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Becoming the change

People pursue higher education for different reasons. Some do it to get a job that pays good money while others advance their studies to make a difference in the lives of others. Whatever the reasons for going further with one’s studies may be, education still remains the epitome for achieving change, whether individual or societal.

When Gustave opted to upgrade his education by earning a degree, he decided to take a course that he believed would let him contribute – even a little – to make a difference in the lives of the place that he called his new home in 2003 when he became a refugee. Originally, from DR Congo, Gustave’s decade-plus of life in the camp showed him the other worst side of life which he never thought he would be part of.

He saw women and girls turning to prostitution to pay bills, he met young men who got lost in the chain of hopeless people who resort to alcohol to drown their grief. He saw many more indescribable things that left him speechless.

Back in his home country, Gustave was a teacher and as someone who was somehow an expert in the field of imparting knowledge to others, he felt that he could use those same skills to try to bring sanity among fellow refugees. But he knew that was quite impossible without understanding the tools that would help him accomplish that.

“I desperately wanted to get knowledge in how I could bring some sort of mindset change to my community. I wanted to see young men and women come out of the path of destruction and restore their dignity, for example, by becoming self-reliant,” explained Gustave, resonating with our vision of seeing refugees and the host community escape poverty and become self-reliant.

What Gustave needed was an opportunity to go for higher studies – studies that fell in line with his dream and that would see him nailing his ambition of empowering fellow refugees. His mind was focused on pursuing a degree in Community Development. He believed that that was the course that would open him to a new set of skills that would put him on the road to becoming a change agent in his community of Dzaleka.

That chance came through in 2016 when he was informed of the prospect of getting an advanced qualification through our university scholarship programme. In Gustave’s own testament when the opportunity presented itself, he “embraced it with very wide hands”. Suddenly, his ambition seemed like it was taking shape after all. Gustave was among the list of students that we supported in the university scholarship programme that year and the sponsorship saw him studying at a private college in the heart of Lilongwe, Malawi’s Capital.

Four years later, he had successfully completed the course and graduated with a Bachelor of Science (Bsc) in Community Development. The first phase of his ambition was done. Now came the next important step – fulfilling the ambition. Gustave had made a promise to himself to use the knowledge he would obtain through his studies to help fellow refugees. The question now was; did he attain the knowledge and would he keep the promise?

“Of course, I got the knowledge I was looking for,” Gustave smiled, “I can tell you that the studies have let me come up with new ideas on how I can empower others to generate income on their own.” He spoke.

Gustave explained that he has already started putting together a programme to help women and girls to explore ways of becoming productive community members. Gustave observed that refugee women are a high-risk group in Dzaleka Camp.

“You remember I told you that many women are forced into prostitution to put food on the table? That happens because poverty strikes women much harder than men.” Gustave’s plans will involve launching what he calls an ‘after-school programme’ where women and girls will be taught business skills and other skills that would decrease their involvement in risky behaviour.

Thankfully, Gustave’s degree also introduced him to risk management and monitoring and evaluation and he is adamant that these will come in handy in his proposed after-school project. He specifically points out risk management as what he will heavily use when teaching business skills. He explained that this is especially crucial because, in order to undertake any business, one needs to evaluate and assess the risks associated.

Gustave’s community development model in Dzaleka will not end with women and girls. He said he will also include young men who equally face the same challenges due to limited chances of uplifting their welfare.

“Although the future is not that bright for people in Dzaleka Refugee Camp, I hope that the little I will do using my education will light a lamp for someone,” he concluded.