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Student discusses his journey from refugee camp to U of C

By Farah Kammourieh, October 30 2014 —

Before coming to Canada, Jeremiah Niyonzima, a Rwandan student at the University of Calgary,  lived in a refugee camp in Malawi for 14 years. Niyonzima came to the U of C through a program offered by the World University Service of Canada (WUSC) which places hundreds of refugee students at Canadian universities every year.

Together with his parents, brother and sister, Niyonzima lived in Dzaleka refugee camp in Malawi. His family fled Rwanda during the 1994 genocide to neighbouring Tanzania. They later returned to Rwanda before immigrating to Malawi two years later.

Niyonzima learned about WUSC through his older brother, who applied and was accepted to the program when he graduated high school. He lives in Edmonton and studies at the University of Alberta.

For most refugees at the Dzaleka camp, education ends after high school.

“When [refugees] finish high school, they don’t have any other plans,” Niyonzima said. “Most of them get married, which is not good because they’re still young.”

Twenty-four students from Dzaleka were accepted into the WUSC program this year.

After being accepted to the U of C nursing program with the help of WUSC, Niyonzima said he was “highly motivated.” Niyonzima plans to become a physician. During his time in Dzaleka, he volunteered at the local hospital.

“If I become a physician, I can improve the health of refugees. Hopefully [we will] eventually end the entire experience of refugees,” Niyonzima said.

Niyonzima said his experience at the U of C has been positive so far and all his student needs are covered.

“I got a lot of help and support beyond what I  expected,” Niyonzima said. “Things here are straightforward.”

The hardest part of his transition to the U of C has been language. Although English is one of five languages he speaks fluently, “the speed of English [in lectures] is really fast.”

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