Photo courtesy of Blandine Umuziranenge. Credit: MKU

RWANDA: I Didn’t Wait for Success. I Fought for It.

Blandine Umuziranenge refused to let adversity hinder her education or her dream of saving lives.

The path to success usually isn’t as straight as we imagine it to be.

On the six-hour one-way walk to my college, my goals sometimes seemed impossibly far away. In moments like these throughout my life, I thought about the social change I wanted to create; I knew my effort would be worth it.

Three years ago, I finally graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Business Information and Communication Technology. This moment was especially sweet because of the obstacles I have overcome on every step of my education journey, starting at age 4.

At that age, I was living in a refugee camp after our family was forced to leave our home in Rwanda. I left home every morning when my brother and sister left for school. I would spend the morning touring the whole refugee camp looking for bits of news. At the end of the day, I would share these observations with my sister, and in exchange she would tell me what she learned at school.

I could not bear the challenges my friends in nursery school were facing: They were beaten almost every afternoon because they would lose the cups that they had to carry to get the porridge at school.

I knew I had to convince my parents to let me skip nursery school and go straight to primary school. They thought I was too young to go to school; most children didn’t start until they turned 7. The only way to persuade my parents was to pass a school test and prove my ability to start the first grade at age 4.

When I passed the test and was admitted to the school, it was the first time I remember celebrating a victory! I rose to become first in the class. I continued my education through high school and was awarded a government scholarship to study education at my local university.

In college, my vision for my future began to form. I learned that I wasn’t the best at spoken communication, but I excelled in other forms of communication. I knew that information is power, and I realized I could use the power of information to save lives.  I decided to shift to the College of Technology—six hours away on foot.

At the time, I didn’t have moral support or financial support to make this switch, and I wasn’t sure how I would handle the travel time to my new school. But I endured and I graduated from my chosen college with an advanced diploma in Information Technology.

I chose to continue my education at a different private university—and this time I had an even stronger vision. I am part of the generation that followed the Rwandan genocide. Our generation had a nation to rebuild. I have seen friends unprepared for the psychological aspects of raising a child, and I am now a passionate advocate for supporting parents in raising the next generation.

Ever since I was a young girl roaming around our refugee camp, I have been a messenger. I was always the one to deliver the harvest to friends of our family, or wedding invitations for my siblings, or any other message that needed to be delivered. I realized I could become a world messenger with a purpose: I would use ICT to improve maternal and child health.

My university experience not only honed my vision, but taught me an important lesson—that the path to success usually isn’t as straight as we imagine it to be.

At this new private university, I had to attend classes during the day, on evenings and on weekends to obtain my degree in two years. Despite this devotion for my studies, the coordinator of my program stood in my way.

He would not stop harassing me. He would schedule me to sit for three exams at the same time. He would refuse to mark my exam papers for courses that he taught. When I shifted to virtual classes, he told me that I would never graduate unless he left that school. I had to present my final project to other faculty members without his knowledge after he cancelled my presentation date three times. I did not know where I could even report what was happening.

When I went to pick up my gown for graduation, I found out that my name had been removed from the list of graduates. For a whole year, I had everything that I needed to graduate except the command of that one person who could put my name on the graduation list. I had 365 days to feel the anger of this injustice as I fought for my rights and for other women who were facing the same challenges I faced.

No one would hire me without the required document, but I did not give up. I used this time to launch Cosmos Magazine, a print and online periodical that offers maternal and child health information to young women and mothers in Rwanda.

And when I finally made it on the graduation list, it was a triumph, not only for me, but for other students who will benefit from my fight. I almost forgot all the struggles I went through when I saw myself featured prominently on the school website celebrating my achievements.

I am glad I didn’t give up. I was eventually repaid for my hard work and resilience. The magazine that I started while I was struggling to find employment has grown and expanded into Cosmos Multimedia Center. We recently developed a healthcare app for pregnant women that sends message alerts related to their pregnancy term and can connect them to urgent care and home-based healthcare services.  

My achievements are a result of my lifelong determination to learn. Today, I am still working hard, and I am well on my way to achieving my vision of using technology to save lives.


STORY AWARDS

This story was published as part of the World Pulse Story Awards program. We believe everyone has a story to share, and that the world will be a better place when women are heard. Share your story with us, and you could be our next Featured Storyteller! Learn more.

How to Get Involved

Read issues of Cosmos Magazine and connect with Blandine on World Pulse to encourage her and support her work.

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Comments

Yay my sister, I am happy for you. Your victory is the victory of all of us. Keep on conquering. I love you

Olutosin Oladosu Adebowale Founder/Project Coordinator Star of Hope Transformation Centre, 713 Road, A Close, Festac Town Lagos-Nigeria https:

Hi Blandine you have an amazing story thanks for sharing in this  platform were is going to be an inspiration for some of us you are a great woman

Mariatu Lawan

Kumba, Cameroon

Dear Kadablah. What an amazing and courageous story.  I greatly admire your strength and determination.  Congratulations on all your success.

Nellie

 

Wow, your story is awesome, indeeed we should never give up, regardless of every storm that comes our way. Same thing that happened to me, after my BA, I wanted to progress and study MA in peace and development. And one of the course leaders who happen to be a dean in that university said it in my face that, I can't do masters infact I'm not good enough I should just go get a job and he will be willing to give reference. I was devastated, went home cried and indulge in a pity party. Somehow I believed him, thought he was right I may not be good enough after-all. Guess what one day I woke up and refused his negative report I knew MA was my dream, and I had to do it. Long story short looked for another course that needed even more points than I had, law in human rights. I went for it, they saw my proposal and  gave me admission.  I completed it, and the man who refused me place in peace and development  since he  was Dean in that university, so obviously he was there on the day of my graduation,. he witnessed me getting my certificate, and of course I  was so happy, for the momentum. 

Here is the thing, I wasn't happy that i proved him wrong, but I was happy that I didn't allow my dream to die, regardless of the storm. So you absolutely right, we should go for whatever we believe in. 

Wow, that's inspiring my dear Tendai. No one should stop us realizing our dreams because no one knows the purpose we gave our lives better than ourselves.

Blandine,

You are an amazing example of resilience and determination!  I found myself cheering when you described your graduation.  Turning your anger over the injustices you experienced into positive energy provided women in Rwanda with a wonderful resource.  Best wishes for continued success!

Bea Evans

www.RippleEffectJourneys.com

Dear Sister 

What a struggle and what an achievement, yes are a true messenger , Love your app for pregnant women, God bless you 

Sister Zeph Founder & Chairperson ZWEEF

Winner of World Pulse Lynn Syms Global Prize 2014

Thanks dear Esther,

We have to keep our heads up and push harder and harder again... The good thing is that I am not alone this time, we are connected now... we push together✊

To our success,

Blandine

Dear Kadablah,  

Thank you for sharing your story.  I couldn't help but feel the strength of your purpose in Rwanda and the world.  I am inspired by you and look forward to hearing more as you continue your journey.

Shirley

Shirley Brown