After being selected for DAFI scholarships, the lives of two Cameroonian refugees turned into University students changed drastically.
“When I saw sick people in need, I felt helpless”. Aka Rose Mbachilina, a 26-year-old mother of two, felt sympathy for children with injuries in Adagom refugee settlement. If only she had the means and skills to help, she thought. She wanted to go to college and study to help patients.
This was in 2018, when she arrived with her husband Joe Fraser and the two children, three and six years old, and they, too, needed a helping hand. “We had a big house, I had several properties, but life is more important than your belongings”, says Rose’s husband Joe Fraser after they lost everything. “He was targeted and threatened”, Rose recalls. “We could not sleep in our house anymore because we were afraid, so we started sleeping in the bush” she says.
This became unbearable, so they decided they had to leave everything behind. “We couldn’t even take luggage with us because our pastor’s plane was only a four-seater when he flew us out one night.” A second flight would take them to the border with Nigeria from where the family had to take footpaths through the wild.
After losing everything, for Rose it was hard to think how she could afford studying health sciences. She started a petty trading business (she sells fish, biscuits, seasoning, salt, rice etc) and managed to save a bit of money to go to college one day. Even then, she was not sure whether she would manage to complete her studies while making ends meet for her family.
As luck will have it, one day, she had a casual look at the notice board in the settlement. This moment would change her life as she saw a notice about DAFI tertiary scholarships and decided to apply. As one of 32 Cameroonian refugee students in Cross River and Benue States Rose was selected for the 2019 and 2020 programmes.
DAFI, the Albert Einstein German Academic Refugee Initiative, offers qualified refugees and returnees the chance to obtain an undergraduate degree. It covers tuition fees, accommodation, food, transportation, and other costs. For many refugee students, accessing university is a huge challenge – only 3 per cent of refugees worldwide are enrolled in university, compared to one third of young people of university age around the world. Financed by the governments of Germany, Denmark, and Czechia as well as UNHCR and private donors, the DAFI programme has supported over 18,000 young men and women worldwide since 1992.
“When the scholarship fund came, I just knelt down and thanked God”, recalls Rose who studies Community Health at the College of Health Sciences and Technology Ogoja.
Ochang Shaloms, too, will never forget the day that DAFI became real. “I was very, very happy. I bought a chicken and killed it”, he says about his way of celebrating the marking moment. The 22-year old refugee is studying Public Administration at Fidei Polytechnic in Gboko, Benue State. “Already at the age of ten, with the other children, I always wanted to be their leader”, he explains. His studies, he hopes, will help him “help my community.”
Ochang does not know whether, in three years’ time, this will be the community where he grew up or a new one in Nigeria. For now, he has no choice. Just like Rose, he and his family narrowly escaped violence in Cameroon between secessionist forces in the North-West and South-West part of the country and the military. “The day we fled, my father and I just came back from the field when we saw a helicopter dropping men in uniform who started killing young men.” He immediately took his four younger siblings and the family crossed into Nigeria to find safety.
Ochang already plans to use the internship which is part of his studies to support his new community: “I plan to help SEMA in Adagom.” SEMA stands for State Emergency Management Agency.
Rose, too, intends to help her new community – refugees and local neighbours – and do her one-year internship at the Adagom Primary Health Centre. With the knowledge she has started to gain, she already treats people suffering from minor illnesses. “I was helpless but now I am already helping the people around me. Even at night, my fellow refugees knock on my door when their babies are sick, and I will treat them with my own drugs. The next morning, they tell me how well their babies slept, and this makes me glad”, Rose says.
She has great plans for the future: “When I graduate, I would love to open a small medicine store in the refugee settlement and work as community health worker in the health centre.”
Joe Fraser, her 58 year old husband, is confident “that she can look after our children and us” now that his plan, “to improve my young wife’s education” is coming true. Having managed a community development project together with the Swiss cooperation back in Cameroon, he is “grateful” for the support his family received from DAFI, UNHCR and the host country. “We thank the Nigerian government for accepting us.”