Rwanda: education, a new outlook on life for young refugees
29 March 2012

Skills training courses are a source of hope and community among young refugees in Kibuye, Rwanda. (Peter Balleis SJ/JRS)
It’s great because I’m in contact with other young people of the same age and in the same situation as myself, and above all, because I’ll leave here knowing a trade.
Kibuye, 29 March 2012 – For Benjamin Twizere, an opportunity to participate in the JRS cooking and baking course has given him a new lease on life. One of 65 refugee students in western Rwanda offered a chance by JRS to learn a trade; he grabbed it with both hands.

One of the most difficult moments in Benjamin’s life was when he realised he did not have the money to continue his education.

"I went to school until my third year in secondary school. I would have loved to continue studying and go to university outside Kiziba; but I couldn’t afford it. Afterwards there was nothing to do all day, and I spent my time at home on my own. It was so debilitating. I was beginning to lose the will to go on," he recalled.

Following the outbreak of war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Benjamin’s family was forced to flee their village in the eastern province of North Kivu. Benjamin was five years old at the time; now 20, he has lived in Kiziba camp ever since, one of the three camps in Rwanda, home to approximately 18,000 mostly Congolese refugees.

"At times it’s hard to believe there’s a real world beyond this camp, since I’ve practically lived here all my life. My father talks to us all the time about our country, Congo, and tells us that life would be easier there. But sadly we can’t go back because of the conflict there", Benjamin said.

Then one day Benjamin heard about the JRS cooking class, one of the many vocational training courses designed to support young people in the camp.

"Since I started the course I’ve found a very stimulating way of filling my days. I go to lessons every day from eight to three. It’s great because I’m in contact with other young people of the same age and in the same situation as myself, and above all, because I’ll leave here knowing a trade", he added.

Benjamin decided to register for the course because he thought it would help him find work in one of the many hotels and restaurants in the tourist resort of Kibuye, only a few kilometres from Kiziba on Lake Kivu.

"I’m now specialised in pastry making as well as more traditional cooking. Thanks to the JRS instructors I’ve learned to bake bread, tea breads, choux pastry and all kinds of cakes. I also know how to prepare different sauces; Provencal, Bolognese, aubergine and carrot, as well as different soups and salads", explained Benjamin.

"I’m really enthusiastic about what we’re learning and hope that once I’ve finished the course, I’ll be able to find a job in a hotel and help my family. Then, if one day I do fulfil my dream of going back to live in the DRC, I’ll be even more certain that not only will I be able to find a job, thanks to the skills I’ve acquired here. Who knows, maybe I’ll even be able to open a restaurant", Benjamin added.