• Yvette Niyomugaba and Jean Pierre Murenzi (photo by Carlos Barron)
    Yvette Niyomugaba and Jean Pierre Murenzi (photo by Carlos Barron)

This fall, Southwestern welcomed two students from Rwanda − Yvette Niyomugaba and Jean Pierre Murenzi.

The two are at Southwestern as part of a program that was designed to help rebuild Rwanda, a country located in east-central Africa that suffered extensively during the 1990s as a result of genocide and civil war. The Rwanda Presidential Scholars Program began in 2007 at Hendrix College in Conway, Ark., and there are now 52 students participating at colleges and universities across the country.

In order to be chosen for the program, the students had to perform well academically, pass English tests, write a series of essays, and go through an interview with representatives from colleges in the United States.

Before arriving at Southwestern, Niyomugaba and Murenzi spent a month at the University of Arkansas undergoing intensive English training. Both speak Kinyarwanda, the national language of Rwanda, and were educated in French. They said learning “American” English has been a challenge.

“I learned English in high school from Ugandan and Kenyan teachers,” Niyomugaba said. “Their accents were close to British accents, which are very different from American accents. I like to learn foreign languages, though, and I would like to learn Spanish before I leave Texas.” 

Niyomugaba and Murenzi are both planning to study computer science at Southwestern. Murenzi said he chose this subject primarily to aid his country’s technological development.

The genocide and civil war of the 1990s claimed the lives of between 800,000 and 1,000,000 Rwandans. Most of the educated citizens died during the two catastrophes and the country has struggled to rebuild itself.

Niyomugaba and Murenzi were chosen to receive complete funding for their education through a Rwandan government program called Vision2020. After graduation, the students have agreed to work in Rwanda for at least five years.

“I am glad I am a student at Southwestern and I am sure it will be a benefit to my country,” Murenzi said.

Rwanda, which is located directly below the equator, is a tiny country about the size of Massachusetts. It is known for its population of mountain gorillas and as the “Land with a Thousand Hills.”  

Murenzi grew up in a city named Butare, which is located in southern Rwanda and is the home of the National University of Rwanda.

Niyomugaba grew up in Kigali, the capital and largest city of Rwanda. It is a developing city located on the ridges and valley between several flourishing hills. When describing Kigali, she said, “It is very crowded, with narrow roads. It is difficult to get to places on the sidewalks because there are so many people. The buildings are all short and very close together; we don’t have any skyscrapers. The buildings in the United States are all big and very beautifully constructed.”

Niyomugaba said that coming to United States fulfilled a big dream for her. “I love Rwanda, but I’m very glad I’m studying here and I think that by the time I graduate, I will have the skills that will enable me to make my life a success,” she said.


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