A miracle to Shema and his Family

Shema’s mother, Jeannette Nyirabakobwa, mother of 8 can hardly get the means to complement the assistance provided to her family.

Shema Anastase, 17 year old, is one of the refugees in Kigeme supported by UNHCR to go to the schools of excellence. Shema was in lower secondary at Kigeme B last year and passed the national exam, he was sent to a school of excellence. He had shared his dreams with his family: qualifying for a school of excellence and work hard to become a medical doctor. To encourage him, his mother promised to send him to the school of excellence once he completes grade 9 with good results. “I knew that I will never be able to keep my promise and as years passed, my son was performing well, part of me was happy and part of me was very anxious; I resented the day I would become a liar in the eyes of my son”, says Jeannette, Shema’s mother.

Shema is now in grade 10 at Kigeme Groupe scolaire pursuing PCB (Physics, Chemistry and Biology). He aims to become a medical doctor and would like to work in a refugee camp. His is working hard and has the future of his siblings at heart, he intends to get a job and support their education.

“This scholarship was the best thing that happened to me; when I am at school I feel like I am not a refugee; I am studying with Rwandans and I made friends among them. I am sleeping in my own and comfortable bed, I have three meals a day; things that we do not have in the camp”.

Shema had no hope for upper secondary education. When he fled his country he was about starting lower secondary, he had passed the grade 6 national exam. In Rwanda he had to go to a 9 Year Basic Education school and was hoping to go to a better school but when his brother qualified for a school of excellence and could not go due to lack of means, he lost all hope. “I had understood that refugee life comes with numerous challenges, when my parent could not send my brother to the school he was qualified for, I felt like being a refugee is losing everything; mainly our dreams and I questioned the importance of continuing my studies. If it weren’t for my mother, I would have dropped out. I will always be grateful to her for having convinced me to go on”; says a smiling Shema.

Shema’s mother, Jeannette Nyirabakobwa, mother of 8 can hardly get the means to complement the assistance provided to her family. Despite the difficulties of the refugee life, she values more than anything the education of her children; she has always taught them to work hard in school and she is lucky they are indeed doing well.

“The day I heard the news, I could not sleep. I remember that in the middle of the night I woke up and read again the letter my son had got from the Sector Office; I knew it was a big achievement for him but my worry was the school fees but I could not imagine me telling him, like I did to his brother “sorry son you did well but I cannot afford the school fees”; the truth is that I cried and could not sleep anymore”. Then a miracle happened to me and my child: a scholarship for my son! The first time I heard it, I did not believe, even today I sometimes feel like it did not happen to us. And I am sure every parent whose child got this support, feels the same”. Says Jeannette.

In Kigeme, 5,176 refugees are enrolled in school, every year around 250 refugees graduate from S3 and 160 from P6. One of the biggest challenge has been UNHCR’s inability to support refugees’ upper secondary as well as lower secondary in school of excellence. In 2013, 7 children qualified to go to schools of excellence but could not go. In 2014 the same happened to 37 refugees who passed the S3 national exam and 8 from P6. This year, UNHCR secured funds to support upper and lower secondary for refugee children who qualified for schools of excellence. In Kigeme, 42 children for upper secondary and 12 for lower secondary are benefiting from the support.

UNHCR is providing scholarships for 215 refugee students to attend schools of excellence, thanks to a generous contribution from the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, which contributed $380,000 to UNHCR to cover these scholarships over three years (2016-2018).

Marcella Muhutu
Senior Field Assistant
UNHCR Butare