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.
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.