Community Voice: Supporting Women in Kiziba Refugee Camp
Written by Kepler Kiziba Student and Intern, Charlotte Nyirakageme, for the Humanitarian Education Accelerator
Do you want to know how women in Kiziba camp are being supported through the Kepler programme?
The first place to start is with my own story.
My name is Charlotte Nyirakageme and I am 25 years old. I am a refugee, currently living with my family in Kiziba Refugee Camp in Rwanda. I have lived here for 22 years.
I am a Kepler student and in 2018, I earned my Associate of Arts (AA) degree in General Studies with specialization in Business. Currently, I’m working on a Bachelor of Art (BA) in Healthcare Management, concentrated in Global Perspectives.
My journey to becoming a Kepler student began in 2015, when I first took the Kepler exam, but didn’t pass. Not passing made me feel deflated, I thought that maybe attending Kepler programme would not happen for me, but I didn’t give up. In 2016, I saw an announcement posted around Kiziba which said that Kepler needed women for a programme to help them to learn different skills, which would support them to participate in the Kepler admission test at the same level as boys. I was accepted to the programme, which took around three months. After that, I did the Kepler admission test again. I did the first exam, which is a written test and I passed. Then I reached the interview stage. After doing the interview, I nervously waited two to three weeks until I received a call from Kepler staff to tell me that I passed and I was allowed to attend the Kepler programme. We were more than 100 people who participated in the test, but Kepler took only 25 students and I was one of them. I was so happy! I celebrated with friends and family because attending higher education was one of my dreams. I started the Kepler programme that same year.
As a part of the Kepler programme, students are given opportunities to take internships. Kepler posts internship applications via the student portal so that each student can access them easily. Through these internships, students are able to gain the skills and experience needed to transition from higher education to employment. This year, 2019, I was successful in being selected for a Kepler internship, where I got the chance of working with the Humanitarian Education Accelerator (HEA) programme. During this internship, I am trying my best to apply the skills I learned from Kepler, like networking, communication, time management etc. Through my internship, I am also learning how I can help the community I live in, through advocating on their behalf, as well as how I can move forward in my own career plans. Getting this opportunity is a big achievement in my life.
While I’ve achieved these successes, I have also learned from the challenges and failures I met within my life. Before getting where I am today, I met with many different challenges, which caused me to think about giving up or stopping what I was doing. For instance, when I worked on AA project, I met with the challenge of having multiple tasks, including home responsibilities, normal classes and the project on top. In fact, it was so difficult that I thought after completing my AA project, I will not continue to do my BA. But I received advice from my colleagues and my Kepler Course Facilitator, and I thought about how I got this chance of attending University for free, where other people didn’t get that chance. All those factors encouraged me to still continue working on my BA project so that I will do something better for my family and myself. Apart from balancing different responsibilities, I also met with challenges of adapting to an English programme, because in secondary school, I learned in French. But I overcame this challenge too. I tried to read some English books, watch movies in English, etc. All those factors helped me to adapt quickly and be on the same level with other students.
I often think about why I attended the Kepler programme, why I spend this time studying, why I struggle through challenges or problems, why I am doing an internship, why I want a good job after my graduation. The answer is not just about me, but about my family and community also.
I am studying with Kepler to access an online higher education programme with Southern New Hampshire University, so that I will not be limited while searching for a job in the future. I spend my time studying because from it, I learn new skills and experience from other people, which helps me to think outside the box and grow my mind. I do an internship because I want to apply the skills I learned from Kepler, and gain experience needed to get a job.
I want to get a good job after my graduation because I am determined to change my life and my family’s life. For instance, after getting a good job, I will help my younger brother to pay school fees, because he didn’t get a chance to attend higher education like me. Also, as I am planning to be a mother in the future, the good job will help me to care for my child, even my family in general. You can’t get or achieve all those things without having a good job. It is these factors that have encouraged me to always remember my purpose. It is this purpose which leads me to achieve many things and to reach where I am today.
