The three Ds got me where I am today
Determination, drive and the DAFI scholarship underpinned Lambert Nizeyimana's resolution to make something of his troubled life as a refugee in South Africa.
Johannesburg, South Africa - Lambert Nizeyimana was only 12 years old when the 1994 genocide war in Rwanda forced him and his father, to flee to Bukavu, a town in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). A year later and now orphaned, Lambert sought refuge with a neighbouring family that was fleeing as far away from conflict as possible. He joined the family on their year long journey to South Africa, which took them through Tanzania, Malawi and Mozambique.
While the couple he had travelled with found menial jobs as car-guards, in Durban, one of South Africa’s coastal cities, 14 year old Lambert worked as their domestic help, looking after their one year old daughter, cooking and cleaning the cubicle they rented in an apartment sub-divided amongst other refugee families.
“I secretly longed to go to school but I didn’t dare say anything,” says Nizeyimana “How could I? These people had taken me in and I had no way of repaying their kindness but to do as I was told.”
When the couple decided to leave South Africa for Zambia in 1999, Nizeyimana was left in the care of another Rwandan refugee who put him to work as a car-guard on Durban’s South Beach, a popular tourist location.
At 16 years of age, Nizeyimana finally found the courage to tell his new minder his heart’s desire and was soon enrolled in primary school where after one year, was promoted to the first year of secondary school in 2001.
Studious, determined, well-behaved and with a flair for mathematics Nizeyimana became an exemplary student at Centenary High School. After learning about his life as a refugee and the difficulties he was facing, teachers at the school took up a monthly collection to help Nizeyimana pay his rent while another found him a weekend job as a waiter. This was to ensure that he remained in school and focused on his studies.
Nizeyimana didn’t disappoint.
In 2005, he graduated from high school with a distinction in Computer Sciences and an exemption - the overall academic percentage that guaranteed him entry into university - if he was able to pay the fees.
In 2006 when Nizeyimana was accepted to the University of KwaZulu Natal to begin a degree in Computer Science and Information Technology, he did not have the means to pay for registration. During this time however, the university’s students had embarked on a strike against the payment of steep registration fees and academic exclusion. The matter was finally resolved when all first year students were registered after the registration fee was waived.
“That is how I received my student card which enabled me access into the university and its facilities,” says Nizeyimana, “but this didn’t absolve me of paying tuition fees in the course of the year.”
When Nizeyimana finally met the university’s Financial Aid Manager a long process to verify his refugee status began. His secondary school results, refugee identity document and testimonials from his former school eventually helped secure him a loan which didn’t guarantee support the following year.
“At the same time I was wracked with thoughts of how I would pay it back which wasn’t helping me focus on my studies,” says Nizeyimana. “I needed something better.”
He had heard about UNHCR's DAFI Scholarship Programme but at the time, it was focusing on actively supporting female refugees who qualified for financial support.
The Albert Einstein German Academic Refugee Initiative Fund, commonly known by its German acronym DAFI, has provided scholarships for refugees at universities,colleges and polytechnic institutions since 1992. Funding for this programme is provided by the German government. Twenty-five years since the programme began, over 10,000 refugee students around the world have been assisted to earn degrees.
“I was too desperate not to apply,” says Nizeyimana, “To my surprise I received positive feedback. I had secured a DAFI scholarship for my undergraduate degree! I was so excited, so relieved!”
“For the first time since my arrival in South Africa, I could go for hours without worrying about food, accommodation, paying school fees and buying books. It is a feeling of relief difficult to put into words. The DAFI Scholarship removed such a great weight from my shoulders which helped me to focus solely on my studies. With DAFI, I also would not have to pay back a loan.”
Nizeyimana completed his undergraduate degree in 2008 and is now working in Johannesburg, as a Senior Software Developer with a popular insurance company called MiWay.co.za.
“The DAFI Scholarship Programme honestly provided me the ability to pursue my desire for an education in spite of the circumstances that lead to my starting school late.”
“Today I am a permanent resident of South Africa, a married man with a young family, working at a well-paid job with the financial means to live the life I want, adds Nizeyimana.
“I couldn’t have achieved this without determination, drive and the DAFI Scholarship – the three ‘Ds’.”