Meet the Students: Cynthia

“I find courage here to strive for things I never imagined”


Cynthia Noella Niyonkuru

Akilah Rwanda Class of 2015 — Hospitality Management

My name is Cynthia Noella Niyonkuru, the first born out of five children. I was born in Bujumbura, Burundi to a Burundian mother and a Rwandan father. I grew up in Rwanda but we moved back to Burundi as refugees. I lost my mother just a little while before the genocide began. After the violence ended, my father and the family decided to come back to Rwanda once more and rebuild our life here.

In secondary school, I studied history, economics, and geography. My father remarried and I found it difficult to live with my stepmother, who was not especially nice to me. After completing my secondary education, I spent to two years at home without starting university, which was hard for me emotionally. I wanted to get out of the house and sought steady work, but I was not successful. I took temporary jobs but these could not pay college tuition, so I remained at home with my father and stepmother.

I saw other Akilah students making an effort, and their struggles gave me strength to try, too.

In Rwanda, we have a tradition of community volunteering the last Saturday of every month, which is called umuganda. All citizens participate. That is where I heard about Akilah from a friend who was volunteering at umuganda with me. I was hesitant because I knew my English was not great, but I applied all the same.

English is the biggest challenge I’ve overcome since coming here. I could not imaging facing the public and speaking to them. I felt like if I said even one word in public, I’d die. I was too shy and this was so embarrassing for me. But I saw other Akilah students making an effort, and their struggles gave me strength to try, too.

I’ve been helped a lot by my big sister at Akilah, who is a person every student is paired with in a higher class and who can help guide the newer students with advice and support. When I was paired with her and met her for the first time, she gave me a gift and it made me feel like I’m right at home at Akilah. When she graduated and I saw her receive her diploma, I was so proud. It was something I felt pride in as if it were happening to me, because I was able to see myself graduating too one day.

One day I hope to go for a Masters of Business Administration and have my own business.

Akilah is my joy, my family, and my strength. Here I am building my future and gaining skills and knowledge so that my dreams can become a reality. I find courage here to strive for things I never imagined and I feel empowered and supported in everything I do. It’s a family not just among my students, but also among the staff members who show us every day that we are exactly where we belong.

One day I hope to go for a Masters of Business Administration and have my own business. I am really interested in airport operations, so maybe I have a career ahead of me in businesses related to aviation and travel.

What I can advise future Akilah students is to trust in themselves first and follow their passions with determination. Let no one misdirect your or make your doubt your own resilience. But most importantly, respect each other and love one other. Then you will go far.

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