12 year basic education for all, we have seen that in practice refugees do not enjoy many of the same rights as citizens and that neither the free education, nor the supplies and textbooks to facilitate it are available to the refugee students at Hope School. We hope to address the issue of access to education by providing the relatively inexpensive, simple solution to one of their issues.