When I came across a call from the Jesuit Refugee Service, Malawi, recruiting qualified students for a bachelor’s program at the Southern New Hampshire University, I applied right away. I love studying, but I’d been stuck for two years, trying to figure out how I to access university education. I was lucky to be selected for an interview two months after my application.
The interview went well, because Lambert, the academic coordinator, called a month later to tell me I was selected. I was so happy. My father even bought me a brand-new HP laptop, since all the studies were done through a computer.
I chose Management as a primary subject, since it has always my dream to join the business industries. I made sure to show up for everything, I did all the homework, but the pace of the studies was very slow. In those moments, I couldn’t help but think about my home country, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and my mother who I lost right after we had arrived in Dzakela Refugee camp. Some of my memories of my early childhood are good, but others are dark and difficult to think about, so I’d try to find ways to numb myself.
There was a spot in the corner of the class where nobody could see me, I sat there and watched porn videos. It soon became a habit, but then I was caught by the IT coordinator who monitored what we did as students. I was so surprised when he came at my desk and grabbed my laptop. He told me to follow him.
As we were walking down the halls, I apologized, I begged him to not tell the academic team, but he refused. “The academic team is there to help you,” he said, “and it’s clear that you need help.” I cried and apologized even more, but he didn’t care about my tears of regret. A few minutes later, we sat down in the office of the academic team. The team told me not to watch porn in school again, since it’s against the school’s values. “Consider this a warning,” they said. “If you do it again, you’ll be expelled.”
I returned to my classroom; my fellow students and my teacher, Mr. Nyenimana looked at me in surprise. “Sit down,” my teacher said. “When we’re done, I’d like to talk to you.” Then he continued the lesson. When the lesson finished and everybody had left, Mr. Nyenimana sat in front of me and asked me what happened. I began to cry for a while, and when I calmed down, I told him everything. My mother’s death, my family fleeing, about how difficult life had been for me so far. I even told him about Natasha, a girl from my class, who I had a crush on but who didn’t want to be my girlfriend.
Mr. Nyenimana just sat silently, listening. When I was finished talking, he told me a bit about his own life. He told me it wasn’t easy to get where he is right now. He grew up with just one parent, money was always tight. But he never gave up. He worked hard to attend college and became the first in his family to finish. He told me his tough journey inspired him to become a teacher. He wanted to help students face challenges like he did.
He also told me what I did was unacceptable, against the rules, but he understood that my circumstances weren’t easy. He asked me to arrive a bit earlier to each of his lessons, and during those moments we just talked about life. He continued to check in with me, not only making sure I was focusing on my studies but also just to see how I was doing.
Since that moment, I started getting higher grades, and I began to enjoy school much more, even made some friends who I still see today. Three years have passed since I graduated from school, and I’m now studying to become a teacher myself. I became friends with Mr. Nyenimana or Samson as I call him now. He said he’d do a good word for me at the school, I hope someday I’ll get to be his colleague.
2 November, 2023