Africa We Want

UBUMUNTU : Empowering refugees through higher education in Rwanda

Set in the oldest refugee camp in Rwanda, the Kepler Kiziba Campus provides learners like Mupenzi, Alice and Mawezo the opportunity to earn a university degree – and secure a brighter future. Unesco

Kiziba refugees’camp

An estimated 125,595 refugees and asylum seekers, predominantly from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), are registered with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Rwanda. Over 90 per cent of this population lives in one of Rwanda’s five refugee camps, including the country’s oldest camp, Kiziba.

Kiziba is home to a predominately young community – around 60 per cent of the people living there are under 24 years old. Ensuring youth have access to education is therefore paramount to humanitarian efforts at the camp.

Since 2015, the non-profit organization Kepler has collaborated with the UNHCR, among others, to provide higher education opportunities to refugees living in the Kiziba Refugee Camp.

Through a partnership with Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), the Kepler Kiziba Campus provides refugee learners with an opportunity to earn a US-accredited degree.

Kepler also addresses learners’ literacy and numeracy challenges, strengthens their English-language and ICT skills, and promotes critical thinking for business and sustainable development.

To date, over 300 refugees learners have enrolled in the Kepler Kiziba programme. For alumni Mupenzi, Alice and Mawezo, earning a degree from Kepler has paved the way for a more financially secure future.

As of February 2023, Kiziba was home to more than 15,000 refugees, the majority of whom are Congolese.

Some Kiziba residents, like Mupenzi, have lived at the camp for more than 20 years.

I have seen no other life except the camp. My life changed when I entered Kepler as a scholarship student.

Mupenzi Niyomugabo, 22
Mupenzi’s family moved to the Kiziba camp in 1996.

I attended primary and secondary education in Kiziba. I remember when I completed secondary school, I only had one skill for using a computer – I only knew how to open and close a laptop. But I was determined to change my future through Kepler, and I wanted to keep growing. Now, I have a US-accredited bachelor’s degree in communications from Southern New Hampshire University.

Alice Nyirambanguka, 23
Alice came to the camp in 2001.

I did my primary and secondary [schooling] here in Kiziba camp. I kept applying until I got selected by Kepler. Now, I am a teaching assistant at Kepler Kiziba.

Mawezo Harindintwari, 30
A refugee and Kepler graduate turned teacher.

Through the twenty-first century skills that Kepler Kiziba is offering the students, they are able to compete and perform in today’s job market. Through technology, our students are able to have access to a US degree.

Leonne Laura Uwizihiwe
Laura is Kepler’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Manager.

As a young woman, I am proud that I have come so far. Now, I have a job in communications that makes me financially independent.

Alice Nyirambanguka, 23
Alice earned her bachelor’s degree in communications from Kepler.

Addressing barriers to gender equality in education is central to Kepler’s work

Family and household obligations were cited as major challenges to engaging in the Kepler Kiziba programme by both potential and active female learners.

In response, and to promote parity in higher education, Kepler has established women-only areas at the Kiziba camp that can be used to breastfeed, provides stipends to cover childcare costs, and allows new mothers to take leave from their studies rather than dropping out following the birth of a child.

Our programmes at Kepler Kiziba are inclusive because they leave no one behind – this is especially true for women who have children and those who work. When it was hard to study during the COVID-19 pandemic, Kepler paid for childcare for 19 students who were also mothers, 14 of whom went on to graduate with a degree.

Leonne Laura Uwizihiwe
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Manager, Kepler

Today’s world is moving faster, and digital skills are needed for different things. I have also used my [COVID-19] quarantine period to learn English, as it is important for entering university.

Mupenzi Niyomugabo, 22
Mupenzi has also improved his English-language skills at the Kepler Kiziba Campus.

Kepler programmes are also digitally inclusive.

The Kepler Kiziba Campus has its own ICT infrastructure, which provides students with internet access as well as laptops, audio/visual materials, data storage, mobile phones and battery-powered devices that contain copies of educational websites in an offline format.

Before the pandemic, students had their laptops but they used to leave them at campus. When the pandemic came, we allowed them to take their laptops home so they could continue their learning remotely. Course facilitators would share materials using technology [so students could continue to learn as they did] before the pandemic.

Mawezo Harindintwari, 30
Former student Mawezo is now an assistant teacher at the Kiziba Campus.

Our goals at Kepler Kiziba are to make sure that 100% of our students graduate and earn a bachelor’s degree in communications or business and have an internship before they graduate. A big part of [our work] is to make sure that 90% of students are employed within six months of graduating.

Leonne Laura Uwizihiwe
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Manager, Kepler

Success stories like those of Mupenzi, Alice and Mawezo are proof that lifelong learning opportunities, like those offered by Kepler, are fundamental to the social integration, economic empowerment and personal well-being of refugees across the globe.

The right to education is a human right that must be promoted.

Discover more inspiring stories like this one in the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning’s recently published compilation of case studies, Leveraging Innovative Technology in Literacy and Education Programmes for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons.

And to discover how innovative technologies can be used to provide education to refugees and other marginalized groups, download From Radio to Artificial Intelligence: Review of Innovative Technology in Literacy and Education for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons.

Author: MANZI


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