A Journey of Resilience and Empowerment

By John Kalula

As a young student with a thirst for knowledge, I spent hours studying late into the night, immersing myself in the world of books and ideas. The dim glow of a desk lamp illuminated my cluttered workspace in my humble house. My heart brimmed with aspirations and dreams, propelling me forward in pursuit of wisdom and understanding. The pages of my textbooks came alive as I eagerly absorbed every word, my mind buzzing with excitement and curiosity. Through the window, I could see the stars twinkling, mirroring the countless possibilities that lay ahead. In those moments, I discovered the magic of learning and the power of my dreams. The comforting aroma of freshly brewed coffee enveloped the air, keeping me company during my late-night study sessions. Now, after all of that work, I had submitted a scholarship application and all I could do was wait.

With bated breath, I refreshed my email yet again, and there it was – a ping from the MasterCard Foundation. “Congratulations!” the subject line exclaimed. Trembling with excitement, I opened the email to find that my hard work had paid off; I had been awarded the scholarship I had yearned for. Elation washed over me, and tears of joy welled up in my eyes. I called my parents and close friends, and the night was filled with jubilation. In that moment, the world seemed to stand still as I realized the profound impact this scholarship would have on my life. It was not merely financial aid but a validation of my dedication and an opportunity to change the course of my future. With the MasterCard Foundation’s support, my dreams were within reach. I was determined to make a positive impact on the world. Gratitude overwhelmed me, as I embraced the doors that had opened, leading me toward a brighter tomorrow.

However, amidst the excitement, there was an underlying pang of sadness. Leaving home, the place I had known all my life, was a bittersweet experience. The town I grew up in was more than just a physical location; it was intertwined with my identity. It was where I developed lifelong friendships, where my family’s roots run deep, and where I had forged countless memories. Leaving behind my loved ones and the familiar streets that had shaped me felt like stepping into the unknown. I grew up in a small area where there was a high rate of poverty. My neighbor owned a small local business, and I was always fascinated by the way they were managing and making decisions. Seeing the satisfaction on their faces when receiving positive feedback from customers and witnessing the overall growth and stability of the business left a deep impression on me. Deep down, I understood that I couldn’t let fear hold me back. This scholarship was a golden ticket to unlock my potential, to broaden my horizons, and to make a meaningful impact through running my own business.

This scholarship offered me not only education but also a network of like-minded individuals, mentors, and access to invaluable resources. I envisioned myself using the knowledge and skills I would gain in school to contribute positively to society. As a child, I vividly remember wandering around hungry, unable to go to school. Those challenging times planted the seed for my vision. Today I am driven to create education opportunities for underprivileged children, establish community learning centers and provide access to nutritious food. My vision is a comprehensive approach born of personal experience aimed at bringing about lasting change for a bright future.

At the university, my experience as a refugee presented me with a whole new set of challenges. I found myself navigating a foreign environment filled with unfamiliar faces and cultural norms. Can you recall that captivating moment when the sun gracefully descended, painting the campus courtyard with a soothing radiance? Amidst the bustling chatter of students, my heart raced, and a sense of detachment lingered within me. As I walked past the groups of chattering students, my heart pounded, and I couldn’t shake the feeling of being an outsider. The quad was abuzz with laughter and camaraderie, yet I stood there, a solitary figure, wrestling with my insecurities. The vibrant energy emphasized my outsider status as one of the few refugees present. Distinct appearances, attire, and customs accentuated the contrast, making me acutely aware of my displaced identity. I longed for acceptance but grappled with language barriers and unfamiliarity. Despite feeling isolated, a hope remained, urging me to bridge the divide between our worlds.

It was a Friday evening and the campus was alive with excitement and social gatherings. As I strolled through the bustling crowds, a soft breeze carried the aroma of freshly cut grass and blooming flowers, while the sun gracefully dipped below the horizon, painting the sky with hues of orange and pink. Laughter and chatter filled the air, intermingling with distant singing from a nearby music gathering. However, despite this lively atmosphere an overwhelming sense of loneliness enveloped me, amplifying the contrast between the vibrant surrounding and the emotions within.

I yearned to be a part of those joyful moments, yet I found myself sitting alone in the dining hall, eating my meal in solitude. The laughter and camaraderie around me only magnified my isolation, leaving an indelible mark on my heart that I carry to this day.

I immersed myself in my studies, spending countless hours in the library, poring over textbooks and academic journals. I sought out professors and fellow students who were willing to support and guide me. As I delved deeper into my academic pursuits, I began to find my voice. During my sophomore year, I joined the university’s Environmental Conservation Club. It involves addressing issues related to health, education, poverty, child protection and promoting sustainable development to ensure a better future for the children in my region.

At one of our weekly meetings, we organized a tree-planting event in a nearby area. Excited to make a tangible impact, I volunteered to lead a small group of students during the planting activity. Working side by side, we bonded over our shared love for nature and common goals. As we dug the soil and planted saplings together, laughter and camaraderie filled the air. That day, I forged a strong bond with Emily, a fellow enthusiast, as she became my first friend in college. The genuine connection grew through shared passions, working side by side, and engaging conversations. It felt like a significant milestone, and our friendship started with mutual curiosity and a heartfelt conversation.

Despite the initial feelings of alienation, my perseverance paid off. I studied tirelessly, determined to excel in my chosen field. And when the time came, I proudly walked across the stage to receive my business diploma, adorned with honors that symbolized the culmination of my hard work and dedication.

In the face of adversity, my refugee past has fueled a resolute determination to build a brighter future, not just for myself but for others as well. The journey from war-torn homeland to a foreign land was daunting, leaving deep scars but also igniting resilience within me. As a refugee with advanced degrees, the restriction on working was disheartening, hindering progress and potential. Determined to change this, I set out on a mission to create job opportunities in our community, irrespective of our status. Advocating tirelessly, I weaved our struggles and aspirations into a compelling narrative, demanding attention and change. Slowly, progress emerged as laws were amended, attitudes shifted, and opportunities arose. Witnessing fellow refugees stepping into roles that matched their qualifications and aspirations brought hope. Our community thrived, transforming society’s perception of refugees. This journey has become more than my life’s summary; it is a saga of resilience, compassion, and empowerment. Each chapter shapes my mission to inspire positive change and offer hope to others facing similar challenges.

22 August, 2023