A determined Rwandan student finds his passion at Waterloo

Gloire Gatabzi

 

Growing up as an urban refugee in Nairobi, Kenya, Gloire Gatabzi knew that education was his biggest hope. Born in Rwanda during the Civil War, Gloire’s family fled to Kenya when he was just a child. They lived in one room, scraping by with the little money his mother made sewing clothes. Now in his 3A term, Gloire has come a long way to study at Waterloo. 

As a young person, Gloire yearned to attend university, but had little money, no opportunities for a government scholarship and little hope. That was until he found out about the Student Refugee Program (SRP) run by the World University Service of Canada (WUSC). The SRP is an initiative funded by Canadian students at over 60 institutions across Canada, that allows refugees between 18-25 years old a chance to study at a Canadian university. By applying to the WUSC’s competitive entrance program, Glorie realized that he had a real chance of pursuing his dream. 

After being admitted to the SRP, Glorie left Nairobi for Kakuma Refugee Camp in northern Kenya, where he prepared for university with 35 other young refugee students. There, he did advanced English training, underwent medical tests and vaccinations, and sat through a series of Canadian immigration interviews. He missed his family, but was unable to visit home due to the expense, distance and strict regulations governing refugee travel.

You can't just decide one day that you're going to go to Nairobi. You can go at your own risk, but you have to get approval from the [Kenyan] Ministry of Immigration and you have some paperwork with the UN. They can take away your travel documents. It takes a week or two till those papers come. If you don't have those, you are travelling there illegally. Being a WUSC student, you don't want to waste the opportunity that you have and get in trouble. So you stay in the camp, as much as you miss your family.

Luckily for Gloire, the transition to Canada went smoothly. One of his friends from Kakuma was also selected to attend Waterloo. Despite challenges in the transition process, Gloire has enjoyed living in Canada. 

Canada is a nice country, it's very good. You feel safe and protected by the law. There's a lot of privileges that you have living here in Canada that you don't have in other places in the world. People here are very respectful and that makes my transition very easy when you're surrounded by people who are nice and willing to help any time. It's been a good learning curve. It's been a good experience.

In his first term, Gloire took Psych 101 and English classes with BASE. The next term, he switched from Arts into Environment, eventually finding his passion in the Environment and Resource Studies program. His first winter in Canada was one of the coldest on record and he spent his second winter working outside at an Outdoor Education Centre. 

I think people should not live where there is snow. Do we have snow in Nairobi? Only in the movies, not in real life. Winter is not my favourite season. I know some people are excited, like I was at first, but after a week I was like, ‘It can just go.’ When I first came, we had storms in Toronto and people lost power for a few days, so that was not a good experience.


Gloire's determination to face all odds and elements has finally led him to his dream.  

Sometimes you can only do your best and not worry about the rest.

To get involved with the Student Refugee Program on campus, contact the WUSC Local Committee
 

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