Her name is Umuhoza which is Kinyarwanda meaning ‘Comforter’. Ironically though, the experience the young woman and her family have passed through in life has not been exactly comforting to her. For one, she is a refugee and that in itself is a huge discomfort. Her education too, from primary to secondary school, has been marred by a great deal of unbearable challenges. There was a time that Umuhoza gave up all hope and believed that she could never make it. Worse still, Umuhoza’s family are living in a setting where there are restrictions barring refugees from getting employed or running a business and this makes it extremely difficult for them to survive because it limits their sources of financial income.
When Umuhoza’s parents landed in Malawi in 2005 at Luwani Refugee Camp as asylum seekers from Rwanda, they thought they would find a safe haven.
They were wrong.
Actually, they had just fallen from the frying pan straight into the fire. Firstly, they were welcomed by a surprising discovery that refugees are not allowed to work. And when within a few months the savings Umuhoza’s parents brought with them soon ran out, the real struggle began. In pursuit of other means of survival, the family moved out of the camp to the nearest village where they opened up a small shop to earn money. That is where they made another startling discovery that refugees are not allowed to move out of the camp or run businesses. The family soon found out that they were not welcome and became the target of random harassment by some locals.
Umuhoza’s parents were also frequently arrested until they were forced back into the refugee camp.
Five years later refugees from Luwani camp were transferred to Dzaleka refugee camp and Umuhoza and her family unfortunately found themselves facing an even more difficult life in the new camp. Since her parents were jobless and had no other means of supporting the family, Umuhoza’s education was drastically affected.
“I struggled with a lot,” She explained “It was really tough for my mother and father to support us fully and put me through school. My mother used to sell small packets of charcoal to earn money. That was the only source of money for the family.” At that time, Umuhoza was in secondary school but she disclosed that she feared that her education, if she at all managed to complete secondary level, would end at that level.
“My main concern was the realization that there was no way I could possibly continue to college because my parents did not have the capacity to support me through university.” She reflected, adding that she knew that she had a very thin chance of making it to college. The thought that she would not be able to reach college threatened Umuhoza’s passion for community development. Her life in refugee camps exposed her to a difficult world where the youths encounter hurdles in uplifting their social livelihoods. Umuhoza revealed that she has seen refugee youths engaging in illicit and dangerous behavior to survive. Her big vision was to help bring sanity to this situation by championing a cause which would help these young people change their lives.
However, with the lack of financial support, Umuhoza’s dreams were at risk. When she completed her secondary school education, she tried seeking for a scholarship opportunity at one of the organizations that offer such scholarships but she was deeply disappointed when she got no response.
“I felt let down and almost betrayed. That was the only organization that provided education scholarships to refugees and it was my only chance of getting to college.” Umuhoza recalled. She felt her hope dead, her vision shattered and her dreams ruined. She needed a way to reach her aspirations and the way out was a college scholarship.
In 2017 she finally found the way out. Umuhoza, through a friend, got wind of the news that we have a university scholarship programme which offers scholarships to both refugees and Malawians. This year, she was selected as one of the 16 scholarship awardees of the programme.
The scholarship saw Umuhoza enrolling for a degree in Social Work at a private university. The vision she had hoped to achieve is now taking shape. Most importantly, the course she has enrolled in is exactly what she had been hoping to pursue. From broken dreams and shattered future, Umuhoza is now one of the refugees in Malawi privileged enough to attain a degree of their choice. In her own words…
“I consider this scholarship something of value because my parents are not in a position to send me to college. They just cannot.” Umuhoza said. Thus, begins her journey to college, a journey that a year ago she barely believed would happen.