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24 december 2014

"For A Moment I Forgot I Was a Refugee"

News Stories, 24 December 2014
© Courtesy of O. Nyankuru
Burundian refugee, Olivet Nyankuru, receives his university degree from Mozambican president, Armando Guebeza last summer. Traditionally the President of Mozambique personally hands the diploma to the best performing student in the entire university.
NAMPULA, Mozambique, December 24 (UNHCR) When the Chancellor of Lurio University announced that the best overall student in the graduating class of 2014 would be receiving their diploma directly from the then President of Mozambique, Armando Guebuza, 28 year old Burundian refugee Olivet Nyankuru never expected to hear his name called out.
"When I heard the Chancellor say my name, I felt too much emotion all at once. I remembered my whole story, I thought back to the last time I saw my mother and all the complicated moments I had lived through, but hearing my name, it was as if I was dreaming and all my hard work paid off, " says Nyankuru.
Nyankuru was raised by his mother in the province of Cibitoke in Burundi. He never knew his father, who left his mother when she was pregnant with him. She was killed in Burundi when the civil war broke out and he was taken in by his uncle and his wife, who already had five children of their own. "My mother was everything to me, so when she died I lost all hope," he said. The eight of them fled Cibitoke and travelled a long way until they reached northern Mozambique. He doesn't remember much about the flight since he was only ten years old at the time, but what he does remember was seeing people along the journey who offered them food.
The family arrived in Mozambique in 1997, where they were given refugee status. His uncle, who is an electrician by trade, was hired by some Catholic priests who gave them shelter in Lichinga, Niassa province in Mozambique. His uncle earned a living by doing odd jobs for the priests and in the local community. Nyankuru attended a local public school where he did not face too many problems. He learned Portuguese and tried to fit in. The local public high school was overcrowded so he often had to follow classes in the evenings, which was the only time they could accommodate him. "My uncle used to tell me all the time: you are not in your home, you are in a foreign country where you don't have family to assist you. You don't have your own field to plough, so you must study hard so you can become someone." Nyankuru took that message to heart and studied as much as he could.
Upon graduation from high school, where he had nearly perfect results, he applied to medical school at the University Lurio in Nampula, the closest university. He passed the entrance exams, and was accepted. "Maybe I was naïve," he says laughing, "but I didn't even realize that I would have to pay fees to attend. The first year of school, he asked the university to give him a room where he could sleep temporarily. His uncle tried to assist him as best as he could with some of the fees. The following year, he heard about the UNHCR scholarship programme for refuges. He presented his case to the office in Nampula and in 2008, he was awarded a scholarship under the Albert Einstein German Academic Refugee Initiative, known by its German acronym as DAFI. Upon hearing the news, Nyankuru says, "I was so relieved. I had this very big problem and now it was gone." He could now focus on his studies.
"I really wanted to become a doctor. I remember seeing so many people suffering when I was young, during the fighting and when we were fleeing and they were being helped by doctors and nurses and I thought I want to help people like that too one day. I also knew that in Mozambique it is difficult to find a job. Mozambicans have trouble, so for refugees it is even harder. If I became a doctor then I could work," says Nyankuru.
"The DAFI scholarship programme is very important for our work here. We have so many talented students among the refugee population and it is the only way we can manage to help them with tertiary education," says Isabel Marquez, UNHCR's Representative in Mozambique," not only is it about their personal education goals, but these young people also become ambassadors in the Mozambican communities to help promote better understanding of how refugees can contribute to the host society."
Nyankuru is now working in a public hospital in Zambezia Province in Mozambique. "Mozambicans have been very hospitable. They received me and they helped me even though I am a foreigner and a refugee. I have so many good friends and teachers who are Mozambican and who have supported me. I am so grateful for that. I am happy I am able to help Mozambicans now. I hope one day I can become a citizen," adds Nyankuru.
Recalling that day last summer when he was recognized as the best student, he says "I felt like a very important person. All my teachers were so happy for me and they were congratulating me. For a moment I forgot I was a refugee."
Mozambique currently hosts some 16,571 refugees and asylum-seekers mostly from the Great Lakes region and the Horn of Africa.
By Tina Ghelli in Nampula

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