Day in the life: Camp Crusader – Joseph Munyambanza
For most of my 27 years I have lived in the Kyangwali settlement in Uganda. I’m the second of five children. My family fled the Democratic Republic of Congo [DRC] due to war when I was six. Going from a stable life to one without certainty was tough. As a refugee, I came to know deprivation. In my village in the DRC, I ate to my satisfaction, played with friends and went to school. But all these simple acts became a luxury in the settlement. For a year, I didn’t see the walls of a classroom. Hunger became a close companion and football and friendships took a backseat to survival. My elder sister died while giving birth because we couldn’t afford her medical bills.
I was seven when I started attending primary school again. Before class, I would work on the farmland the office of the prime minister had allocated to my family. My hands developed blisters from hoeing, and occasionally I went to school on an empty stomach, sometimes two days in a row. When there was no money for paraffin, my mum would sit with me under the moonlight to provide protection as I studied. Although my parents never attended school, they saw formal education as a gateway out of poverty.
A world of possibilities
In school I excelled, despite having one teacher for a class of over 150 pupils. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) noticed my academic achievement and offered to sponsor my secondary education. It was there the idea of building a school that provided free meals to students materialised.
When the UNHCR could no longer support my education, a friend through his NGO, Educate!, took up the responsibility. He encouraged me to apply to the African Leadership Academy (ALA), a programme in South Africa that mentors and offers leadership training to young Africans developing their communities.
ALA opened up a world of possibilities. There, I heard about the MasterCard Foundation, which eventually sponsored my tertiary education in the US. I now have a BSc in biochemistry and hope to obtain an MBA from Stanford once CIYOTA [Coburwas International Youth Organisation to Transform Africa] is on a stable footing.
I’ve always been passionate about girls’ education. This is why CIYOTA supports teenage girls at risk of dropping out of school by providing sanitary products, paying tuition fees for those who can’t afford them, and speaking to them about the importance of getting an education. We also meet with parents to ensure they understand the ramifications of withdrawing their daughters from school. So far, we’ve managed to retain a sizeable student population.
Someday, I’ll go back to the DRC with my wife and two children, who currently reside in the US. That’s my dream. But right now, helping refugee children access quality education is my top priority.
This article first appeared in the April 2018 print edition of The Africa Report magazine