But I am not the only one who achieved things in my life as a refugee. There are other refugee women who have achieved many things, like job opportunities, internships, studies, etc. I highlight three women below, but there are many. Those women, like me, worked hard in order to reach where they are, struggling with life conditions and overcoming challenges to succeed.
The first woman is Alicia Murekatete. She is a 24 year old mother of one child. She is a Kepler graduate who has a BA in Management concentrated in Logistics and Operations. She finished her BA project at the beginning of 2019, and graduates on 5 July 2019. After completing her BA project, Alicia applied for a job with the Kuja Kuja project implemented by the American Refugee Committee (ARC). She was among nine people who reached the interview stage. Two of them were men while seven were women. Alicia was successful and was selected for the role.
To get employment in Kiziba is challenging, there are some specific challenges which Alicia describes, including difficulty finding where jobs are advertised. However, the benefits of getting employed are huge. Now Alicia is one of ARC’s staff she is able to connect ARC with its customers in terms of refugee services. Alicia’s job has also helped her a lot in terms of providing for her family’s basics needs at home, instead of relying on her husband to do it alone. She has also been able to pay school fees to her young brother outside the camp to help him continue his education like her. Alicia is also planning to help her child, as well as other children from Kiziba community, by providing advice on their studies and offering follow up support to encourage them to achieve the same as she has. Her success is a big achievement because her education and achievements will have a positive impact not just for Alicia and her family but the wider community she is living in.
Hyacinthe Kazege, is a 26 year old Kepler graduate and is married with one child. She has a BA in Healthcare Management concentrated in Global Perspectives. After completing her BA project, like Alicia, she applied for a position with the Kuja Kuja ARC programme.
Before attending Kepler, Hyacinthe didn’t know that a refugee could work or compete in the job market in the same way as a Rwandan. But through Kepler, she learned about her working rights and that even outside the camp, a refugee is allowed to apply for jobs the same as Rwandan people, through showing the required documents and having the correct qualifications.
Finally, Eugenie Manirafasha is 24 years old and she is single. She is a Kepler graduate who finished her BA at the end of 2018, in Communication concentrated in Business. Eugenie works as a Research Assistant in BBox organization in Kigali. Before she got this job as a Research Assistant, she did an internship in BBOX Rwanda for six months, during which she gained skills and experience to do her job today.
Some of the challenges she faced while applying for the job was concern over work experience and not having a Rwandan National ID. She was competing with many people and most of them have Rwandan ID and 5 years work experience, while she has only 6 months of experience. But after seeking advice she was told that year of experience were less important than the skills she has and being able to show she can do the job. She overcome the second challenge of not having a Rwandan ID, by taking a document called “Law Enforcing Refugees Employment in Rwanda” which explains her rights and status and showing it during her interview.
According to Eugenie, studying with Kepler helped her to know how to behave with people from different cultures, how to collaborate with them, solve problems, negotiate and be a critical thinker. She explains that all of these skills have helped her in her job and “I encourage all women to think critically, and apply for Kepler programme so that they can reach their dreams”.
Right now there are many women achieving great things in Kiziba Refugee camp. The main purpose of telling mine and other women’s success stories is to motivate even more women and girls to be able to improve their lives through working hard and seeking support to achieve their future goals.
Kepler is helping women like me to succeed in education, through training them in a preparatory programme before attending the Kepler programme. This has helped other women like me to be prepared for the Kepler admission test and perform well as a Kepler student. Kepler also helps women to succeed in education because they learn how to manage both school and home responsibilities, so that they can progress in their studies just the same as boys. Beyond education, Kepler is also helping women to improve their lives by continuing on to employment. Women at Kepler have the opportunity and skills as critical thinkers and problem solvers to apply for jobs, and be successful. With the help of Kepler, women are proving that we are able to be confident in the fact that any tasks and any jobs that men do, women are able to do too.