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The life of Jean Baptiste Mwizerwe is a tragedy. But with a happy ending!
Monday, 13 October 2014 Written by Dejan Anić

A grim and sad fate is to be found behind almost every house door in Kivumu. People lack food and basic life necessities and people have uncertain futures. However, the story of Jean Baptiste Mwizerwe surpasses even the most tragic novel.

Jean Baptista

This 18-year-old born in Kivumu was allotted the harsh life of growing up without parents. When he was just three months old Jean Baptiste lost his mother, and his father passed away two years later. His grandmother, Claire, took both him and his brother, who was six years older, into her care. The old woman did her best to make sure the boys had basic things, and tried to make life without parents as bearable as possible.

However, she got multiple sclerosis, and her condition worsened, until, during the last several years, she had been confined to a wheelchair. That’s when Jean Baptiste, although still a child, had to grow up ‘overnight’ and assume care for his sick grandmother, who until that time had been taking care of him.

He and his brother took over all domestic chores: cooking, cleaning, washing and fetching water for drinking and hygiene. The family, just like most other families in the village, had no access to electricity, no running water, and without steady income you can imagine how hard it was for them. And apart from the house and a tiny patch of land around it, the family had no farmland, so they were often unable to produce enough food for even one regular meal a day.

And, just when it seemed that things could not possibly be worse, fate once more played a cruel trick on Jean Baptiste. During a routine check in the local dispensary he found out that he was HIV positive. The ‘treacherous killer of Africa’ didn’t spare him either. And so, along with all his other troubles, now constant therapies, taking medications and uncertainty became a part of his life.

Although such circumstances would, for most people, be utterly discouraging, this boy didn’t give up. Despite all the obligations he had, he managed to finish primary school as one of the best pupils! But there was a huge obstacle he needed to overcome if he wanted to continue his education. Secondary education in Rwanda is not free, and Jean Baptiste and his family definitely couldn’t afford it.

The sick grandmother tried everything in her power to make it possible for her talented grandson to continue his education. Instead of remaining in her bed, she started spending days in nearby Gitarama, begging people from her wheelchair for a penny or two, hoping to gather enough money to pay the school fees.

Her effort enabled the young man to start secondary school, but the money soon ran out and he had to drop out of school. When he had almost lost all hope of ever sitting in a classroom again, a new opportunity suddenly appeared. You see, Jean Baptist became one of the first scholarship recipients of the newly opened Padri Vjeko Technical Secondary School in Kivumu!

The scholarship was offered by the Kivumu Franciscans, and the young man earned it with his previous academic success, his hard work and honesty, and also because of the hard financial situation he was in. Today he is a proud student of the first year of the construction section of the Technical Secondary School, and he has passed all exams of the first two trimesters, being one of the best students in school!

Now he uses every opportunity to say how his most important goal is to finish secondary school with good marks, but also that he won’t stop at that. His dream is to get into university after secondary school and become an engineer one day.

A simple scholarship therefore brought great hope and made it possible for a hard-working and talented young man to look at his future with far more optimism.

Education is one of the biggest problems in Rwanda. You see, secondary education in not funded by the Rwandan state, so families are forced to finance their children’s education themselves. But monthly school fees are so expensive that they are virtually unaffordable to more than 90 percent of the Rwandan population. That is why the vast majority of young girls and boys are forced to discontinue their education upon finishing primary school.

The Franciscans in Kivumu have long recognized this issue and have directed all their efforts and resources to solving the problem. They have been running Padri Vjeko Vocational Training Center in the village for more than fifteen years, and now, thanks to numerous donations, they have had the opportunity to build and open the brand new Padri Vjeko Technical Secondary School. Thanks to these two schools, education is provided for more than 450 young people from Kivumu and neighbouring areas. As well, scholarships are also being given to 150 students in other schools throughout Rwanda, making the number of students the Franciscans help more than 600 during one school year.

Providing scholarships for education Padri Vjeko students is neither simple nor cheap. The students need to be provided with quality lessons, adequate work conditions, as well as a mid-day meal to keep them alert for the lessons that take place all day long.

Fortunately, many donors – both individual and organizations, have recognized and supported these efforts. Thanks to them, the Franciscans are able to provide these educational scholarships for the students.

And providing scholarships to students ensures a better future for the entire community in the long run. You see, more than 80 percent of the students who finish their education in Kivumu schools find employment very quickly upon graduating.

Rwanda lacks well-educated, skilled individuals, and good craftsmen and technicians are always in demand. Today thousands of former scholarship recipients have found employment throughout Rwanda, as well as in surrounding countries. They have a steady source of income, and are thus able to provide a better and more secure future for themselves and their families. Each and every one of them is the best example that supporting education offers much opportunity and makes it possible for both the individual and community to advance and flourish.

Translated by Branimir Mlakić
Edited by Valerie Kae Ken

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